Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/04/29/storage_systems_perception/

Storage systems: Reg readers speak

How come Microsoft is so popular?

By Tony Lock

Posted in Storage, 29th April 2009 10:00 GMT

Tech Panel During October- November 2008, Freeform Dynamics ran a survey in association with The Register. Some 1,125 people, from organisations large and small based in the UK, United States and a wide range of other countries took the time to let us know how IT systems are being used in their businesses. This article gives a brief summary of developments associated with storage solutions.

Storage Related Initiatives

As can be seen in the figure below the catch all “General Infrastructure Optimisation” is the leading initiative currently being undertaken by organisations as they respond to mounting business challenges and the global economic climate. Many initiatives highlighted in the barometer survey have the potential to impact storage environments, some directly but many others via indirect consequences.

Clearly, initiatives such as “General Infrastructure Optimisation”, “Storage and Information lifecycle management” and “”Virtualisation – Storage” affect storage deployment, but a number of other initiatives also have the potential to have an indirect impact on storage systems, some significantly. These include power optimisation projects and desktop virtualisation initiatives.

Unsurprising then, that we can see from figure 1, “Storage and Information lifecycle management” initiatives are now active are planned in around 40 per cent of organisations. It is now becoming recognised by many organisations that spending on storage systems and their ongoing management is today one of, if not the, fastest growing areas of the IT budget, even in these austere times.

With the increasing demand for long term information access, external pressures governing the retention and recovery of business information and a growing awareness of the cost of energy needed to run the IT infrastructure, including storage, it is clear that attention is turning to storage management.

However, we know that storage system deployment can be a major challenge, especially if a new architectural approach is being considered. Storage may, of itself, be seen as quite mundane when compared to more exciting areas of IT. However, its significance due to being where the data resides means that there is zero room for error when it comes to replacement or migration of storage systems.

Figure 1

Storage Vendor Perceptions

Turning to storage vendors, perhaps the most fascinating result thrown up from the barometer survey concerns the position that Microsoft now holds in an area that until the last couple of years was not one in which the company was seen to be a major force (figure 2). Across the entire range of organisations covered in the survey Microsoft is seen to be either a platform for continued committed use by around 60 per cent of mid-size and large enterprises or as a vendor of growing import. In small organisations the figure is around thirty per cent, but this is still the largest of any vendor. This raises the pertinent question, “Why is Microsoft now a force?”

It is interesting to speculate on whether the recognition of Microsoft as a major player in storage can be attributed to a broadening of what is considered 'storage', or if it is a consequence of either specific products that the company now has in this area, perhaps data movement or file systems, or is it down to an increased vocalisation of the storage capabilities it embodies and enables in its core offerings?

Overall, I am not surprised to see Microsoft gaining such high recognition in SMBs (figure 3), but I am surprised that large enterprises have even higher enthusiasm, especially as most such organisations employ specialist storage professionals who have grown up with the "traditional” storage vendors by their side.

A couple of relatively new entrants into the storage space, namely Cisco and Riverbed, also enjoy very favourable positions with respect to organisations stating that they are “becoming important”, results that again transcend scale of enterprise. It will be interesting to see how perceptions of these two vendors develop in the storage arena over the course of the next two years, especially as it is likely that there will be considerable marketing battles across the entire domain of hardware and management tools in the coming years.

This is especially the case when one considers Cisco given the networking giant’s more recent announcements around the unified data centre, which make it a server vendor in all but name and is attempting to pull all major infrastructure elements, including storage and its management, into one system.

Figure 2

When it comes to the traditional storage heavyweights all continue to enjoy a positive balance of “continued committed use” compared to those who regard them as “legacy use” platforms. It is clear that in large and mid-size enterprises HP, IBM, EMC, Sun, Dell and Brocade all enjoy healthy perceptions as platforms for continued use.

Of these traditional vendors HDS would appear to have the most work to perform to let potential and existing customers understand the value its solutions can deliver, especially in the large enterprises, the company’s traditional heartland. It is interesting to see that whilst HDS enjoys a lower profile amongst mid-market and small organisations, the company has almost no respondents in small businesses reporting HDS’ platforms as “mostly legacy use” whilst in the mid-market, as in large enterprise, the proportion is relatively large.

That said, HDS has a very small awareness amongst SMBs although the company has been looking to find ways into these markets where it clearly has room to grow. However the company should not lose focus on its core enterprise customer base where it appears to have work to do to enhance the perceptions of some customers. In fact this can also be said in respect of most of the traditional vendors where there is undoubtedly a base of respondents that see such platforms as “mostly legacy use”, a position with which none of the vendors concerned will be happy.

When considering the results from just small organisations it is clear that Microsoft, Dell and HP enjoy the highest profiles with Cisco, IBM Sun and EMC some way behind with Brocade even further down the table. The development of the activities of the major vendors and their various channel operations will be worth studying in the coming months as for the last two or three years each has sought to strengthen their positions in the various SMB spaces. The current slow economic climate is likely to refocus attention on these sectors, especially if large enterprise spending is any way inhibited in the medium term.

Figure 3

There is another “storage architecture” factor that may have a considerable impact over the course of the next 12 months in organisations of all sizes, and this is iSCSI. In many respects iSCSI has the potential to be a visibly disruptive force, especially in terms of the perceived simplicity of its introduction and apparent acquisition cost-effectiveness of this storage architecture. For both established storage hardware supplies as well as new entrants to the market, iSCSI has attributes that could, if well marketed, attract the attention of small, medium and large organisations. All things considered it will be very interesting to see how everything pans out.

Conclusion

Even in today’s harsh economic climate a large number of infrastructure based projects and initiatives are being undertaken across organisations of all sizes and in all vertical sectors. A closer look at the details, especially those running under the banner of “consolidation” highlights the importance of storage systems to getting said initiatives up and running. But, more importantly, it highlights the need to ensure that ongoing storage management be as effective as possible to minimise both the costs and the risks inherent in data management and storage systems.

The survey results illustrate that storage related initiatives such as “Storage Virtualisation” and “Storage and information lifecycle management” are to be found in a large number of organisations. It will be interesting to see how quickly the nascent interest in desktop virtualisation initiatives and the increasing deployment of thin client systems have a visible effect on infrastructure projects, as well as initiating significant changes in the storage architecture itself, as they inevitably must.

Note on research sample
The findings here are based on an online research study conducted on The Register in October 2008, which garnered 1,125 responses. As a result of the online nature of this study, the respondents will have been self-selecting, and drawn from a technology-literate group. We are also conscious that the current financial climate may cause some variability in responses that might be influenced by ongoing economics. As the study covered a broad range of areas and did not particularly dwell on financial aspects we do not believe there will have been any significant skew towards one technology area or another; nor do we believe there will have been too much variability due to economic criteria in this case.