Microsoft recently made two key storage-related announcements, both of which emphasize a two-pronged storage approach that addresses companies' needs for centralized and distributed storage. Earlier this month, Paul Flessner, senior vice president for server applications, laid out Microsoft's perspective on the key data- management requirements customers will need for the next 10 years, highlighting the increasing need for storage at the edge of networks. Also that week, at Storage Networking World (SNW), Microsoft rolled out Windows Storage Server Release 2 (R2), a product that provides centralized storage on NAS devices.

In an update to customers in which Flessner discussed the release of Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Service Pack 1 (SP1), he observed that the overall cost of storage continues to plunge rapidly and suggests that the cost of 1TB of data could fall from $1000 to $100 sometime next year. (You can read the full text of the update at http://www.microsoft.com/sql/letter.mspx ). If the same trend continues, he noted, within 20 years, storage will be so inexpensive that people will be able to save virtually everything digitally and never delete anything. The petabyte, he noted, will be the standard measure of personal storage.

What drives this need for additional storage? In the corporate environment, perhaps the most compelling factor behind storage growth is the growing ability for companies to manage pre-transactional data--such as Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) sensors that monitor goods as they move down the supply chain--in addition to transactional data. Data volumes could also increase by a factor of 10 to 100, Flessner said.

At the same time, said Flessner, mobile devices will manage more data and a wider range of data types, including XML, email, time/calendar, documents and files, and structured data. He also said that these devices will encompass services such as search, query, analysis, sharing, and synchronization. (To speed the process of having mobile devices offer more robust data management functionality, Microsoft has unveiled a new lightweight member of the SQL Server family, SQL Server Everywhere Edition, to provide rich, local data management; SQL Server Everywhere Edition should be available as a Consumer Technology Preview--CTP--release this summer.)

Microsoft's other big storage announcement in early April was its unveiling of Windows Storage Server R2 at SNW, addressing companies' centralized storage needs. The feature that grabbed most headlines was Storage Server R2's ability to boot Windows by using an iSCSI SAN. Diskless boot eliminates the need for internal disk drives in servers and facilitates data consolidation and the deployment of server farms and grid-computing infrastructures that rely on shared, centralized storage. The iSCSI protocol also broadens the market for SAN technology--another potential step in storage consolidation--and according to internal Microsoft research, drops the cost of deploying block and file storage by as much as 25 percent.

At SNW, many of the more than 50 companies that announced their support for R2 had technology aimed at centralizing the management of data generated by branch offices. These third-party vendors offer remote-office storage consolidation through Wide Area File Services (WAFS) and WAN optimization.

SQL Server 2005 SP1 and Storage Server R2 make clear that both distributed and centralized storage needs are growing. But the overall growth of data in both distributed and centralized storage doesn't mean that the storage infrastructure will grow uniformly. The points in the IT infrastructure where data is stored are changing as more data is being stored both at the edge of networks and in data centers. Intermediate storage, whether at the desktop or the branch office, will slowly become less significant.