Storage Trends in 2008 and Beyond

By Elizabeth Millard  |  Posted 2008-04-08

"Backup is broken," says Stephanie Balaouras, principal analyst, Forrester Research. "More and more people aren't comfortable with any data loss at all, and most businesses are moving to 24/7 schedules that don't have maintenance windows. Storage is now officially a problem, so now is the time to address it."

In a recent report, Balaouras noted that there are several emerging trends in technology and functional convergence that should address major challenges like increasing capacities and recovery point requirements, shrinking backup windows, and limited budgets.

To improve backup, a company needs to address the whole ecosystem, Balaouras notes, rather than addressing individual components of a storage strategy. She adds that one important step is to eliminate point products by choosing applications that have consolidated functionality. Rather than cobbling together a number of software apps, an enterprise should opt for a "data protection suite" that not only manages backups but also includes other data protection options.

*Want to survive the coming storage war? Read on.

With these suites, companies need to use the advanced features as well, a strategy employed by too few, Balaouras says. The tools are in place, so use them, she advises: take advantage of database- and application-specific agents for making consistent backups, virtual full backups and synthetic backups for reducing backup windows, and snapshot-assisted backups that can completely eliminate backup windows in some cases.

Another major industry trend that can be addressed at a data-center level is the under use of media servers. "Too often, backup environments are not sized appropriately, given the amount of data that actually needs to be backed up and protected," Balaouras notes.

Finally, there's archiving, she says. If a company doesn't have an archiving strategy in place for regulatory compliance, it should consider developing one for operational benefits. It's likely that more companies will take a closer look at archiving in the near future, and for good reason: storing infrequently accessed files, emails and structured data in lower-cost environments reduces costs and improves the performance of backups.

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Alan Dayley, research director of the Software Market Research Team at Gartner, pinpoints other trends that will have an effect on purchasing and implementation in the next few years.

In a recent survey of storage users, Gartner found that the overall trend of backup to disk continues, with only 35 percent of respondents backing up directly to tape. Replication will also continue to gain importance in the recovery process, Dayley says, with at least 77 percent of organizations already augmenting or replacing backup with replication.

"Replication is a quicker, easier, faster way of getting to the point where you can restore information," says Dayley.

Virtualization Issues

Despite being much discussed, virtualization is still in its infancy, aside from server provisioning, Dayley notes. But the strategy is gaining attention, he says. "It's a key issue, and could affect storage more and more. With provisioning, you could use storage on demand, which is compelling for many companies."

Deduplication will also be a buzzword in the future, Dayley believes. Although only 17 percent of his survey's respondents currently use data deduplication during backup, nearly half of those polled are considering implementing the strategy in the next year.

That makes sense, considering how much needlessly duplicated material is being stored on enterprise media servers, says Dayley. For example, Joe in the accounting department might email a PowerPoint presentation to every executive at headquarters who, in turn, email it to every department in the branch offices. A single presentation can then become duplicated hundreds of times on the company’s servers, and be stored as unique items. When this happens several times a day, media servers get gunked up with unnecessary data, and it doesn't help to ask users to perform their own housekeeping to make sure irrelevant items are cleared from individual desktops, Dayley notes.

*Want to survive the coming storage war? Read on.

In general, companies should think of backup as composed of a complex set of interrelated and interdependent technologies that include a system of software, client agents, media servers, corporate and storage networks, disk systems, and tape systems, Balaouras says.

Because of the complexity, it can be difficult to troubleshoot when problems occur, particularly when backups are complete with errors, restores fail, or there are performance problems. Added to this strain is the fact that there's more data to back up than ever before, and it's likely that the numbers will only keep shooting higher as data demands increase and downtime decreases.

"At some companies, storage needs are growing by 50 percent per year," Balaouras says. "That can clash with budget constraints, so one of the biggest trends in storage for the coming year will be CIOs talking about their backup pain points, and creating a case for why they need more funding for storage."

*How about some free storage and backup tools for your desktop?