Data Overload

In the past storage solutions didn’t grip the imagination of the top management. Backing up business critical data was considered a menial chore, often carried out overnight by one or more system engineers hidden away in some backroom of the organisation. But storage strategies are rapidly being pushed up the corporate agenda as businesses find themselves confronted with a landslide of data, the size of which is almost unimaginable.

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By  Greg Wilson Published  March 29, 2001

Introduction|~||~||~|In the past storage solutions didn’t grip the imagination of the top management. Backing up business critical data was considered a menial chore, often carried out overnight by one or more system engineers hidden away in some backroom of the organisation. But storage strategies are rapidly being pushed up the corporate agenda as businesses find themselves confronted with a landslide of data, the size of which is almost unimaginable.

Think of it this way: in the next three years alone, mankind will generate more original data than it has for the previous 300,000 years combined, estimated a study by the School of Information Management & Systems (SIMS), at the University of California. In 1999 the world created about 1.5 ‘exabytes’ of unique information — the equivalent of 1.5 billion gigabytes (G/bytes). To put that figure into perspective that is 250 megabytes (M/bytes) of unique information for every man, women and child on the planet.

With data threatening to swamp the business, IT managers are being asked to draw up storage strategies not only to backup and recover data in an increasingly 24x7 business environment, but also to enhance the availability and management of corporate data. In a poll by Mori, 90% of senior IT decision makers cited storage technologies as an essential part of the overall business planning, rather than a straightforward technical matter. The shift in demand was caused by the proliferation of e-business initiatives and increased internal automation. “The majority of IT decision makers now see their business continually relying on constant access to data, both inside and outside the business,” says Alnoor Samji, partner at Mori. “Had we asked the same question a decade ago, only a minority would have realised the importance of storage,” he adds.

The urgent need to manage huge sums of data is reflected in the booming hardware, software and services businesses of the storage players. Figures from IDC indicate that the storage software revenues will grow from $5 billion in 1999, to $10.4 billion by 2004, as enterprises, “continuously look to storage management solutions to assist in the management of increased storage capabilities,” said Steve Widen, research director for IDC’s storage software programme.

IDC is also forecasting impressive growth in storage services, with spending due to exceed $40 billion by 2003, up from $21 billion in 1999.

As for the storage hardware business, Meta Group is expecting 80% of all server costs will be on storage devices.

Although the US economic slowdown may trim some of these predications, it’s apparent that as organisations embrace virtual business models the need to store and manage data will become mission-critical. As more companies search for peace of mind for their data they are turning to storage area networks (SANs). “SANs are a key trend,” says Philip Dawson, senior research analyst with Meta Group. “Storage consolidation is vital to help with the server consolidation programme,” predicts Dawson.

In terms of hardware SANs are nothing more than a set of specific storage devices connected by a high-speed special purpose network. However, there is more to a SAN than a set of directly attached disks — SANs support disk mirroring, backup and restore, archival and retrieval of data, data migrations from one storage device to another and the sharing of data among different servers on the network. “SAN is the storage [technology] in the high-end enterprise and will continue to be so for the next five years,” predicts HP’s sales & marketing manager, information storage group, ME&NA, Naji Robehmed.

To achieve the necessary consolidation of data, interoperability within the SAN is critical. SANs enable coexistence between different drive maps and operating systems, so organisations can plug both Unix and NT servers into the storage box. For businesses to achieve the most from their SAN deployment, they also have to achieve a degree of software interoperability. This extends the SANs functionality away from just backup and recovery to include more sophisticated functionality such as, “common data representation maybe within a common file system,” Dawson explains.

According to Robehmed, there has been a growing awareness amongst local enterprise customers to the importance of SAN environments. “Last year a lot of customers were not aware of what SAN is or what SAN could do [for] them,” explains Robehmed. “This year is totally different, I get calls from customers all the time either asking about a SAN solution, or how can they leverage SAN within their environment… Interest in SANs [has] grown tremendously in the Middle East market,” he adds.

||**||Page 2|~||~||~|The rapid escalation in storage investment in the US and Europe has partly been attributed to the data tidal wave generated by e-business and the 24x7 environment the Internet demands. However, with the Middle East yet to feel the full force of Internet business there aren’t many businesses in the region running a full 24x7 environment.

