Nobody will deny that the world is creating extraordinary amounts of data which, thanks to compliance laws, must be preserved. Unless you run a data centre, you may have no idea of what is involved. Even relatively small companies can accumulate a lot of data. It is no wonder that storage is a growth industry. Nelson Lam Ka-keung is the product director, enterprise storage and servers, technology solutions group, at Hewlett-Packard (HP) in Hong Kong. He said large enterprises usually had a specialist who handled storage issues, but smaller companies often needed help. 'When it comes to storage decisions, especially for small- and medium-sized enterprises [SMEs] who normally do not have a dedicated storage expert, many want the guidance of a trusted adviser,' he said. 'We can provide SMEs with a personalised technology experience so they can spend less time focused on IT [information technology] and more time focused on their businesses.' Not all large companies, however, are in a madcap expansion. Cathay Pacific uses a fair amount of storage but it is manageable and, according to Ron Baillie, Cathay's architecture and technology manager, the company has its storage needs under control. 'We use about 60 terabytes which, compared to many organisations, is relatively modest. We do not see a lot of growth because of the nature of our business; for the most part we have no need to store vast amounts of transaction data. Where we do need it, however, is in our customer relationship management and loyalty programmes,' he said. What is important to Cathay is support from the vendor. 'We want to know the vendor will be around for while,' Mr Baillie said. 'We tend to prefer vendors with a large installed base. That way, there is a far greater chance that any potential 'wrinkles' in new storage models and firmware will be found quickly.' At the high end of storage, for companies dealing with very large amounts of data - usually in a very large database - it is no wonder that the database giant Oracle has a solution it worked out with HP. Launched just a short time ago, Oracle's Exadata storage was developed with the hardware giant HP. Oracle's chief executive Larry Ellison, speaking at the launch, said: 'For the first time, customers can get smart performance storage, designed for Oracle data warehouses, that is 10 times faster.' Mr Ellison has been known to exaggerate in the past but there is some evidence that this time the hype may be a little closer to the reality. Kevin McIsaac is an adviser to an Australian company, Intelligent Business Research Services. He is enthusiastic about the new product. 'The new Exadata storage is a very clever piece of engineering from Oracle and HP that redefines high-end data warehousing by dramatically improving performance while retaining commodity hardware and software economics. Any organisation, running a large data warehouse that could benefit by reducing query times by at least a factor of 10, if not 30 or 40, must look at this new architecture from Oracle and HP,' he said. Hong Kong is home to a great many SMEs and they are the ones who are likely to want solutions that will work but not cost a fortune. As HP's Mr Lam said, the SMEs are often in a delicate situation because they usually have no one who is knowledgeable about this kind of solution. One thing they could think about is buying second hand. Maren Leizaola is chief executive of HEX Hardware Exchange, a company that looks for second-hand equipment and then sells it. Some of the deals Mr Leizaola is able to make are worth looking at. Second hand does not necessarily mean old and useless. Some companies he works with have equipment that has hardly been used. Because it sells as second hand, some very good deals can be made. But he does use 'Smart'. (Smart is self-monitoring, analysis and reporting technology originally developed by IBM to predict when a hard disk will fail by telling you how long the drive has been working). 'Using Smart, we are able to see how long the drive has been in production, how much it transferred,' he said. 'Sometimes we have used drives which have only been in production for five hours. They are held as spares.' Mr Leizaola said he sold a lot of equipment from Sun Microsystems because it was very reliable and worked extremely well with Linux and Solaris, Sun's own operating system. Sun's ZFS file system, he said, had been gaining in popularity - Apple and others have adopted it - so it was an easy sell. Calvin Wong, storage solutions consultant, Hitachi Data Systems (HDS), Hong Kong and Macau, said that new systems from HDS were ideal for mid-range customers. 'The Hitachi AMS Series 2000 delivers tangible efficiencies not only to business operations, but also to the environmentals of the data centre,' he said. 'In the face of dwindling IT budgets and high energy costs, this is a very powerful value.'