For large, enterprise-class companies, any direct correlation between having in-house IT expertise and bringing in revenue comes primarily from the use of business-level (as opposed to systems-level) applications. To free IT staff to develop and integrate applications that drive business, most companies outsource some systems-level activities, including data storage and storage management. Some choose a managed storage services provider, which monitors the company's existing storage infrastructure or installs and manages an upgraded storage infrastructure. Others choose a storage utility services provider, which stores data at a remote site, such as an Internet data center.
In either case, companies want their software applications to work seamlessly with the various components of the storage infrastructure (e.g. servers, routers, disk drives, networks, data centers). As storage hardware evolves, industry insiders predict that the storage infrastructure itself will literally become seamless - that is, invisible. It will become, to use a trendy buzzword, virtualized.
Playing Hide And Don't Seek With Storage
Kirby Wadsworth, VP of marketing for Storability, Inc. (Southborough, MA), a managed storage service provider, sees virtualization as the future-defining issue for the storage market. "Somewhere along the line, a company or group of companies will create an abstraction layer between the end user application servers and the data storage," Wadsworth said. "The application servers will not know where the data is going, where it is residing, or how it is getting back."
Jason Schaffer, marketing VP for storage service utility provider StorageWay, Inc. (Fremont, CA), also envisions software applications constituting an overlay for an entirely virtualized storage infrastructure. "Businesses will only worry about the success of the applications they've built. They won't need to worry about new developments in storage hardware components," Schaffer said. "All of the infrastructure will be virtualized to the point that the only thing customers will need to pay attention to is the abstraction layer. That will happen soon."
According to Wadsworth, the abstraction layer will determine who controls storage pricing and, therefore, economic value in the storage market. "When virtualization happens, all of the storage equipment underneath the abstraction layer will essentially become a commodity," Wadsworth said. "Right now, everyone's trying to chase where that's going to happen - whether it's going to happen at the level of the switch, the host bus adapter, the software, or perhaps in a type of device that doesn't yet exist. As a storage service provider, we're neutral in terms of business philosophy on where the abstraction layer ends up. We can offer our services no matter what level it is on."
"Application, Application, Application"
Because storage subsystems will disappear from view, Wadsworth and Schaffer advise end users to develop in-house competencies in applications development. "Outsourcing storage services frees up a company's resources so that it can have smart people developing new applications and not just monitoring systems," Wadsworth said. Schaffer agrees. "If you look at where the industry is going, you're seeing the building of applications that will drive revenue," Schaffer said. "End users should examine how well a particular SSP's infrastructure is 'application aware' - how well it can handle all of the complex, enterprise-class applications a company may want to use. Even vendors in the storage and server space are focusing their business around the applications, not necessarily around technological innovations on the infrastructure side."
Wadsworth sees the focus on the application layer to point just as strongly to the SSP's management applications as to the end user's business applications. "It all comes down to the software designed to manage storage systems. Ultimately, the fight will be waged on the quality of the management tools."
Questions about this article? E-mail the author at TomV@corrypub.com.