External storage is back from recession, Gartner says

Virtualization drove up revenue in 2010 and helped fuel big gains for NetApp

External controller-based disk storage has recovered from the global recession, exceeding the record sales figure from 2008 with revenue in 2010 of more than US$19.4 billion, according to research company Gartner.

Enterprises and service providers alike are investing more in external storage as they virtualize servers and build cloud-based services, said Gartner analyst Roger Cox. Migration from tape to disk for backup is also helping the market, he said. In addition, slow spending in 2009 amid the economic doldrums led to pent-up demand, he said. Meanwhile, growth in China and India is helping to power increased external storage spending.

Spending on file-based storage platforms is growing much faster than for block-based systems, though the latter remain the biggest part of the market, according to Gartner. File-based external storage system sales grew 36.2 per cent from 2009 to 2010, compared with just 14.9 per cent for block-based products.

Enterprises are deploying the file-based systems to deal with unstructured data such as digital media and scanned medical records, which are proliferating much faster than block-based content such as databases, Cox said. File-based storage is also better suited to virtualization, he said.

"It's easier to install and provision and manage file-based storage in a virtualized server environment," Cox said. EMC and NetApp have capitalized on this advantage by focusing on NFS (Network File System) platforms for storage in virtualized data centers, he said.

Overall, in 2010 the external controller-based storage market grew 18.1 per cent from 2009, when revenue reached just $16.5 billion, and beat record 2008 revenue of about $18 billion, according to Gartner. Results for the fourth quarter of 2010 were also strong, with a 16 per cent increase in revenue from 2009's fourth quarter.

EMC retained its leadership position in 2010, with 28.0 per cent of the market for the full year. Its 2010 revenue rose 32.4 per cent from the previous year, hitting $5.4 billion. IBM remained in second place, with 14.4 per cent of the market in 2010. IBM had about $2.8 billion in revenue, a gain of 14.7 per cent from 2009. But NetApp jumped three places in the race for market dominance, moving from sixth place in 2009 to third place in 2010. NetApp's revenue grew nearly 51 per cent from year to year, according to Gartner. NetApp had 10.7 per cent of the market in 2010.

"It's hard to say that they're doing anything wrong," Cox said of NetApp. The company offers block-based as well as file-based systems and does well in storage virtualization. It is also leading the charge toward unified storage, in which the same software manages both block-based and file-based storage, Cox said.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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Stephen Lawson

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