EMC's Vision: Cheap, Bountiful Storage

By David Aponovich

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Over the next several years, the "digitization" of daily life will drive advances in the data storage technology and reduce prices of the once-costly equipment, the CTO of industry leader EMC told attendees of a Boston conference Wednesday.

James Rothnie's keynote address at Intermedia Group's Enterprise Storage Strategies Conference & Expo occurs at a time when organizations are creating an unprecedented amount of digital data.

More "information" will be created in the next three years than in all of history, Rothnie said, citing a well-publicized study from the University of California, Berkeley. All that data -- 90 percent of which is expected to be stored digital -- has to reside someplace.

Among the drivers: Rapid growth of digitized books, magazines, videos, music and other "rich content" and "mass-access data" as the Internet becomes the cheaper and more efficient delivery tool.

But even more taxing on storage resources, Rothnie said, will be so-called "individual data," or as he describes it, "the digital footprints each of us leave behind as we go about our daily lives."

This trend is growing as enterprises move to digitize nearly every human experience and interaction: communications (e-mail and voicemail), personal information (medical records, credit histories), commercial transactions (credit card purchases) and other data.

"Even when you buy a tube of toothpaste with cash, you leave a few bits behind," Rothnie said, adding that individual data will constitute 90 percent of future storage demands.

The challenge for businesses will be to capture and store all this data, and to do it cheaply and efficiently, making it readily accessible when and where it's needed.

The good news for IT execs: This is all happening under the peculiar price-and-performance formula where prices drop dramatically while performance grows exponentially, which applies to many things in the hardware realm.

Rothnie said advances in technology -- such as denser storage products -- and more bandwidth means the price of networked storage likely will fall dramatically in the next four years. Expect to see prices fall to one cent per megabyte of storage in 2005, down from today's 30-40 cents per megabyte, he said.

The massive expansion of the global optical network will result in a new global information infrastructure, dictating new strategies for CIOs and IT execs deploy network storage, Rothnie said.

Raising the question of where content will be stored in the coming years, Rothnie said that "free and infinite bandwidth" will lead corporations to use more centralized data storage rather than dispersed centers providing data to users on the edge of the network.

This will translate into fewer data centers that require less square footage, less security requirements, and ultimately less people to manage and run them. (However, in light of Sept. 11, no organizations will expect to roll all their facilities into one, he said.) By 2005, "individual data" won't reside on users' desktops, he predicted.

For EMC, the current challenge is to devise new technology to make storage work better and faster, sell more cheaply, and still give the Hopkinton, Mass., firm the sales and profits that have vaulted it to the top spot in the storage industry.

Rothnie, who as executive vice president and CTO oversees EMC's strategies for new storage products, said EMC will invest $10 billion from 2000 to 2005 in storage R&D. Its three focus areas: increasing storage density, improving storage connectivity and improving storage management technology.

Last year storage vendors sold $44 billion worth of equipment with EMC accounting for a quarter of it. Rothnie expects hardware sales to grow to $100 billion-plus in 2005.

Across the industry, Rothnie said vendors shipped 200 petabytes of storage in 2000; that is expected to jump to 10,000 petabytes in 2005. (Through the first half of 2001, EMC shipped twice as much capacity as it shipped in the same period of 2001.) What vendors lose on storage pricing will be made up in sales volume.

Better storage density is considered the main driver for lowering storage costs. Right now, density (typically, magnetic disks) is doubling every 10 to 11 months, faster even than processor speeds are advancing. The speed of access devices isn't growing as fast, however; EMC is working on technology relating to caching and optimal data placement in storage systems, as well as automated systems to better manage storage systems.

Another plus for companies buying systems will be EMC's new Widesky initiative, which will use software to manage equipment from other data storage vendors. Widesky is part of EMC's aggressive plan to right itself and "transform the industry" after a dismal quarter.

Editor's note: The Enterprise Storage Strategies Conference was presented by Intermedia Group, a part of INT Media Group, which also owns internet.com. For information on future conferences and seminars, click here.