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Navigating the writes and wrongs of storage management.

Death ,taxes and storage are three of life's realities from which no CIO can escape. While the first two possess a certain consistency, not withstanding the vagaries of superannuation, nothing seems certain in the realm of storage anymore.

Commoditization of hardware, advances in technology and evolving business models are changing the role of the traditional storage vendor, and attracting new players into an increasingly complex market. Buyers are being forced to listen to buzz phrases, such as information lifecycle management (ILM) and "software stacks" as vendors stake their claim for a greater share of the IT dollar.

Players from the content management space are getting in on the act, too, trying to capitalize on one of the few IT sectors that will continue to show healthy revenue growth, a rate estimated by IDC to be more than 7 percent this year. Names such as Interwoven, Vignette and ScanSoft are among several firms attacking the storage market at the top end, offering products that promote content management and worker collaboration in partnership with a storage vendor. Interwoven is a good example of this, having tied up deals with leading legal firms such as Gilbert & Tobin and Mallesons Stephen Jacques on the back of alliances with the likes of Hitachi Data Systems and StorageTek.

Kelvin O'Connor, IT manager at lawyer Henry Davis York, is one of the first to mix content management and storage together. "E-mail compliance, documents and Web downloads all significantly contribute to our ever-increasing requirements for storage," he says. "By combining a document management solution with our SAN deployment, we are in a stronger position to manage track and leverage our intellectual property."

O'Connor is not alone in this combined approach. Storage is undergoing a fundamental change in which the days of vendors knocking out million-dollar disk arrays and laughing all the way to the bank are gone. Instead, the game is data management. Demands of regulators and stock holders for greater compliance and governance has pushed storage to near the top of the priority list as companies try to ensure they can demonstrate their business processes are beyond question. No one wants to be the next National Australia Bank.

For many Australian companies the road to data management nirvana will be a hard one. Numerous vendors and consultants say their clients have little clue about either their storage capacity or the data they are holding. One Hewlett-Packard project at a major bank found 200 gigabytes of MP3 files stashed on the network. Analyst companies such as Gartner and IDC say most companies utilize less than 60 percent of the millions of dollars of storage capacity they have bought. And when things look a little tight, they simply spend again rather than audit the system.

IDC's Megan Dahlgren believes local companies are far behind competitors in the United States and the European Union when it comes to data management. "You see this best in the channel in Australia," she says. "They hear all about information lifecycle management too, but they are still implementing systems for backup archiving and data recovery."

This phrase ILM keeps popping up. The whole point of ILM is to know what you have stored, where you have stored it and whether it is in the right place at the right time. Of course, the concepts that sound simple are often the most complex.

Storage vendors such as EMC and Veritas will bang on about the "storage stack", believing that the higher they build it, the more complete their offering. This explains some of the interesting company purchases that have been in the storage sector over the last 12 months.

The most surprising - and perhaps the most inspired - has been the EMC purchase of the business intelligence firm Documentum. No takeover better illustrates the direction in which the storage players would like to go. EMC clearly is not resigned to confining its business to repositories of data and wants to play an increasingly strategic role within its clients' businesses. It is more than a cynical push by a vendor to break out of a specialist hardware segment with a diminishing revenue base that will shrink even faster now that Dell is offering low- and middle-range alternatives.

Gartner's Phil Sergeant, one of the most authoritative judges of the local storage market, says EMC and Veritas are leaving market leaders HP, HDS and IBM for dead with the speed with which they are evolving the storage game.

EMC appears to be putting its money where its mouth is, claiming to have spent $US2.6 billion on storage research and development in the last three years - more than all its competitors combined. Admittedly, it is hard to believe anyone could spend that much on storage R&D, but that's the claim of local managing director Steve Redman. Together with rival Veritas, it is pulling the right strings, seeking to develop software that automates storage management as much as possible.

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More about ACTBillionDellDocumentumEMC CorporationGartnerGilbert & TobinGilbert & TobinHDSHenry Davis YorkHewlett-Packard AustraliaHitachi AustraliaHitachi DataHitachi VantaraHitachi VantaraHPIBM AustraliaIDC AustraliaInterwovenMallesons Stephen JacquesMeta GroupNational Australia BankPromiseScanSoftSpeedStorageTekVeritasVeritasVignette

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