The Economist writes that data storage is booming:
EMC reckons that the surge in demand is so huge that the situation calls for one of the industry’s periodic technological revolutions. During the industry’s stone age, back in the 1980s, firms stored their data much as consumers with desktop computers still do todayon the same machines that also processed it. The next paradigm shift, sometime around 1990, was to split the two functions, using a model called direct-attached storage (DAS), in which each computer is attached to a separate storage arrayin essence, a cabinet full of hard disks. If one or the other breaks, you can repair it without taking down the entire data-storage edifice.
DAS still accounts for about 70% of all data stored today. But it is already becoming pass. That is because, in the late 1990s, EMC came up with a bright idea. Companies could use their storage capacity more efficiently by creating internal networks that connect a bunch of computers on one side with a cluster of storage arrays on the other. Stephen Chin, an analyst at UBS, an investment bank, reckons that such storage-area networks (SANs) can boost the utilisation rate of hardware to as much as 80%, from about 20% in the one-array-per-computer world of DAS.
EMC’s boffins have now come up with a new idea: storage networks are great, but they still fall short in this brave new world of red tape by treating all information as the same, when blatantly it is not. There are this quarter’s profit numbers, and then there are the payroll figures for that receptionist who was laid off ten years ago. The former is clearly more valuable, and deserves costlier technology, than the latter. Technology buyers, with today’s tight budgets, want systems that do not overcharge for storing all the junk.
EMC’s answer is Information Lifecycle Management, or ILM. This is a souped-up and smarter version of a SAN. Now, servers are attached not only to one cluster of arrays, but to several different classes of storage devices, some top-notch and fancy, others cheaper and more dated. Special software moves data between these devices. New profit data end up in the fancy machine, for instance, while last year’s profit numbers get moved down a tier. As for that receptionist’s old wage slips, they go to an archive tape. And so on.
ILM explains why EMC has bought Legato, Documentum, VMware, and several other firms over the past year. All of these firms have technologies that EMC needs to deliver this new way of storing data. If things go well and EMC has a winner, the main thanks, of course, go to the politicians in Washington, who are proving so helpful to the industry even without any lobbying. Whether all of these extra data will ever be of much use to anybody remains to be seen.