Need for Standards
Ultimately, though, what this approach really means is that IT needs to push heavily for support of standards. If IT departments are to tailor storage schemes to their companies' needs, they need industry standards to ensure interoperability. "Interoperability is a huge issue today," says Steve Kenniston, an analyst at Enterprise Storage Group, an industry consulting firm, because it requires users to understand what's happening in the various industry standards initiatives. "Companies are reluctant to buy from vendors who aren't participating in those standards committees. The customer today has all the power. The economic times are such that [users can say], 'I'll never buy your product, and I'm going to go down the street and buy whichever product is going to offer me the most flexibility,'" he says. Adds Bill Hayden, a data strategist at Edward Jones: "That's one of the things that we're trying to communicate to the industrythat we want interoperability, and we want it as soon as we can get it."
Agreement over standards won't happen any time soon, but storage is suddenly getting the attention it deserves. "Two or three years ago, you couldn't find a business card that said 'storage administrator' on it," says ESG's Kenniston. Today, it's commonplace. And the increasing mentality among those professionals is to make storage a ubiquitous offering. "We want disk storage to be out there as a service, without caring what the hardware is behind it. We only want one fuel gauge," says Edward Jones' Steele. How long will companies have to wait for that? Experts say it will be two to three years before the standards solidify and the software potentially makes storage a pleasure to manage.
In the meantime, don't worry too much about costs of the commodity components like disks and bandwidth, which should continue their rapid descent. "You can expect round brown memory to get cheaper," says Aberdeen's Tanner. "You also can expect bandwidth to get cheaper. But never lose sight of the fact that the thing that always means the most is intelligence." His words to the wise: "Put all the emphasis on the software, the management [and] the skill level of the people you use."