Storage: special report

Jennifer Scott takes an in-depth look at everything you need to know when it comes to storage.

"Any of the innovative companies that came out with some kind of new approach, new feature, new way of managing or using storage systems, the big dominant vendors have moved rapidly to include those in their offerings, either through building it themselves or acquiring somebody else," added Reichman.

But not all of the smaller companies have been snapped up by the big fish and there are still plenty to keep your eye on.

"A lot of the [smaller players] are in the software space," said Clive Longbottom, head of research at Quocirca. "If you look at CommVault who position themselves as backup and restore... you are looking at a company that is firmly into looking at intellectual property management which is what storage now has to be about."

He claimed storage could no longer be about "we do a terabyte, we do a petabyte etc" but was about how people managed information.

He added: "The hardware itself, I'm beginning to feel it is less important."

What companies, other than CommVault, are worth following then?

Reichman listed two more firms to watch. The first was Isilon, which offers a clustered file storage system. Unlike 3PAR, it is aimed at businesses who deal with file storage rather than large enterprise workloads. The technology allows for companies to add extra nodes as and when you need them, rather than over-provisioning beforehand.

Second was Compellent, which specialises in a block storage system and, like 3PAR, goes after large database workloads. However, it is aimed at small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).

"It doesn't compete at the extremely high performance end but it does offer, for a mid-tier storage system, a very high level of automation and a high level of efficiency, with automated tiering and thin provisioning," said Reichman.

Feature-filled storage

So we now know the companies, both big and small, to look at but what are the main features we should be looking for in a storage solution?

"The main one is flexibility," said Longbottom. "You don't want to be pulled down into a cul de sac where in 18 months time you think I should have gone for [something] different."

He claimed that most storage enclosures should be able to take both SAS and SATA drives so if you are only offered one option, question it.

"You want to be able to mix and match and have, within the same enclosure, tier zero storage being SSD/Flash-based stuff, tier one possibly being SAS based for the moment and tier two being SATA," he said. "As time moves on [you] want to be able to change the mix of those but the physical flexibility is [important]."

Reichman claimed the best and most necessary features within storage centre around virtualisation and software rather than the hardware itself.

"I would point to... features that enable greater efficiency or better performance through creating logical abstractions of the physical systems," he said. "That to me would include heterogeneous storage virtualisation where you are able to control systems from other vendors within either an appliance or a storage array. [This] category of feature has really grown and most vendors have some version of that."

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