Data dilemmas

Despite continued growth in the regional storage space, enterprises are still demonstrating confusion over technologies, products and management platforms.

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By  Zoe Moleshead Published  September 29, 2003

Regional interest|~||~||~|Although vendors continue to describe the regional storage space as ‘healthy and growing’, there are still signs that local enterprises lack knowledge and an understanding of their storage requirements. While businesses are beginning to recognise the importance of data backup and security, storage providers still face questions about the differences between storage area networks (SAN) and network attached storage (NAS).

“The storage market is still extremely active, everybody seems to be looking at storage solutions, so the market is getting stronger and stronger,” says Andrew Calthorpe, senior corporate vice president, STME.

“Customers, however, are still confused about SAN and NAS and which is the best fit,” adds Mohammed Amin, regional manager, EMC Middle East. “The right answer is SAN is for critical applications and NAS for non-critical applications,” he continues.

Vendors, however, are also guilty of fuelling the confusion surrounding SAN and NAS, especially those that only provide one solution or the other. Moving forward, however, the consolidation of storage products, combined with the continued ascendance of larger players such as EMC, HP, IBM, CA, Sun Microsystems and STME, will enable enterprises to deploy solutions not on the basis or SAN or NAS, but with their particular needs in mind.

“SAN and NAS together are actually the ingredients of any overall storage strategy. SAN or NAS is not the question, it is both, they are complimentary solutions,” says Shrider Mahuli, senior technical consultant, FSG pre-sales, Computer Associates Middle East (CA-ME).

“The combination of these two environments [SAN & NAS] provides optimal return on investment (ROI) and performance efficiency, while providing the high levels of security demanded by global businesses,” adds Paul Trowbridge, regional marketing manager with Brocade Communications.

This is a view supported by the analyst community, which suggests that while both SAN and NAS will continue to grow, ultimately the market will move towards converged products that offer both SAN and NAS capabilities.

“We believe that approximately 30% of all corporate data is presently housed on a SAN, but around 60% of organisations have implemented some type of SAN or NAS… and we believe that by 2008-9 approximately 85% of all data will be on some type of networked storage whether it is SAN or NAS,” says Phil Goodwin, senior program director, infrastructure, Meta Group.

“The real trend, however, is more towards SAN/NAS conversion where we have dual purpose devices… offering the ability to provision both SAN and NAS systems. Today it really has to be an architectural decision for user on which to deploy, whereas we believe by 2005-6 it will really be a simple provisioning decision because these devices will be combined,” he explains.

Management is also still somewhat of a grey area. In a recent ITP survey, only 40% of respondents said their company used a storage management solution. More importantly, 42% said they didn’t, while a further 18% had no idea. This seems surprising because many enterprises have continued expanding their server environments, and with this their data volumes, yet they have not deployed centralised management solutions, which would facilitate storage provisioning and monitoring processes.

“Most enterprises have multiple servers and more and more companies are getting a little smarter about their servers and carrying out server consolidation. But there are still many enterprises that don’t know how much storage they have got. Every time they look at a new application they end up buying a new server with its own disk attached to it and it is very difficult to manage and a nightmare if they start looking at disaster recovery,” explains Calthorpe.

“By having a strong management tool it gives them the ability to look at their storage infrastructure as whole, rather than isolated islands,” adds Amin.

Enterprise reluctance to adopt management solutions may, however, be linked to other factors. While open standards and heterogeneity have been banded around for the last couple of years, Stefan Niemic, solutions & technology sales manager for secure data management, Sun Microsystems, SEE, explains that current management offerings are not necessarily living up to this promise.

“There are more heterogeneous storage environments but management solutions are not necessarily able to manage other vendors’ boxes,” he says. “The things lacking for customers are heterogeneous connections and interoperability between the different platforms. This is preventing them from being able to implement their overall management. They want to do the storage management but they are not able to because of the [lack of] heterogeneous connections and interoperability,” Niemic explains.

||**||Hype and reality|~||~||~|Other technologies that have endured the vendor hype and reality cycle include storage on demand, virtualisation and iSCSI. While STME has signed a storage on demand deal with Emirates Airlines and also agreed an alliance with the Egypt Cyber Centre to provide EMC’s Symmetrix platform as a basis for utility storage, demand and perhaps, more worryingly, interest seems to be waning.

“Storage on demand was something that we were the first people to do in the region and we have deployed solutions with Emirates Airlines and in a few other places. But otherwise there is not much interest or take up. It has gone a bit quieter,” Calthorpe admits.

