Data volumes have been on a dramatic upswing since the decade began and are about to rise even faster now that Big Data and the Internet of Things are ramping up. So it would seem that enterprises of all sizes should be scrambling to boost their storage capacity, and yet the market is largely flat.
What’s going on here? Is storage infrastructure becoming so efficient that organizations are really doing more with less? Or are workloads already porting to the cloud in such great amounts that commodity platforms are supplanting high-cost on-premises deployments?
There is probably a little bit of truth to both notions, but many other factors are affecting the storage industry right now. Chief among them is the plethora of storage media in the channel that makes it hard to gauge exactly what is happening with storage in general. Gartner, for instance, notes that solid state storage and traditional hard disk are on pace to cross each other in 2017; that is, Flash is growing by about 20 percent per year while HD is at 4 percent. By mid-2017 or so, Flash will start to exceed hard disk in terms of revenue. Meanwhile, shipments of sub-1TB capacity are at the lowest level since 2012, which is counterintuitive considering that, while speed is important in modern architectures, raw capacity should also be growing to accommodate increasing volumes.
According to SanDisk’s Steve Wharton, though, modern data loads are not as dependent upon capacity as their forebears, so it makes perfect sense that bulk storage would be slipping while hybrid and all-Flash solutions are on the rise. As he explained to IT Pro Portal recently, one of the hottest emerging markets these days is “Big Data Flash,” which incorporates not only capacity and speed but scalability, agility, and a high degree of data and resource federation. SanDisk has answered this call with the InfiniFlash device, which offers up to 512 TB in a 3U chassis for less than $1 per GB.
This is part of the reason the all-Flash data center will become a reality within the coming year, says NetApp’s Lee Caswell. The worldwide Flash array market is already at $11.3 billion per year and growing at more than 100 percent per year, and this will only accelerate as capacities increase and prices drop. Already, organizations are seeing substantial savings just in the simplified management and improved reliability of Flash. So even if overall capacity is flat-lining across the enterprise industry, that is only because organizations are shifting their spend toward more flexible storage that is better attuned to the applications of tomorrow.
While the enterprise has been streamlining and optimizing storage infrastructure for some years now, it is unclear whether this will provide truly meaningful benefits as data environments become larger and more diverse in the coming years. According to Mark Lewis, chairman and CEO of Formation Data Systems, a typical consolidation program can provide perhaps a 10 percent cost savings, but what is really needed is a 10-fold reduction in TCO that can only come from pushing volumes into the cloud. During the transition phase, this puts the enterprise in the untenable position of managing workloads at home and in the cloud, but eventually it will have to break one way or the other, and the cloud is the only way for organizations to support the kinds of workloads that are coming their way without blowing the budget.
To view the storage market as a single entity, then, is about as useful as viewing the transportation industry only through automobile sales. The fact is that there are numerous types of storage and numerous platforms and architectures with which to deploy it, so the rise and fall of any one sector is no longer indicative of the overall market.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.