Small Hong Kong companies are joining the large players in implementing sturdy and comprehensive data centres Hong Kong has entered a period of steady and smarter investment in computer storage capacity, boosting the ability of more businesses to secure their data and gain a competitive advantage through information technology. Industry experts said many local IT organisations - wary of the profligate dotcom era - were focused on the basics: buying and managing known storage hardware or software products within budget limits, and developing efficient data backup and restore systems. In addition, high-profile break-ins have put greater emphasis on the need for security protocols for networked storage. Sectors leading the drive include financial services, telecommunications, government, transport, distribution, retail and manufacturing - large consumers of digital data and keepers of sensitive private information. 'With better understanding of their storage needs, the large Hong Kong companies have also started to embrace today's more advanced technologies, including virtualisation and information lifecycle management,' said Avneesh Saxena, vice-president at research firm International Data Corp (IDC). Although spending on storage-management software was expected to rise significantly, disk-based storage hardware - including external and internal-attached capacity and networked systems - would remain a top priority on the IT budgets of many organisations in the second half of the decade, said Graham Penn, IDC associate vice-president for storage research. IDC forecast total new shipments of storage capacity in Hong Kong to hit 7,269 terabytes this year, up from 5,750TB last year. That would grow about 42 per cent annually and reach 33,363TB in 2009. A terabyte is equivalent to a thousand gigabytes, while a thousand terabytes make up about a petabyte. One estimate has put a petabyte of data as equivalent to 500 billion pages of standard printed text, enough information to fill 500 million floppy disks. New storage shipments in the Asia-Pacific excluding Japan are expected to reach 154,448TB this year from 117,220TB a year ago. That will increase about 47 per cent annually, thanks to demand from developing markets such as China and India, and hit 811,591TB in 2009. Phil Sargeant, research vice-president at Gartner, said the growth in storage capacity had been helped by lower disk hardware system prices, which had dropped 35 per cent to 40 per cent annually in recent years. Gartner has predicted rapid hardware price declines to continue at least through the year. Speaking at the Storage Solutions World Conference last Tuesday, Mr Sargeant said many large businesses had become smart at adapting to their changing information lifecycle requirements, and this had benefited both the low-cost backup devices suppliers and the vendors of high-end storage units, such as EMC and Hitachi Data Systems. For example, recent and frequently accessed data could be stored on more costly disk-based systems. Older and less frequently used data might be relegated to less expensive storage devices. Storage hardware market revenue in Hong Kong this year is forecast to be worth US$100.14 million, from US$99.01 million last year. It is expected to grow modestly and reach US$101.80 million in 2009. Francis Fung, chief technology officer at Midland Realty, said price competition and more advanced technologies had enabled small local firms to catch up with the large players in implementing highly reliable data centres. Agnes Mak, group director for information technology at Sunday Communications, said the cellular service provider's ability to manage its information and stay competitive in its industry was not all related to technology spending. Sunday's deployment of hardware and software information lifecycle management (ILM) infrastructure, purchased from EMC, also meant 'investing in the right people' to run these systems, Ms Mak said. Mr Penn said storage management, such as what ILM was designed to accomplish, included managing all users authorised to access particular data in an organisation. 'This is the security-related aspect of current storage technologies that is fast becoming part of the business process in many organisations worldwide,' he said.