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Tiered storage and disk backup budgeted for '05

The green light to spend again, albeit cautiously, has users opting for the biggest money savers.

Although the palmy days of IT spending are clearly a thing of the past, it looks as though the corporate inner Scrooge has loosened the purse strings a little when it comes to storage.

Numbers, from a recent survey of 213 storage users by Enterprise Strategy Group, bear out this trend. The Milford, Mass.-based storage research firm asked whether users expected 2005 storage budgets, including hardware, software and services to differ from 2004. Fifty-three percent reported that they were planning to increase their budget in '05, while 22% expected no change, and 18% expected their storage budget to decrease (7% didn't know.) "Spending levels aren't where they were in recent years," said John McKnight, a research director at ESG. "That said, we're coming out of a couple of years where users really did more window shopping than actual purchasing. I think that for the rest of this year ,and moving into the next, people will start making purchases again."

For example, Jim Pierce, CIO at The Monitor Group, a management consulting firm in Cambridge, Mass., said that he's got the OK for a reasonably big storage infrastructure revamp. "We're actually spending more on storage because we're migrating towards a SAN infrastructure and disk-based storage as part of a disaster recovery plan," he said. "The SAN is adding to this year's and next year's budget."

The cautious optimism on projected storage spending makes a certain amount of sense. After all, CIOs have kept their acquisitions fairly flat for the past two or three years and sooner or later, the current technology is bound to outlive its freshness date.

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Bob Zimmerman, principal analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass., said that he's forecasting about 5% growth in storage spending in 2005. Meanwhile, his original forecast of a 5% spending cut in 2004 has been revised to slightly positive growth for the year.

"There's a significant amount of new information generated each year -- on the order of petabytes," he said. What companies do with that data plays a significant role in spending. Issues, such as security and regulatory compliance further complicate how much data needs to be stored each year.

Where is the money likely to go? CIOs and analysts cited the following as areas ripe for investment, as well as those areas where money can be saved.

Tiered storage. Experts say that the concept of tiered storage is drawing big corporate interest. "Fibre Channel is five times as expensive as serial ATA disk," said Zimmerman. "If you can juggle those, and maybe a layer of iSCSI -- and never forget tape -- you can intelligently manage the cost of hardware."

At Aramark Uniform and Career Apparel, a division of Aramark that includes WearGuard, Galls and Crest , the company is gradually migrating divisional storage to its facility in Norwell, Mass. Working with Fortified Technologies and GlassHouse Technologies, the company devised a long-term strategy designed to control costs and enable the group to manage storage more easily.

Step one in the plan was a move to tiered storage, said Mike Rainville, senior Unix administrator and storage manager for the group. "Instead of using all high-end disk, we're trying to scale the infrastructure to put lower cost disks in place where appropriate, and move less-used information onto lower cost disk," he said. "For the same amount of money, we're getting more storage." Rainville said that he can easily live with lesser performance from the lower end storage. "If you aren't accessing information, there's no reason to put it on a high-priced spindle," he said. Aramark Uniform has put in a range of arrays, all from Hewlett-Packard Co., citing the ease of integration and scalability as attractive features.

More disk, less tape. Disk is getting so inexpensive that it's becoming increasingly viable as low-rent storage. While disk will never out-cheap tape, its performance and recoverability make it worth the slight price increase. "Now that disk is so cheap, you can just put data on really slow disk," said Gerard McCartney, assistant dean and CIO at the Krannert Graduate School of Management at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. "The data is essentially available all the time."

Staffing. Storage managers are turning to technology to keep from having to add more staff. The Monitor Group, for example, is hoping that by putting a low-end SAN in a regional office and a more robust SAN in the home office, it will be able to keep staffing flat. "SANs pretty much run themselves," Pierce said. "By having fewer devices -- even though they have more volume -- we should be able to reduce manpower efforts that were required to administer three large tape backup units."

Storage management software. Although the interest is there, many companies are making do with the management software that comes native on their hardware purchases, thus saving themselves further expenditures for the short term. The staffing issue also comes into play as companies turn toward storage software to automate previously manual work. Ed Martel, director of infrastructure at Aramark Uniform, uses centralized monitoring software to replace manual checks on its storage arrays and network fabric. "It's a little work up front to set up, but you don't have to have somebody looking at log files every day," he said. Without this type of software, we'd be adding staff, because we couldn't watch everything here without it."

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