If you can’t build it cheaper, build it better. In the 1970s, U.S. auto makers failed to heed this advice as both German (better) and Japanese (cheaper) rivals nearly drove them to extinction. So far, it seems that top IT vendors have learned this lesson, but we are still too early in the fundamental shift that is reshaping the data industry to say for certain.
A key battleground in the emerging data environment is storage. The last half-decade or so has seen the rise of numerous nimble, cloud-based start-ups providing bulk storage and other services at costs that are several orders of magnitude lower than platform vendors like EMC and HP can provide, eating into lucrative revenue streams that have supported the industry for generations. In response, storage and networking platforms are becoming smarter, with a wide range of management and integration options designed to provide a premium product compared to the commodity solutions that populate the cloud.
EMC, for example, is out with the VSPEX BLUE, a converged infrastructure (CI) appliance aimed at hyperconverged deployments for both cloud and enterprise applications. The device fits into a 2U slot and enables a four-node building block architecture, using VMware’s EVO:RAIL spec to provide a standard hardware implementation in support of higher-order virtual and application environments. At the same time, though, EMC is hoping to boost its value to integrated data environments through proprietary solutions like RecoverPoint and CloudArray that enable replication, disaster recovery and cloud gateway services. And to cap off its premium value prop, EMC offers varying levels of support, something that is hard to come by in the commodity world.
For VMware’s part, the company recently launched a raft of new storage products in conjunction with the new vSphere 6 cloud platform, including the Virtual SAN 6 that improves on both performance and scale and offers advanced virtual machine management over a wide range of hardware solutions. The system is a key component of VMware’s plans for the software-defined data center, leveraging the new Virtual Volumes module to provide integrated storage across EMC, Dell, HP, IBM and more than two dozen other leading storage vendors. In this way, VMware hopes to build next-generation infrastructure atop its hypervisor even as it opens up traditional server loads to emerging technologies like containers.
All of this activity will make storage one of the livelier sectors in the overall IT industry, according to TechNavio. The company predicts compound annual growth of 15 percent between now and 2019, led by advancing technologies like solid state, virtualization, capacity optimization and automated tiering. One of the key overarching goals is to put storage performance in the same league as both server and networking so as to provide a more robust, dynamic data environment for emerging mobile data and social networking applications. At the same time, backup and recovery capabilities are on the rise as more of the enterprise load is shifted off internal infrastructure onto the cloud.
Rather than focus on platforms, then, it makes more sense to think in terms of capabilities, says Enterprise Storage Forum’s Drew Robb. Flash, for example, is a clear boon when it comes to speed and agility, but strategic placement of Flash will better suit the overall data environment than blanket replacement of disk or even tape. As well, tools like enhanced tiering and even the public cloud for critical applications and data are all on the table as the enterprise looks to further the gains it has made with virtual infrastructure and service-based data operations.
If all goes according to plan, the enterprise should see storage costs decline steadily for a good number of years, both as a function of the increased efficiency and resource utilization that emerging software platforms enable and the commodity solutions taking hold in the cloud. While it is still too early to say how receptive the enterprise will be to offloading all storage responsibilities to third-party providers, it is a safe bet that the storage footprint within the data center will diminish and that storage itself will increasingly find its way onto converged and modular infrastructure.
The storage giants of today no doubt recognize the changing purchase patterns throughout the enterprise and are adjusting their portfolios accordingly. The question remains, though, whether they will be storage giants when today’s market forces have run their course, or whether there will be a distinct storage industry at all.
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, Carpathia and NetMagic.