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With storage managers finally ready to spend money, along with an announcement from Microsoft and new ratings for vendors’ products and services, next week’s Storage Decisions event in Chicago should kick off a strong year’s end for the industry.

“I think the storage industry has started to move and shake in a positive and dramatic way,” said Arun Taneja, founder and consulting analyst at research firm Taneja Group in Hopkinton, Mass. “The end-user community is looking at new technology and is ready to buy.”

Attending vendors echoed that notion. “Customers are looking at ways to automate the storage market and re-examining how they spend money around that,” said Jamie Gruener, market manager of Tivoli Storage at IBM and a former storage analyst.

“They want to manage the environment efficiently but don’t want give up their control.”

The show, which runs Sept. 20 to 22 and will host more than 500 prescreened IT storage professionals, offers three focused tracks on storage backup, architecture and management. Storage Decisions aims to get industry professionals up-to-date on the latest technologies and industry vision from storage vendors and analysts.

Sessions throughout the week include overviews of storage management strategies, negotiating strategies for IT purchasers, and technical education classes on everything from storage WANs (wide area networks) to building tiered storage architectures.

Click here to read about HP’s storage grid architecture strategy, which aims to make data dynamic.

Particularly important are the “rate the vendors” sessions, in which industry analysts will sit down with real users to discuss their experience using storage technology.

“These are always interesting and wildly enjoyable,” said Steve Duplessie, founder and senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), based in Milford, Mass. “These are great forums to hear about people’s storage nightmares and how not to make those mistakes.” This year, analysts and customers will rate backup, disk subsystems and switch vendors.

In addition, analysts expect at least half a dozen major announcements during the show, including those from Overland Storage, EMC and Microsoft. Analysts said Microsoft’s move will likely be the most talked-about during the show.

A Microsoft representative described the announcement only as a “new direction for storage at Microsoft” and would not provide more information.

Though ESG’s Duplessie also said he couldn’t go into details of the announcement, his characterization was an ominous one: “Microsoft will be acting like it’s playing nicely with everyone else, but [it’s] really just scaring everyone to death.”

iSCSI and NAS are touting the advantages of storage over IP. Click here for an analysis.

Other announcements next week will include new hardware and software from Sun Microsystems Inc. and a new disk-based backup and recovery appliance from Overland. Broadcom RAIDCore’s controller cards will begin supporting Linux operating systems, and Revivio Inc. and BakBone Software will announce data protection technology upgrades.

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