Suppliers of storage systems have made more product announcements in the past six months than in the previous two years, according to one research firm. This week's Storage Networking World conference in Orlando promises to represent a microcosm of that trend as dozens of vendors unveil new technologies.

Chief among those offerings are systems that can automate the migration of data between tiers of storage and simplify storage network management through virtualisation, an abstraction layer between storage management applications and the storage hardware.

Although some information lifecycle management (ILM) and virtualisation technologies have been around for more than a year, "the difference this time is you're going to have large vendors talking about (it)," said Tony Prigmore, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group.

"ILM is something interesting that we talk about on a daily and weekly basis here," said Roan Winchester, director of backup management at Catholic Healthcare Partners. Winchester said he will appraise the ILM technologies on display at the conference.

The company is in the process of consolidating regional servers that are 180 miles apart into its main data centers for centralised backup. Once that's done, Winchester plans to replicate data asynchronously between those centers for disaster recovery. He said an ILM tool could help him reduce the total cost of ownership by easing data migration headaches and by moving older data off of high-end storage and onto mid-tier and ATA disk-based arrays.

Several vendors expect to unveil ILM-type tools this week as demand from users such as Winchester increases.

IBM is expected to unveil the next generation of its TotalStorage Open Software family for storage management. IBM's SAN File System Version 2.2 provides ILM capabilities through policy-based movement and deletion of files among various tiers of storage. And Hitachi Data Systems plans to show off one of its high-end TagmaStore Universal Platform arrays managing an IBM Enterprise Storage Server.

Tim Graham, team leader for data systems management at Virgin Atlantic, said he's looking for tools to help him reduce the complexity of his backup environment while speeding up his network. Graham said he likes the idea of ILM tools, but because his data resides on a heterogeneous storage environment across the globe, he first needs tools to classify that data in order to determine its true value.

Vendors such as HDS, QLogic and Emulex are planning to demonstrate new 4Gbit/s. Fibre Channel networks, which could double the speed of current storage networks. Analysts and users, however, said 4Gbit/s technology, which resides in host bus adapters and switches, isn't needed yet by most sites.