But says, Trevor Hutson, general manager of enterprise storage solution providers, STME, there is still strong demand in the market. According to STME’s figures, storage sales have leapt from $3 million to $25 million in just three years. That growth has been “fuelled by a recognition of the value of information and the impact on the bottom line,” says Hutson, rather than a specific e-business focus.
In the absence of a real e-business explosion, Hutson says that STME’s business is concentrating in four main areas — telecomms, banks, oil & gas and airlines.

Recently, the enterprise solution storage provider has announced deals with Batelco and Emirates Bank International. “To give you a feeling of the growth just in the telcomms segment; last year we made $6 million. By March we have already made $10 million from just four of our clients — that is how fast their data is growing,” explains Hutson.

Compaq’s enterprise storage unit is also bringing home the business. Last year, says enterprise business group manager, Jean Ghosn, the storage business sold over 86 million G/bytes of storage in the region. “That’s 80 petabytes and a record for Compaq,” Ghosn adds.

Although certain industries are moving towards storage infrastructures, there is still a lot of education that has to be done if businesses are to invest in data backup, recovery and management solutions. According to Veritas’ regional general manager, David Beck, even though many companies are backing up information, as little as 10% of them have tested their recovery procedure. “Education about SANs and sophisticated storage environments continues to be an issue,” says Beck. “It is scary how few organisations have tested their recovery systems, even amongst the bigger organisations in the region. There continues to be a real education issue to be tackled.”

Wataniya Telecom, a Kuwaiti GSM service provider, has been enhancing its performance and system availability with a SAN since 1999. But says Adel Safar, director, information technology division with the GSM service provider, for many companies there isn’t the competitive reason to invest in a SAN solution.

“There are many environments in Kuwait that are very stable, so they think ‘if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it,’” says Safar. Wataniya went for a SAN for a combination of reasons, including the fact it was a ‘greenfield,’ site and the dynamic nature and rapid growth of the business made a SAN compulsory from the very beginning. “The industry demands [that we’re] always on the move,” he adds.

The advent of competition, particularly in the mobile service provider segment has driven the widespread adoption of SANs as startup organisations begin offering 24x7, data intensive GSM services. Since mid-2000 Click GSM has been using its “SAN to maximise the performance and availability of our environment,” explains Mohamed Fahmy, data centre executive with the Egyptian mobile service provider.

“All our mission-critical applications are connected to the SAN… our data has undergone massive growth, very quickly. Our SAN has grown with the customer data — the data is critical to our business,” Fahmy adds.

The SAN environment also supports Click’s data warehousing, which plays a critical role in ensuring the mobile operator remains competitive.

With the addition of greater and more sophisticated mobile services, such as WAP and 3G, Click GSM will continue investing in their storage infrastructure to support the business. “Having the rapid growth of services in mind we have to continuously and carefully plan the capacity of the SAN,” says Fahmy.

As an early SAN adopter in the region, Click GSM had the advantage of building its IT infrastructures from scratch, whereas many companies have spent the last 18 months consolidating their servers, rather than assessing the benefits of SANs. However, first mover companies have had to invest time and money in developing native skills to deploy the SAN architecture. “We didn’t really know a whole lot about it, but with the assistance of the engineers from the local provider [STME] and the intelligence of the team, we managed to pick it up,” says Adel Safar.

Click GSM has also had to invest in training for its Egyptian IT team. “We called on the capabilities of our own IT team to put our IT infrastructure together,” says Fahmy. “We also used our own in-house resources to put together our data warehouse and we’re now even providing advice to other Vodafone [the parent company] companies. We have invested heavily in developing our professional services.”

||**||Page 3|~||~||~|With many more businesses across every industry facing a similar challenge to manage their data, pundits are predicting that the volume of SAN rollouts is going to vastly increase. Where previously STME, with its portfolio of EMC, StorageTek and Veritas products, had played pretty much alone in the enterprise space, the server-centric vendors, such as Sun, Compaq, IBM and Hewlett-Packard are all investing heavily in their storage business. However, the availability of skills to design and deliver integrated SAN environments, particularly in heterogeneous environments is likely to be a killer factor as more businesses embrace SAN technology. “Manpower is going to be a real challenge in rolling out SANs,” predicts Compaq’s Ghosn.

