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Is the Storage Market Getting Too Complicated?

by Zsolt Kerekes editor of - October 7, 2004

It may seem funny now - but one of the reasons I had for starting back in 1998 was that storage seemed like a nice, simple, easy to understand, market. I was comparing it to the Sun market at the time - which looked like it would not last forever. Storage was my insurance policy to ensure a longer term publishing strategy.

1998... Launching a new storage publication? I mean - how complicated could it get? Disk drives? RAID? SCSI and Fibre-channel adapters? Memory and tape? I was already covering a lot of those things anyway - and I had done a bit of design work on storage products - so it seemed like an easy option... Maybe get a few mice drawn to make the site look less boring.

Today (in 2004)... Now I know better. You've only got to look at our home page to see there are a lot of technologies and product categories which now fall under the storage umbrella. Over 60 vertical segments. It's getting crowded.

It's a big market too. How big? Well if you add $20 billion a year on RAM to $20 billion on hard drives, then add another $12 billion for flash, then throw in a couple of billion dollars for each of the smaller segments like NAS, storage software, tape backup and host bus adapters that takes you north of $60 billion. And we haven't even included markets like fibre-channel SAN, directly attached RAID, iSCSI, services, web backup etc which adds another $10 billion. So you're looking at a $70 billion market even ignoring dozens of smaller segments like optical storage etc...

...Later:- in 2005 the storage market was over $150 billion.

OK that makes it a BIG market. Bigger than the $45 billion server market. But still doesn't explain why it's so complicated. After all - the PC market is a BIG market too - worth around $250 billion in 2004. But everyone understands the PC market. You pay more for a lighter notebook, you pay more for a faster desktop. Big screens cost more. What's to understand? But storage is becoming a headache.

Maybe one of the reasons storage is so complicated is standards. There are too many of them.

Want to connect a hard drive to something? Sure no problem. That can be ATA (parallel or serial), ethernet, fibre-channel, firewire, USB, SCSI (parallel or serial), USB, wireless etc.

Want to connect a RAID to something? Your list starts with all the above and we can also add flavors of ethernet like iSCSI and FCIP, and don't forget InfiniBand too.

Want to back up your data? That used to be easy. If you had a lot of data you used to back it up with a tape drive connected mostly by SCSI on a Friday night when you shut down the server to run in single user mode. If you didn't have SCSI and didn't have a lot of data - you mostly used to back it up onto floppies or super floppies. And most people never backed up at all.

Nowadays - you can backup onto tape or disk connected by all the interfaces we've already mentioned, or you can back up onto optical media. Or you can just back up onto something else via the internet and leave it to the web backup company to choose a system that's reliable and low cost for them.

In the old days - it was easy to find the storage.

It sat in a little or big box inside or close to your PC or server. You could go and touch it. If you needed more you bought another little box and plugged it in. If you didn't make a mistake with the DIP switches and formatting - then it just appeared as more storage which you could use straight away.

Nowadays you may be using storage - which you can't see because it's on a network somewhere. Even if you find it you can't be sure which box of storage is attached to which application because it may have been virtualized and tossed into the general storage pool. The closest you can get to touching it is touching an icon on your monitor which shows up your easy to use SAN storage manager via a GUI. They're always simple to install, always GUIs and only take 15 to 20 minutes to get started. At least that's what the press releases always say. Of course they're less easy to de-install. Difficult to upgrade if your storage software supplier goes bust (which happens a lot).

Even if you do manage to back up everything and your hardware never stops working - things sometimes go wrong. That's when you discover that backing up everything isn't the same as restoring - for example email. Viruses, software upgrades and human error can mess up your data in a way which somehow you are supposed to prevent. If you had to time to keep up with all the security patches. And let's be honest - sometimes the latest version of the OS stops a legacy application running. So you have to go back to the earlier version and just hope for the best.

If your building gets washed away in a flood - you're not going to get the same blame for a non working backup. Instead you can be a hero and phone a data recovery company who will dry out the soggy mess and try to restore something for you.

Nosiree being a storage administrator is not simple any more. Every day everyone conspires to make your work harder by filling up all the new storage you bought last week with spam, email and other stuff. Standing still is not an option. Deleting files when users exceed their quotas doesn't work - or makes the users hostile. Or they delete stuff which they weren't supposed to. Who gets the blame? You of course. You should have bought one of those ILM software packages which magically migrates all the stuff you don't need every day onto something else that's cheaper. Make sure you have a map of where it's gone to because one day you're going to need it back - and you may have to find the box and see if it's got a reset button.

In the PC world there is one main software company and if you don't like their OS - you can buy something in a pretty box from Apple instead. In the storage world there are hundreds of companies all doing very similar things on similar boxes with different software. Sometimes it's not even obvious that the storage box does run on software. But trust me - you'll find out as soon as you try to do something very different with it. It's best not to think about it.

Will storage get any simpler?

Yes. But don't hold your breath waiting.

I think that one day in the remote future when you need more storage - all you will have to do is decide how much you need, what color the icon should be and whether the speed needs to be cheap (slow) average, fast or super fast (expensive - this is the analyst / techie / reality gaming option). You'll order it online and it will connect online as soon as your credit card has cleared. You won't have to plug anything in or lift heavy weights. Everything will work automatically without you having to reconfigure your system. Your applications will hum along fine and you can go back to reading a wierd article about what a complicated mess the whole computer storage market used to be in the first decade of the 21st century. storage history

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