While it's still more than five years away from happening, the Internet will eventually act as the plumbing to connect vast oceans of cheap disk storage within companies, Gartner analysts predicted here yesterday.
Until then, they added, technologies now emerging, such as the proposed iSCSI storage standard, will play an increasing role in linking remote offices to corporate databases and in tying together different Fibre Channel storage-area networks (SAN). And tape devices, the most widely used medium for backing up data, are expected to become a niche product as they make way for inexpensive disk drives with capacities of more than 40GB.
Those were the key messages imparted to users and other attendees on the opening day of the Storage 2001 conference being run here by Gartner. The consulting firm also predicted that the networked storage market will exceed US$10 billion in annual sales by 2004, with storage investments gobbling up two-thirds of the typical company's IT budget.
For now, though, the supply of storage devices is outstripping demand, drastically driving down overall costs and leading to fierce price competition among vendors. While conference speakers talked about the need for more network bandwidth, some users at the event were quick to acknowledge that they're just starting to look at building SANs.
Less than 10 percent of companies store key business data on SANs now, according to analysts. Users here said they still need to become more familiar with the idea of connecting multiple servers and storage devices into a single network, let alone using new technologies to expand a SAN's reach and data transfer speed.
For example, a storage architect who works for the federal government said the CIA is just now beginning to construct a SAN to connect more than a dozen servers to an EMC Corp. disk array and to provide more robust data security. "We're doing Fibre Channel at this point [and] we waited for some maturity there, so we're not really thinking about iSCSI at this point," said the architect, who asked not to be named.
Nonetheless, vendors are putting a big emphasis on proposed standards such as iSCSI, which uses the TCP/IP protocol to transport data across networks. "We need [more] fiber in the house," said Michael Workman, who previously was vice president of storage subsystems development at iSCSI backer IBM Corp.
Already, there are more than 200 start-up companies developing or looking to market iSCSI-based technology, according to Gartner. Within three years, iSCSI and Fibre Channel should "compete equally for the SAN plumbing layer," said Nick Allen, an analyst at the consulting firm.