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Storage Area Networks (SAN)
The efficiency of managing, transferring and scaling storage is becoming a crucial aspect for large, as well as small and medium-sized businesses in Belgium. This is partly due to legal provisions and the increased demand for more transparency and higher flexibility from the customer side. The information explosion and the need for high-performance communications from server-to-storage have led to a boost in demand for actual storage facilities as well as for storage and management software. The Belgian SAN market is continuously growing; technological progress enables a more efficient use of space in data warehouses, while at the same time constantly increasing capacity. Major customers are found in the telecom sector, the banking sector and the federal ICT market. An exact growth number cannot be estimated, as these corporations have the choice between managing their own storage systems or outsourcing service and maintenance to one of the many service providers.

The number of storage service providers is vast, ranging from large system vendors to niche providers. Therefore, the market is fragmented and there is no obvious market leader for the different customer needs. The major players in the market meet the demand with standardized storage service offerings for remote management, backup, replication and archiving. The number of actual storage warehouses is limited, divided between a handful of globally active players. A general look at these players shows that only 14.5 % of the Europe/Middle East/Africa (EMEA) market for external storage devices is covered by outside companies.

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A major prospect is actual hardware facilities, i.e., the establishment of storage warehouses. A major destination for future storage investment will be storage management, according to a study by Hitachi Data Systems. 49 % of IT directors of companies in EMEA said storage management is a major priority, while 77 % of companies already have implemented some storage management software. The main drivers behind storage investment are business continuity and data availability, while meeting compliance regulations at the same time. In Europe, it is the BASEL II regulation that obligates companies to be more transparent, thus demanding a higher amount of data to be available on a 24/7 basis. Automation of storage processes is no longer the only major concern; the ever-growing complexity of storage systems is also a concern.

Fiber Channel SANs continue to be the predominant type of networked storage, although Internet Small Computer System Interface (iSCI) solutions are slowly emerging, partly because most of the leading storage suppliers are introducing better-priced iSCSIs.

The SAN market is taking its place in small and medium-sized businesses, as well as within departments and edge environments. For IT managers to successfully adopt Fiber Channel SANs, new products must meet specific requirements of ease of use and affordability.

A major feature in SAN systems is the interoperability of system devices, such as switches and other hardware. The compatibility of products and devices should be a priority for a new player in the Belgian market. Good prospects lie in the field of improved interoperability, not only in standard functions, but also in more advanced functions.

As IT budgets and staffing levels are becoming stagnant or growing slowly, managing the storage infrastructure is becoming a greater challenge, incorporating the increasing demand for data availability and maintenance of huge storage infrastructures. From these pressures a new trend has emerged, promising a rise in storage outsourcing and third party storage hosting. The ever-increasing data volume demands new storage concepts. Priorities are shifting from simple storage solutions to managing storage data more efficiently. According to the market observers of the Gartner Group, investments in storage systems in EMEA may approach 5 billion USD annually.

The huge growth in demand is due to the opening up of companies to global commercial activities via the internet, and to the trend in customer data collection and analysis in connection with concepts such as Data-Warehousing, Business Intelligence or Customer Relationship Management (CRM).

The most frequently used technology in Belgium is Fiber Channel networking with the SCSI command set. Recently, the new SAN protocol iSCSI, which uses the same SCSI command set over TCP/IP, has evolved as an alternative, and is the preferred technology of a growing number of companies. The reasons for the decision for iSCI storage lie in its lower total costs, compared to Fiber Channel SANs, and its greater stability.

While large corporations often have their own storage systems or already have implemented a SAN solution via a storage service provider, the focus is shifting to small and medium-sized businesses. These companies often suffer from the challenges of growing volumes of data higher demand for data availability, but avoid investments in SANs and backup structures. Providers offering iSCI-based solutions with the possibility of real-time data storage via Virtual Tape Library can find a large customer among small and medium-sized businesses.

ISCI technology could also be sold to companies that have problems with backup procedures and large local amounts of data. If it is doable with Snapshot technologies, it can be offered as a cost effective alternative to Fiber Channel SANs. A storage snapshot creates a separate set of “pointers” from the data, which can be mounted as a volume or file system to another host, and is an exact duplicate of the original data.

The companies using SANs are from a large variety of industries, including banking, healthcare, manufacturing, retailing, education and services. Governments are also major clients in this segment, requiring high performance and high availability SANs.

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This site was last updated 1 June, 2009