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Given the immense amount of scrutiny that IT storage budgets are getting it may come as little surprise that there is an intense amount of infighting going on these days between solution providers representing different storage vendors. But what may come as a surprise is how much easier it’s becoming for customers to switch storage vendors.

It used to be that the cost of switching storage vendors was not only high, but also risky. But thanks to the advent of storage virtualization and other related technologies the cost and risk of migrating from one storage vendor to another is dropping.

Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) got the ball rolling on the storage virtualization front with the addition of a data migration capability to the Hitachi Virtual Storage Platform (VSP) that allows servers to communicate with HDS and a third-party storage system via an HDS controller at the same time.

According to Robert Basilio, vice president of hardware product management at HDS, the capability is critical for HDS solution providers looking to replace competitive offerings in a way that allows customers to make a gradual transition.

IBM then soon followed up with IBM SmartCloud Virtual Storage Center, which according to Doug Balog, IBM vice president and storage business line executive within the IBM Systems and Technology Group, makes it easier to move data volumes not only between virtual machines, but also between storage vendors.

However, while HDS and IBM are using different approaches to migration using storage virtualization, the folks at Hewlett-Packard argue that’s the wrong approach to the problem all together. Tom Joyce, vice president of marketing, strategy and operations for HP Storage, says least expensive way to migrate data with little to no risk to leverage HP data federation software and storage routers and gateways to migrate data from third-party systems into either HP LeftHand or 3PAR storage systems.

What all this means is that data is not as tightly coupled to the underlying storage system as it used to be. That creates a lot of opportunity for solution providers in terms of acquiring new clients. It also creates some significant challenges in terms of holding on to clients they already have.

Given the massive amounts of data that IT organizations are being asked to manage, their interest in increasing utilization rates is particularly acute. Storage utilization rates are often in the range of 20 percent, which means there is a lot of underutilized capacity..

Customers would ideally like to consolidate much of that storage as long as the act of consolidating that data doesn’t have an adverse impact on application performance.

In general, customers are also starting to recognize that data is an asset that needs to be maximized in terms of its business value as opposed to being a burden that needs to borne. They’re still keenly interested in minimizing costs, but they are also looking for more sophisticated ways to analyze and manage that data. That means that data and storage management opportunities in the channel now go well beyond simply managing the allocation of bits and bytes.