Guest Column | June 4, 2009

Data Storage Systems Of The Future: The Home Entertainment Center Model


Written by: Eric Lomascolo, Director of Product Management at Xiotech

For decades, the hard disk drive has been the fundamental basis for storing electronic information. Direct attached storage (DAS) and storage area network (SAN) systems using traditional hard disk drives as the foundation have done an adequate job for many years. But today, the explosion in the amount of electronic data that must be stored is straining this model. Organizations also are realizing additional complexities as they move to virtualized IT environments. The kicker, of course, is the current economic situation; many organizations are faced with reduced IT budgets and fewer resources, yet still have to navigate through all of the challenges of managing a data center.

Times have changed, yet for the most part the storage industry hasn’t kept pace with new, innovative solutions that address these challenges. However, storage technologies exist today that offer the flexibility, customization and affordability organizations demand, as well as an even better value than they currently receive. And, when these technologies combine, the whole can be greater than the sum of the individual parts. It is time for vendors and partners within the storage industry to recognize this and work together to bring these ideas to the market.

The “Entertainment Center” Model
Envision for a minute your ideal home entertainment center. It might include some or all of these components: a television; a full music system with a receiver and something to play CDs, MP3 files, etc.; a DVD/VHS player; a video game console; a projector; speakers; home furniture to house all of the equipment; and more. Each piece would be purchased separately, so you could have the brands, products and features you prefer, and they all would plug into each other and work together as part of the same system. You might choose to spend more on certain parts of the system depending on your wants and needs – if the most important piece to you is the sound system, for example, then you might pay a premium price for a receiver and speakers and spend less on your television or DVD player. Also, if your television breaks down, you can simply unplug and replace or fix it instead of having to take your entire entertainment center to the store.

The options for individual components are endless, but the entertainment center as a whole provides great value and gives you the power to customize however you’d like, depending on your unique lifestyle and budget. Plus, if you added an advanced, universal remote control, you could manage and use the entire entertainment center with remarkable ease and simplicity.

Now apply this model to the storage industry. Most organizations today purchase storage arrays as whole, packaged systems with certain hardware and software components built into them. These systems do not necessarily allow organizations to choose the specific features they’d like for their data centers, or to spend a premium on specific features for something they deem more critical. Also, if one part of the system fails, it usually cannot be fixed or replaced without taking the entire system offline or, worse yet, replacing the entire system.

The Implications of Purpose-Built Systems
Instead, it is possible with today’s technology to create purpose-built storage systems that take an organization’s unique needs and budget/resource considerations into account and produce an optimal solution to address them. New storage architectures and management tools are available today that allow users to manage their hardware separately from their applications, services and virtualization engines. This means users can manage storage as an individual component of their IT environments and select applications and features that play well in front of their storage. It also allows software vendors to create customized solutions for the storage hardware. This can yield products that deliver more functionality and value to end users, while allowing end users to create singly-managed systems that are more flexible, reliable and scalable than ever before.

The timing couldn’t be better for purpose-built storage solutions. Given the current economic climate and the trend toward virtualized IT environments, organizations are looking for cost-effective, high-value storage solutions to manage increased volumes of data. Barry Martin, partner and chief technical architect at storage reseller Mirazon, says many customers are turning to partners who can help them combine brands in order to offer customized storage solutions. This can often provide significant cost savings as well – sometimes up to 50% – because organizations aren’t paying for unnecessary functionality they won’t use. Additionally, because customers aren’t “locked into” solutions like they so often are today, resellers can provide more value to organizations because their broad, deep knowledge of top products and the industry would give them an enhanced ability to customize a solution for optimal customer benefits.

Partnerships Key to Purpose-Built Storage System Creation
The key to realizing these purpose-built storage offerings may very well be the success of vendor partnerships with other vendors and resellers. Vendors must work together to develop products that are interoperable and enhance unique strengths, creating better whole storage systems. Some such programs already exist, but for purpose-built solutions to deliver all value possible, more vendors will need to join the fold. Also, resellers will play a vital role in bringing these solutions to the marketplace and working to make sure they deliver maximum value for users.

Today, vendors already are hard at work developing partnerships and best-of-breed, purpose-built solutions for their customers. So as organizations continue to look for customized, affordable and scalable storage systems, purpose-built solutions – the “entertainment centers” of storage – will become more and more prevalent. Today’s interoperable, customized storage systems are helping organizations navigate today’s business challenges, and the partners that recognize the opportunities with this model will be well-positioned for future success.

Eric Lomascolo is director of product management at Xiotech, an innovator in data storage and protection solutions.