IT organizations and storage vendors have to commit resources now – amid uncertainty – in the form of budgets for the upcoming year. Storage planning benefits from having as good a set of predictions as possible available under these foggy conditions. One thing is certain: change.

Around the first of each year, IT managers, press and vendors ask industry analysts (such as those at Aberdeen) to predict the next year's important storage trends. The request sounds simple, but it really is not. Are predictions expected on what IT organizations will buy, on what IT organizations will do, on what topics will attract the greatest press or on what long-term behavioral/structural changes are likely to become recognized as essential? Because organizations will be making decisions now that will affect their storage infrastructure today and may make an impact on the flexible evolution of a future storage architecture, the answer is all of the above.

In the long term, as part of the data center's rearchitecting, the storage infrastructure will be transformed. Accomplishing this transformation will require storage automation for resource pooling, provisioning and policy-driven management. The ongoing trends toward storage networking and storage life cycle management will reflect the infrastructure change dynamic. In the short term, although much attention will be paid to that dynamic, the storage buyers will primarily attend to the staples.

The driving long-term trend is the data center's rearchitecting to form the information utility – of which the storage utility is a subset. Servers (processing), communications and storage – the hardware infrastructure triad of the data center – are functionally disaggregating. Reconnecting this triad through standard interfaces that enable the three technologies to be interoperably linked will dramatically change data center economics for the better – but only over a period of years. Storage may finally gain some respect for its new coequal role.

In the next year, terms such as resource pooling (i.e., virtualization), provisioning, policy-based management, single-image (i.e., global) file systems, and automation will be bandied about. Progress is being made in each of these areas, and some vendors have shown or will be able to demonstrate product success in each area.

The danger is that some vendors will hype the level of capabilities that they have. And the word du jour, such as provisioning, will suffer either from underdelivering what buyers need or failing to give a compelling reason for adoption. "Virtualization" as a buzzword has suffered this fate, but it will rebound as a foundational technology (not an end in itself, but a means to an end).

Users should not expect provisioning to deliver major benefits immediately, but it will over the long term. "On-demand" and "self-healing" may be hyped next year. Caveat emptor: Software behind these claims may be immature.

IT organizations must balance demands for improving storage performance and availability versus curbing costs. Aberdeen research shows that 70% of IT organizations had little increase to a decrease in storage/storage management budgeting for 2002, compared with 2001. Despite IT organizations' increased use of storage, that budget trend is unlikely to be reversed soon.

Two strategic storage trends will continue in order to help IT departments balance both aforementioned demands: expansion of storage networking and the continued splitting of the storage pyramid into more categories. That performance and cost hierarchy is not only high-performance disk and tape, but also solid- state "disk," cost-effective ATA (advanced technology attachment) disk and near-line tape. IT organizations must balance need for improved quality of service (e.g., storage performance and availability) with cost-effectiveness. That balancing will eventually lead to re-rchitecting the data center – and storage – infrastructure.

Ongoing storage networking trends will include storage networking intelligence, IP-based storage networking, NAS-SAN convergence and single- image file systems.

Ongoing storage pyramid trends focus on life cycle "content" management (where content stands for all usable information) to determine where in the storage pyramid content in each lifecycle stage should reside. Lifecycle content management builds around the concept of data temperature (hot to cold, with the trade-offs being value/cost versus the need for responsive access).

Tight budgets will continue to force IT buyers to be more cost conscious than they might like. IT buyers' basic shopping lists will continue to include disk array, tape automation, and backup/restore software staples. From this group, modular and ATA-based arrays will attract more attention, and the tape format wars will remain fierce.

Buyers expanding storage networking to consolidate and improve the backup/restore process will also focus more on security, storage resource and infrastructure management, and replication software for business continuity and content management.

All in all, 2003 will be a good year for the storage industry, and a busy one for IT administrators.

This is an excerpt from Aberdeen Group Perspective dated December 31, 2002.

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