Compaq has been working for the last two years to build up its storage resources, both in terms of headcount and with its partners. Currently, the enterprise storage team consists of 25 people and the vendor is looking to recruit more people as the business grows. Compaq has also worked extensively to build expertise in its channel operation and now boasts somewhere in the region of 65 Authorised System Engineers. “We’ve been building our storage business for the last two years,” says Bosco Moraes, product manager, industry standard servers, enterprise solutions & services group, Compaq Middle East, Mediterranean & Africa. “We’re also building the available skills on different platforms and in systems integration… cross platform expertise is vital for the heterogeneous SAN,” he adds.

The other vendors appear to have only more recently begun to step up their local storage businesses. IBM is importing expertise into the region, as its looks to build up its recently formed systems and storage business across the Gulf. Big Blue has been conducting training sessions to build the skills in its channel. “We’re talking to a lot of end users and educating them about the value of consolidation, and how it makes data easier to manage,” says Jean Pierre Caradeuc, MEA storage solutions business, sales manager with IBM. “We’re able to leverage our Global Services Business to deliver storage solutions in the region,” he adds.

HP’s dedicated storage team in the region numbers just four people, but pledges Naji Robehmed this number will increase in the near future. Regardless of the small storage team, HP has already installed a number of SANs in the region. “We’re delivering storage solutions through a combination of our partners and our own expertise,” says Robehmed.

Sun Microsystems, widely considered late to the storage game, has been investing heavily in its storage business. At a global level, Sun recently announced it was increasing the personnel of its network storage business from 175 to 500. The additional headcount will propel the Unix vendor’s campaign to spread its storage technology into other heterogeneous environments. Sun’s recruitment drive goes hand in hand with a recent announcement to make its T3 storage box available on multiple platforms. “Now we have the opportunity to shift the focus and start looking at some of our competitors platforms and actually attack them in their own backyards,” says Chris Jones, storage product sales manager, Southern Europe, Africa & Middle East, Sun Microsystems.

Sun’s move is nothing new — in fact according to Gartner Group research director, Josh Krischer, the leading Unix player was one of the last to make its storage platform available on other platforms. But Sun’s move is indicative of the increased effort by the server players to sell storage outside of their own server base. “They are doing it more, but not [very] rapidly because they don’t have experience,” explains Krischer.

“For example, HP only sold 10% outside their own market, IBM managed 5% [and] Sun also 5%. All these vendors, Compaq, Sun, HP and IBM are used to selling in their own environments. EMC and Hitachi are different — they look for every bone that they can find, it’s the difference between the poodle and the street dog,” says Krischer.

Although there is a great deal of interest in the high-end accounts, all the storage vendors are lining up to get into the midrange market space. But the mid-market is demanding greater education and training says, Trevor Hutson. “The large players, such as ARAMCO and the banking sector are investing in storage solutions. But the low end of the market has still to undergo a big learning curve before we see this market grow,” comments Hutson.

Adds, Veritas’ David Beck, “many businesses haven’t considered their unstructured data, such as e-mail, as critical. But this is increasingly becoming mission-critical for businesses. The Middle East has to learn that there needs to be a greater degree of professionalism when it comes to storage.”

With more organisations expected to go live with Windows 2000 during the course of this year, there is likely to be a “greater degree of server consolidation projects in the medium business segment,” says Beck. This in turn will lead to greater awareness [to storage issues] further down the scale, adds Beck. As more businesses prepare for real 24x7 working environments, storage is going to play an increasing role.

But vendors have to invest more in the local market in terms of headcount and partners not only to design and deploy solutions, but also to educate the end user organisations in the region as to the importance of storage solutions.

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