Future Storage Might Be Just Solid State And Tape

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Storage technology will change drastically, but the only way to become more efficient is to understand what you have, and what you need, according to an eWEEK Europe panel debate

Companies adopting new storage technologies could find in five years time that they have solid state disks and tape, and no spinning disks, according to speakers in an eWEEK Europe webinar held today.

Solid state disks are faster and more reliable than hard disks, while tape uses less energy, is more reliable for long term storage and is “greener” – a combination of features that could simply squeeze out hard disks from the picture in future, according to some of the speakers in the webinar.

“From an energy consumption option, we might see tape coming back as a storage option,” said Hamish Macarthur of Macarthur Stroud International. Tape uses no energy until it is read or written, so it is possibly the most green technology, but its resurgence is a little way off, said Macarthur: “I think we are looking ten to fifteen years into the future.”

A vicious circle of budget cuts

Listen to the recorded version of our storage webinar now
Listen to the recorded version of our storage webinar now

As well as the future, eWEEK Europe’s panel considered the current state within data centres. “There is a vicious circle of budget cuts creating short term thinking,” said Phil Jones, chief technology officer at Shoden Data Systems UK, pointing out that these short term decisions add up to a crisis, because storage bought piecemeal will be more expensive and impossible to manage: “There is a management issue at the heart of this, before we start to look at the technical side of this.”

This crisis leads to a surprising result: although overall IT spend is constrained, storage seems to be completely out of control.  “In a $2 billion organisation you are fairly safe in assuming that the IT spend is around 4.1 percent, or $82 million,” said Nikki Wilton, who offers audits as a service as director of data management at Unisys. “The alarming thing is the increase in storage spend.”

About 18 percent of the IT spend goes on hardware, and in 2007, ten percent of hardware money went on storage – but by 2009, this had shot up to 17 percent, despite a tightening of the IT budget. That means a $2 billion company is now spending $2.5 million a year on storage – and the figure is still growing, she says. “Storage is the last bastion of IT that hasn’t been modernised,” said Wilton. “People are buying storage on a project-by-project basis which is probably the most inefficient way to buy infrastructure. ”

In the short term, the best way to save money is to understand and consolidate the storage people have already. This sort of audit can be very revealing according to Wilton. Best practice for storage efficiency is to have around 75 percent of a company’s storage used but, in a Unisys survey, fifty percent of users said they were no more than 50 percent utilised. A live survey of the eWEEK webinar audience, found that 60 percent were prepared to admit they simply did not know what proportion of their storage was allocated:  “I’m impressed by the level of honesty, but this was entirely anonymous,” said Wilton.

“I can think of one large UK bank that keeps 11 copies of the same data live on Tier 0, or the highest level of storage they have, in order that they can do things with it, which is hugely wasteful,” said Jones.

Understanding the problem is the key to starting to solve the problem, said Jones: “If you are underallocating but always seem to be running out, then you have a provisioning problem, and certainly a degree of pooling, virtualisation and rationalisation is needed.”

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