Buckle Up for a Bumpy Ride in 2005

What are the key storage trends and where they may take us in 2005? Our storage expert, Jon Toigo, claims there's a lot of upside that may help offset the post-2004 malaise.

Analysts at the Gartner Group gave us some cheery news as 2004 came to a close. According to the analysts, a lot of IT jobs are going to evaporate in the next couple of years, the result of downsizing, outsourcing and improved automation. Together with ongoing vendor consolidation in storage and other tech industry segments, a continued slow-down in customer orders for high-end storage equipment, and a significant reduction in the number of students enrolling in technology degree programs in the United States, it would seem that 2005 may be shaping up as the Year of the IT Malaise.

Malaise is a word that French doctors once used to describe vague feelings of bodily discomfort that preceded an illness. It is also defined as a general feeling of uneasiness or depression. If you read the gloom-and-doom prognostications of Gartner and are predisposed to depression, chances are the New Year could look pretty dismal. .

As a courtesy to our readers, I want to dedicate this first column of the New Year to pointing out a few things that may help put you back into a positive frame of mind as 2005 begins. These are not Pollyanna interpretations, but commonsense observations of how things currently stand.

1. That many traditional IT jobs and job descriptions will be lost over time is one of Gartner’s safer predictions. It goes without saying that as technology advances, certain tasks become obsolete and outmoded. For example, how many reel tape hangers—the folks who used to load tapes on request when that medium was still used as primary storage—are still employed in these days of square tape and automated libraries? Not many. It is inevitable, and a clear objective of IT, to innovate and automate in order to improve performance and reduce cost and risk. The good news, which is actually bad news, is that storage remains in such disarray in terms of standards and practices, that jobs in this space are pretty safe for now. They are, in fact, more critical than ever.

2. Vendor consolidation continues throughout the tech industry, as in most other industries. It is part of a natural business process, a response to the bio-rhythm-like Kondratiev Curve they talk about at Harvard Business School that describes the creation of conglomerates in one era, only to see them dismantled in the next. In technology, the process is accelerated simply by change and innovation, which outpaces all other industries. The good news is that vendor consolidation has a habit of producing “WAP phone” products: products that have cobbled together so many functions and features in an effort to meet everyone’s needs that they meet no one’s needs particularly well. Eventually, consumers get disgruntled and upset with products that don’t deliver on their value proposition. That creates enormous potential for little guys, and eventually triggers a new start-up boom. Bottom line: consolidation isn’t a bad thing, but a precursor to a Big Bang of new opportunities and new innovation.

3. That the appetite of Global 2000 corporations for new technology has slowed for the past couple of years is neither particularly surprising nor cause for alarm. Truth be told, there has been little innovation in the storage industry since the New Millennium, little to intrigue or excite consumers into trying or buying. If anything, visionary ideas have been put to sleep by the Big Iron companies because they set high standards to which the current generation of products, tethered to existing installed bases, cannot aspire. As consumers increasingly recognize the inadequacy and pain of present day “solutions,” they will be more willing to try something new. This may happen as early as 2005, and it will usher in a new era of excitement and innovation in IT generally.

4. As a sidebar to observation #3, keep in mind that there are thriving “grey markets” out there. Current storage solutions from brand-name vendors are not terribly innovative, plus they cost too much and deliver little discernable return on investment. In an increasing number of shops, such facts lead to a willingness to cut costs by purchasing used gear with third-party warranties and maintenance. Smart tech folks who find themselves jobless due to cutbacks, downsizing, outsourcing, or consolidation should find comfort in knowing that a lucrative business has developed in the aftermarket requiring their skills and knowledge. Quite conceivably, they could be doing exactly what they did in the service of brand name vendors, only more efficiently and without as much bureaucracy. Bottom line: There are a lot of jobs to be had and money to be made if you know where to look or have a bit of entrepreneurial zeal.

5. Fewer students enrolling in higher education’s tech degree programs might actually be a good thing. With all due respect to folks walking around with university credentials in technology, the truth is that these degrees have a tendency to date your expertise rather than brand it. Many university programs have lagged behind the times. They teach arcane programming languages and use 20-year-old equipment because that is what they have. It is extraordinarily difficult for a university to stay ahead of the tech curve: in a four year undergrad program, processors will have undergone four to six generations of improvement, operating systems will have changed a minimum of four times (not including patches), and IT architecture models will have morphed many times over. Frankly, the smartest tech guys we know carry degrees in political science, philosophy, literature, and chemistry or astrophysics. A few even have degrees in business administration or, though we are loathe to concede it, marketing. A degree is a degree: the best programs are those that integrate technology into another discipline and produce a more well-rounded human being rather than a technologist who needs to be isolated in his own office and fed through a slot in the bottom of the door.

6. Finally, entirely new approaches are needed, especially in storage, to fix our current and burgeoning woes. The pace of disk capacity improvement has slowed, we are told, from 120 percent per year to about 65 percent. That slows the pace at which we are approaching the fixed areal density limit of 150 GB per square inch imposed by the Superparamagnetic Effect, but it still places the end of magnetic disk growth within the 2007-2008 timeframe. By then, we had better come up with a viable alternative to disk or a truly universal virtualization scheme that will perpetuate the engine of low-cost capacity growth that has served storage hungry computing so well until now. This is not just a technical problem, it is a business problem as well. We need to break out of the one-size-fits-all, “SAN everywhere” philosophy of the late 1990s and move toward a purpose-built, managed-storage paradigm very soon or we will drown in the costs of our storage infrastructure. Data management needs to replace storage management.

Without a doubt, 2005 promises to give us all a pretty bumpy ride. But, ask any kid, that’s exactly the kind of ride that makes visits to theme park worth the ticket prices they are asking these days. Challenges offer more interesting and invigorating experiences, and, ultimately, a more fulfilling one. With that in mind, we are rolling up our sleeves and getting ready to meet the new world of storage that is unfolding before us.

Your thoughts are welcome: jtoigo@intnet.net

About the Author

Jon William Toigo is chairman of The Data Management Institute, the CEO of data management consulting and research firm Toigo Partners International, as well as a contributing editor to Enterprise Systems and its Storage Strategies columnist. Mr. Toigo is the author of 14 books, including Disaster Recovery Planning, 3rd Edition, and The Holy Grail of Network Storage Management, both from Prentice Hall.