Information powerhouse


2 Feb 2006

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In a world full of alluring technology, data storage may hardly set the pulses racing — but don’t make the mistake of thinking this makes it a poor performer. Far from it. Demand for data storage systems has never been higher and one of its biggest players is making hay as a result.

Buoyed by record results announced a couple of days previously EMC, one of the world’s largest storage manufacturers, unveiled a slew of products last week and promised that there’s more to come.

The best year in the company’s history brought in revenues higher than at any time during the dotcom era.

According to industry watchers, the rising tide lifting this particular boat is the growing corporate governance culture, where compliance with industry regulations means many businesses are having to backup and store ever greater amounts of files, emails and various data.

The global research firm IDC has said that the market for disk storage systems grew a record 12.5pc per cent year on year in the most recent quarter.

At 15pc, EMC’s growth was slightly better than the market average during the same period. Over the past three years, the company has more than doubled its revenue in Europe, executives said.

The new products launched in London last week came earlier than anticipated. Company officials introduced entry-level and high-end versions of the EMC Symmetrix DMX-3 storage array; new file system software called the EMC Multi-Path File System for ISCSI (MPFSi); and enhancements to its existing EMC Rainfinity Global File Virtualisation platform and EMC Centera.

Last Thursday’s unveilings were aimed at the higher end of the market, although the company is promising an announcement in a week or so that caters for businesses in the small-to-medium enterprise sector.

EMC is also changing into more of a ‘solutions’ company, as David Goulden (pictured), executive vice-president for customer operations, said. The shift is evident in the company’s numbers where for the first time ever, software and services revenue was greater than 50pc.

In truth, the term data storage is probably a poor description of what’s really happening in this market. Information management better sums up what’s at stake here.

For some time, analysts and vendors — not just EMC — have been promoting a concept of information lifecycle management. Also called ILM, in its simplest terms this involves putting different types of data on the most cost-effective storage system needed for the task.
Eric Shefler, EMC executive vice-president for Europe, commented: “We’re seeing an increased acceptance of ILM as a strategy, particularly in the enterprise space.”

He added that the explosion in the amount of information that even mid-sized companies are gathering and sharing means their needs are not unlike those of large enterprises a couple of years ago.

EMC believes this approach dovetails many companies’ strategies, where businesses must get better use out of the IT systems they have.

“The CIO [chief information officer] agenda now is cost savings,” said Nigel Ghent, EMEA north marketing manager for EMC. “Behind all of this, the growth in information isn’t going to stop any time soon but with that comes complexity, so being able to cost-effectively cope with that growth and maintaining security is important.”

Ghent put the Symmentrix product announcements in context, noting that these systems allow businesses to apply the same management process and protection mechanisms to data residing in a single storage array.

This has benefits from a cost point of view and it makes managing information easier, he said.

While last week’s announcement fill in gaps in EMC’s hardware portfolio, Ghent said that having made progress on the infrastructure side, the company would now turn its attention to unifying the information that resides within an organisation.

“There will be much more emphasis in the future on the link between infrastructure and business — helping customers to better understand what impact applications have on the business,” he said.

By Gordon Smith