Despite its back room, mundane reputation, storage is increasingly a burning issue for IT directors and data centre managers. According to IDC it is a market worth $3-40 billion, and predicted to grow to $77 billion by 2000 - not surprising when there is expected to be a 100 per cent compound growth in the amount of data to be stored.
Be it accessing legacy data from Web-based systems, server consolidation after the experiments of client/server, or the growth of storage requirements because of Year 2000 and electronic commerce, one thing is sure - storage has become a massive drain on companies' IT resources, but one that is not always as tightly controlled as spending on computers themselves.
One senior technology officer at Natwest said the bank recently completed its latest order for new storage, worth #1.3 million, and pointed out that storage was probably the biggest current IT outgoing.
"If we buy new servers for example we evaluate every new order in some detail, when we buy storage we just seem to sign off the cheque," he said.
IBM is about to embark on research into an unusual theory - that soaring IT salaries may be forcing companies to invest in storage systems with newer technology that has lower management requirements and costs.
In other words, the propensity to buy new storage in any given region is directly related to the cost of salaries for the staff to manage existing storage systems.
Analysts estimate that around one-third of a company's IT budget is spent on purchasing and managing data storage, including staff costs.
More importantly, according to IBM, the cost of managing and maintaining the storage is between three and eight times the original purchase price of the hardware.
"I am quite fed up of customers buying storage only based on the cost of the system. They are quite unaware that they will spend [at least] three or four times the cost of the hardware on management in the first year," said Jean-Marie Mathiot, director of storage business for IBM Emea.
According to Mathiot, the strongest sales figures for new storage technology correlates with the regional areas across Europe where salaries for data centre staff are highest.
"We believe the cost of the salary drives the purchase of solutions for the storage business," said Mathiot.
This, of course, could be taken as a neat way of plugging IBM's latest range of Seascape storage systems, announced this week. But IBM is not alone. Meta Group analyst Luis Leamus agrees with the theory and believes that companies are spending on centralised storage hardware.
"We are recommending server consolidation to users. It is a difficult task but if you have to start someplace start with storage systems. Get a centralised storage server that can serve all your systems. The number of servers appearing meant there was a significant duplication of resources, both skills and storage," he said.
Many companies are hoping to ride this trend with storage technology that offers higher capacity, more automated management features, lower overheads on sharing data between Unix and mainframe systems, and better virtual technology such as snapshot features.
One thing that would cut storage expenditure - better data sharing between Unix and mainframe systems. Vendors commonly use the term data sharing but often with some exaggeration. True real time data sharing between mainframe and Unix systems could cut data centre costs.
"On the S/390 platform data sharing is the hot issue but at the moment the technology is not capable of true data sharing," said John Kindler, S/390 product manager at server maker Amdahl
Data is physically different on Unix and mainframe systems, meaning that, for each platform to access the same sets of data, there either have to be two copies on separate storage systems, or a time overhead to allow for caching and software based translation of the data.
Analysts predict that it will be another five years before true real time data sharing can take place, possibly via some form of convergence of data storing or a hardware based solution for real time data access by different platforms. Even vendors are hazy about when the technology will be available - IBM said not before 2001.
IBM did outline the latest products in its Seascape roadmap this week, wrapping it an ebusiness label for added trendiness. The Seascape architecture is designed to be modular and high end, accessible from mainframe, Unix and NT systems.
The latest announcement included a Web Cache manager for cutting Internet access time; a cross-platform extension for Ramac, IBM's high capacity storage array, which enables up to 16 Unix and NT servers to share the same storage array; and that the Adstar Distributed Storage Management software can now be used on Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems hardware.
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