Enterprises are, however, tentatively looking at virtualisation, although most vendors concede that interest in the technology equates to nothing more than talk. Meta Group also believes that this market will not mature until 2005-6, with Goodwin again citing a lack of heterogeneity as a factor in this delay.

“We get asked a lot of questions about virtualisation. There is a lot of interest and certainly it has a lot of benefits for the local market. But we are not seeing it as a primary buying criteria today,” says Charles Ashman, enterprise service & storage manager, HP Gulf & Levant.

“Storage virtualisation today is really defined by whatever the vendor is trying to sell. It is one of those hype terms that gets a lot of attention, but is 90% vision and 10% product today,” adds Goodwin.

IBM is, however, hoping to answer customer queries about virtualisation and other storage functionalities more clearly in the future. The vendor is establishing a facility within its Dubai Internet City base that will enable customers to see its storage solutions in action. “The lab that we are setting up should be ready after Gitex and we will be able show virtualisation,” says Jeff Maslen, storage channel development manager, IBM Middle East & Pakistan.

STME, meanwhile, is looking to raise interest in IP storage. The storage solutions provider has added Nishan Systems to its range of partners and is keen to demonstrate the value of its solutions in the overall storage equation.

“Nishan’s solution allows us to target more and more customers with disaster recovery solutions. Many enterprises in this region already have IP networks in place and this will give them a chance to use existing investments to do disaster recovery,” says Calthorpe.

“Nishan’s solutions are very good in collaborations such as replication. It is a very active market because people are looking to move copies of their data further apart for better resilience,” adds Nigel Horton, technical account manager EMEA, ACAL Fibre Channel Solutions.

IP storage or iSCSI, however, looks set to be a hamstrung by a lack of user interest and available solutions and components. Furthermore, Maslen argues that the technology, which was grabbing headlines last year, is not yet robust enough and also throws up questions about internal management.

“Think carefully about putting your data over IP because it is not that robust and who is going to look after it, your network manager? What does he know about storage? And does he really want to be bothered with storage when he is struggling to pull back bandwidth as it is. That’s why we have a SAN — to give people back bandwidth,” Maslen adds.

||**||Entry level SANs|~||~||~| While technologies and solutions such as virtualisation and storage on demand may be little more than talk in the region, one trend vendors have noticed is the uptake of storage area networks (SANs) in the small-to-medium sized business (SMB) space. According to vendors, this growth is being driven by a number of factors, including greater storage awareness, reduced prices and the need to deploy scalable solutions.

“SANs are coming down in terms of scale and that is probably where we are scoring the highest growth, in the upper end of the SMB and lower end of the enterprise market,” says Charles Ashman, enterprise service & storage manager, HP Gulf & Levant.

“We are seeing some movement in the SMB market as well,” adds EMC’s regional manager, Mohammed Amin. “I wouldn’t call it solutions, more a capacity of storage for data and handy replication. People are recognising that they need their information to be safe… so they are looking for a small SAN that is reliable and fits their price range,” he says.

The need to access information from multiple dispersed locations can also be a driver for enterprises to invest in a SAN solution. “If smaller enterprises need data available all over the place and web access, then they tend to go for a SAN,” says Shridhar Mahuli, senior technical consultant, FSG pre-sales, Computer Associates Middle East.

Complexity and price have been two of the key factors holding back SANs in the SMB space previously. However, the advent of switchless SANs has helped to reduce both these concerns. This, combined with the scalability and enhanced functionalities that storage networks provide, is convincing smaller enterprises to take the plunge.

“People are jumping on entry level SANs without switches just to get a foot in the door. They can also justify reusing it [SAN] again, and it can do flash copy and be upgraded to do point to point remote copy. Basically, it can do what all the big guys do, but at a fraction of the price,” explains Jeff Maslen, storage channel development manager, IBM Middle East & Pakistan.

However, it is not just SMBs that are investing in small scale SANs. According to Stefan Niemic, solutions & technology sales manager for secure data management, Sun Microsystems, SEE, storage solutions in the Middle East are generally smaller than those elsewhere and, as such, enterprises are investing in more modest sized boxes.

“We are seeing SAN in a box solutions and this is a result of the difficulty in integrating solutions and also the capacity that companies require. Storage solutions here are not as big as in other markets, but enterprises still have the same requirements, they need protection, reliability, availability and so on, but physically they don’t require such big boxes. Many enterprises were buying high end boxes, which were only half full, so instead they are going for smaller SANs,” he says||**||

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