Of the three pillars of enterprise hardware – compute, storage and networking – the future of storage is the least clear. Servers are being virtualized and containerized, networking is being defined by software, but storage is still swirling amid a plethora of media types and architectures.
For any given application, then, data managers or their automated systems have to match data loads to tape, disk, Flash or optical systems, using in-line, near-line or even off-line architectures in the data center, on the cloud or in a colocation setting for real-time, short-term, medium-term or long-term archival purposes. And all of these situations must be built, managed and maintained under tight budgets and in ways that accommodate rapidly shifting data requirements.
For many, the solution is simple: Pick a storage medium that offers the greatest flexibility at the lowest cost, which invariably leads to discussion of the all-Flash data center. But recent developments in hard disk, such as Seagate’s new helium-filled 10 TB drive, are attempting to push back against that notion. The 3.5-inch drive is lighter (natch) than a normal air-filled drive and is said to produce less wear-and-tear on internal components and require less power. As such, the company says the drive answers the need for high capacity in a small footprint and can cost-effectively scale into the petabyte range while still enabling high speed functionality and impressive durability.
Nevertheless, the relentless tide of Flash solutions marches on, with many top system providers already targeting the transition from disk-based to solid state architecture. HPE recently unveiled a new 3PAR StoreServ solution that is intended to scale with data loads, making it easy to supplant disk-based storage as Big Data and the IoT take shape. To that end, the platform features Flash acceleration and support for emerging NAND platforms for high-speed workloads while still tying into legacy storage systems like the EMC Vmax and IBM XIV.
At the same time, the company is providing a 12-month software licensing program aimed at helping customers shift data from hard disk to solid state.
If this is the case, though, why are so many organizations still relying on tape for archiving? Sure, tape is cheap and reliable, but it is slow and requires exorbitant support infrastructure to make it even marginally functional in today’s data environment.
According to storage analyst Fred Moore, however, only about 5 percent of data is analyzed in a high-speed fashion, with much of it hitting archival status within 30 days. So in that light, he tells InfoWorld, an active-active archive consisting of hard disk and tape offers the best balance between cost, capacity and performance for the vast majority of data coming into the enterprise.
Not everyone shares this opinion, however. To top storage providers like EMC, Hitachi and IBM, which have built entire business lines around hard disk, the speed of Flash and the capacity/reliability of tape make them the only viable storage media going forward. As Hitachi’s Hu Yoshida tells Tech Republic, the HDD roadmap has run its course, and the only way to improve capacity is to add more disks and heads, which ultimately diminishes performance. And when the entire cost of storage is taken into account, it won’t be long before Flash starts to win the cost/capacity comparison with disk, particularly helium-filled ones. Hitachi is already preparing a 16 TB SSD for this year and is planning a 128 TB device by 2018.
Clearly, there is not much in the way of unified thought when it comes to storage, so the enterprise will have to do its best to define its own needs and then apply the appropriate solution as technology and applications evolve.
There will likely be an ideal solution for whatever challenge presents itself. The problem will be figuring out what it is.
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.