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11/12/2004
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Embracing Storage

Storage isn't the problem--management is. Vendors are promising next year will bring systems to manage business continuity, backup and recovery, and multisystem environments

Keeping corporate information safely stored is more important than ever. First, there's more of it. From E-mail to E-learning, data warehousing to geographical information systems, companies are generating, analyzing, and storing ever-increasing mounds of data. Second, regulatory compliance demands a systematic approach to data storage, and increasing security concerns, from hackers to ID theft, have customers--and lawmakers--clamoring for more-effective data-storage methods.

There have been considerable advances. Storage is less expensive than ever before, following along the economics of computer-industry hardware. Also, new technology standards have unbound IT departments from buying their disk networks from the same companies that made their computers. And in the coming year, storage networks should get easier to manage.

"Vendors are building products with simplicity in mind--simple to install and run," says Dennis Martin, an analyst at research firm Evaluator Group. "They should be easy and friendly to use, compared with products that used to take days to install and were complicated to use."

The storage industry's most conspicuous trend is consolidation, as vendors try to expand beyond their traditional industry segments. Storage leader EMC Corp. alone has bought 10 companies in the past four years. And No.1 archiving vendor Iron Mountain Inc. last week acquired PC and E-mail archiving vendor Connected Corp. At the same time, there are new players. Microsoft is entering the market in a bigger way by building more backup-and-recovery capabilities on top of Windows. Similarly, security-software vendor Symantec Corp. is increasing its investment in backup-and-recovery products, as evidenced by its acquisition last year of PowerQuest Corp.

As a result, new technologies are due to come to market next year that should make it easier to keep information safe in emergencies, keep important documents readily at hand to comply with the flurry of new laws and regulations, and manage the variety of disks, tapes, and other storage media from multiple vendors that are spreading across data centers.

Vendors are being aggressive. Market leader EMC Corp. plans to bring out next year new capabilities that let customers save all their data to three different sites around the world, a first for a packaged product, ensuring the survival of data even in a disaster. IBM is developing new hardware and IT services for its consulting business that can back up data and "virtualize" computers and disks in pools to handle the most pressing workloads. And next year, Microsoft plans to ship server-side software, called the Data Protection Server, optimized for backup and recovery. Systems vendors will incorporate Data Protection Server in products so customers can recover information from disks in minutes, automate data backups while tying up few IT resources, and consolidate backup processes.

Meanwhile, costs continue to fall, pushing the price of disk storage down to pennies per megabyte, compared with as much as 50 cents per megabyte five years ago. High-speed Fibre Channel connected storage hasn't seen such drastic price drops and still requires IT shops to run separate networks for those devices. The market for Fibre Channel storage area networks, which let companies process more information faster, has yet to take off, but that could change next year as prices fall and performance rises.

To help business-technology managers plan the best storage investments, InformationWeek took a look at the most significant trends due to shape the storage market next year. In all, 2005 could be a breakout year for new storage capabilities.

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