Prepare For The Coming Changes In RAID
Smaller form factors, ATA (advanced technology attachment) RAID (redundant array of independent disks), more networked storage, and greater complexity are all headed your way.
Changes in the RAID (redundant array of independent disks) market will present good revenue and margin opportunities for VARs, according to four vendors involved in that market. RAID subsystems will continue to feature higher capacities and increased throughput, coupled with smaller form factors and lower cost. ATA (advanced technology attachment) drives and SANs (storage area networks) will also become popular in coming years, although integration may prove more difficult for resellers and integrators.
The amount of real estate available to customers is driving the trend toward smaller form factors. "Customers are trying to put as much storage as possible into the smallest amount of space," said Dieter Paul, president of StorCase Technology (Fountain Valley, CA). "Companies only have so much real estate and rack space available. End users are trying to get as much hardware [e.g. servers, switches, autoloaders] as possible into the racks."
The capacity of hard drives also continues to increase while prices decline. The lower cost of hard drives is the main reason the cost of RAID is decreasing. Although Fibre Channel drives used to be more expensive than SCSI (small computer system interface) drives, the prices are now about equal. However, the infrastructure needed to support Fibre Channel is still more expensive than for SCSI.
Bring On Serial ATA
According to Paul, many companies are looking forward to the serial ATA architecture, which he believes will not be simply a low-end solution. "There are recently released reports that compared ATA drives, SCSI drives, and Fibre Channel drives and found their performance to be about equal," he said.
Sam Sirisena, VP of sales and marketing worldwide at Promise Technology (Milpitas, CA), agrees that ATA drives will be a welcome addition to the RAID market. Traditionally, RAID has been used in medium-sized to higher-end server environments. Low-end companies with small and entry-level servers could not implement RAID because of the cost. At one time it may not have been necessary to do so, but that is no longer the case.
"Even very small companies are becoming computerized," said Sirisena. "Today, if you don't have e-mail, you are almost disconnected from the rest of the world. Applications are driving computerization down into the smallest companies. Computers are day-to-day tools and employees are storing more and more of their documents electronically. Small companies now need to store and protect their data similar to enterprise companies."
Making RAID Affordable
ATA drives will now enable smaller companies to afford a RAID solution. "The user doesn't really care if their RAID is using SCSI, Fibre Channel, or ATA drives," said Sirisena. "They just care that it works. But their pocketbook does care because to afford RAID, they have to be able to get it at a much lower cost."
Larry Jacobs, director of product marketing for RAID controller vendor Infortrend (Santa Rosa, CA), also sees a long-term trend emerging. He asserts that for VARs whose value-add is integrating hardware components, technical complexities will keep making their lives a lot tougher. "If you look back on the industry's migration to SCSI, it was not a smooth road," he said. "There was a big learning curve for the entire industry." Jacobs stated that as 2-gigabit Ethernet, Fibre Channel, and new technologies like InfiniBand and iSCSI continue to converge, VARs will run up against complex hardware, software, and mechanical and environmental issues.
Jacobs believes the focus for many VARs will be away from pure hardware integration and towards growing a closer relationship with their customers and vertical markets. "VARs should concentrate on providing services that really address their specific vertical segments," he said. "If that happens, vendors will have to take more responsibility for the hardware integration and the technical issues that arise."
Finally, it is hard to talk about RAID without mentioning the SAN market. Bob Perera, SAN product manager at Chaparral Network Storage (Longmont, CO), believes storage consolidation will have an impact on the RAID market. "So much data is being generated that companies are being forced to consolidate their storage," he said. "There is definitely a trend toward large storage systems that include software for mirroring and management."
Today, most storage is still direct attached. In five years, analysts believe that 75% of storage will be networked. Perera believes that number could actually be as high as 90%. "End users are really moving to SANs, be it Fibre Channel or IP [Internet protocol]," he said. "Customers care about functionality, manageability, and reliability. A large storage system offers all of that."
Perera also believes IP storage will play a significant role in the growth of SANs. "Fibre Channel is very entrenched, especially in the enterprise, and no one will get rid of it," he said. "But IP storage is SAN for the masses. iSCSI as an interface will go on to replace direct attached. IP storage will allow users who could not afford the infrastructure and training for Fibre Channel to implement network storage. VARs are now in a position to capture that revenue."