STORAGE: It Gains Higher Ground



Throughout 2001 and 2002, when economic slowdown and downturn was having
serious repercussions on IT spending by Indian enterprises, storage was one
area, which remained fairly unaffected. A major reason for this was that the
telecom sector in the country was starting on an upward curve, despite the
global slump in the sector. Finally, in 2003, when overall industry witnessed a
revival, storage got a tremendous boost thanks to the telecom revolution that
was sweeping the country. The added incentive was the sunrise BPO sector.

While the total storage market in the country in 2002—03 was pegged at Rs
700.21 crore, most industry experts believe that the telecom vertical would
contribute somewhere between 20—25 percent of the overall pie. This translates
into a total market share of around Rs.150—160 crore, out of which about
Rs.130—140 crore would go into hardware while the rest went into storage
software. According to VOICE&DATA estimates, in 2003—04 this market would
grow by more than 15 percent, primarily because of the whopping growth in
subscriber base by most of the telecom service providers. The BPO industry
contributed about 8—10 percent of the storage market, which translates to
something between Rs.50—70 crore.

The Telco Push
According to PP Subramanian, country manager, Hitachi Data Systems, India,
storage of information in the telecom sector is largely driven by the post paid
services segment and this includes all types of services that is offered by
telecom service providers such as voice services, data services such as SMS,
MMS, etc. This is because for each of these services they need to maintain
records of the billing information of the subscribers and customers. One of the
key drivers behind the storage of the telecom data is the CDR (caller data
records) that the government expects the Telcos to store for 7 years. Therfore,
just as RBI and SEBI guidelines drove the storage market in the BFSI sector,
TRAI regulations are expected to give the relevant push for telecom.

Manoj
Chugh,
president, EMC
India and Saarc

Manoj Chugh, president, EMC India and Saarc puts the entire storage push from
telcos under a single perspective. "New technologies are evolving, user
demands are increasing (the anytime, anywhere access expectation), and as we
have seen over the last 18 months, the users themselves are increasing at an
exponential rate. All this means more competition, network expansion and
attendant complexities. At the same time, deregulation, legal rulings,
regulatory requirements and converging markets have created an environment of
compliance, intense price comparisons and pitched battle for market share."
As a result three fundamental issues are facing telecom companies in India
today:

  • A need for greater operation efficiency and cost containment, which means
    streamlining processes and improving functionality
  • A need to come up with more efficient ways to develop and deliver new
    services to the market place as a means to strengthen market position and
    create new revenue opportunity
  • A need to map out and integrate new/improved workflow processes

From a solutions perspective, the success of storage
solutions will be determined largely by their ability to unify business and
operations support systems, while integrating two historically separate worlds:
the networking operations and engineering world, and that of data/information
management.

This was the year, which saw Reliance entering into the fray
and then chalk up a record in customer acquisition. Other CDMA service providers
like Tata Teleservices and BSNL too followed suit with impressive numbers, while
GSM operators like Bharti, Hutch and Idea Cellular did not lag behind much in
the numbers game. What this record addition of subscribers ensured was the need
for additional storage infrastructure, that too in gargantuan proportions, for
nearly every functionality like billing, CRM database, network monitoring,
business intelligence, fraud management, online disaster recovery sites and
customer care amongst others.

SAN Shows the Way
While most enterprises in the country were either still contemplating or
just migrating to network-based storage like NAS from file-based systems like
DAS, most telecom service providers, at least the large ones, completed their
implementation of SAN during the year. Because SAN is based on fiber channels,
most enterprises in the country still hesitate for adoption since it turns out
to be expensive. Not so for these telcos, since addition in their subscriber
base necessitated migrating to a faster and more reliable mode of storage. And
this meant a thriving year in terms of business for the galaxy of storage
vendors too. BPO too was a substantial contributor, thanks primarily to their
stringent business continuity requirements, which necessitated the growth of
online backup sites. Besides, this sector largely dealt with customer services,
which require maintaining and updating information on customers, fueling the
need for storage solutions.

One of the biggest gainers from the vendor side during the
year was Sun Microsystems, whose SAN solutions were implemented by both Reliance
Infocom as well as Bharti, the biggest spenders amongst service providers in the
CDMA and GSM space respectively. HP, the storage vendor with the largest share
of the overall pie, too had a more than fruitful year implanting SAN in Idea
Cellular as well as Data Access. Bharti also purchased a SAN specifically for
billing purposes from EMC. Even Hutch made large purchases of EMC SAN boxes like
Clariion and Symmetrix. Network Appliances, whose business USP has been
primarily based on convergence of NAS and SAN through their iSCSI technology,
had the biggest implementation in the country, a 45 TB rollout, in Texas
Instruments India, who has been primarily catering to the global telecom OEMs
like Motorola, Ericsson and Siemens. IBM has been particularly active with both
its SAN and even NAS implementation especially amongst the ITeS and the call
center community. Big Blue has been striving hard to demystify two popular myths
about SAN–they are expensive and extremely complex to implement. IBM’s ‘SAN
made Simple’ offering was priced during the year at Rs 9.3 lakh and can be
implemented in four days.

For most telecom service providers, SAN implementation during
the year involved installing a fiber channel switch, connecting some primary
fiber channel storage and backup devices to it and connecting the servers to the
SAN with fiber channel adapters.

How was this more advantageous for telcos than simply adding
more disks to the servers? Explains Alok Kumar, Director-IT, Tata Teleservices,
"SAN provides plug-and-play scalability as well as high performance. And
since storage for telcos needs growing, one can just add more arrays to the SAN
and match them with more backup capacity. A telco could never lose performance
or sacrifice utilization numbers with a SAN in place."

For most telecom enterprise applications running SAN storage,
there has hardly been any complaint in terms of reliability and performance.
Also, according to Shailesh Agarwal, country manager, storage solutions, IBM
India, "SANs also lend themselves to redundant configurations for business
continuity. Running on an independent high-speed network, storage devices can be
mirrored and backed up all at very high speeds. Fiber Channel media also allows
long distance runs, making it possible to have off-site redundant setups as
well. Unlike NAS devices, SAN storage is accessible on the block-level by users
of the SAN, via fiber channel."

With SAN being established to be the most widespread
technology to be implemented by telcos during the year, it begs the question
what next. Kumar attempts to draw a roadmap for SAN especially in the context of
telcos. With fiber channel proving to be expensive, there is an increasing
possibility of IP SANs hogging the limelight in the telecom space. Though fiber
channel SANs would continue to be the best option for pure performance, IP SANs
would supersede them in a multitude of applications that are not so
mission-critical. Heterogeneous connectivity and convergence with NAS would
become increasingly crucial resulting in more adoption of technologies like
iSCSI. Disks would get bigger and faster, channel technologies would explode,
and switches would accommodate these technologies by getting bigger in the
process.

Rajneesh De

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