For a while, it looked like enterprise storage was on a pretty stable development path: convert tape to disk, convert disk to solid state, and ultimately transition the storage array to modular infrastructure featuring server-side and in-memory solutions.
That plan is starting to crumble, however, as developments across multiple storage media are increasing the flexibility of previously staid solutions and even causing some to question storage’s actual role in the emerging virtual data ecosystem.
IBM's James Kobielus, for one, is backing off earlier predictions that 2015 would be a tipping point for SSDs in the enterprise. He still sees SSD dominance as inevitable, but continued investment in hard disk development is doing wonders for storage density and cost-per-bit. So while Flash solutions will likely dominate emerging applications like data mobility and the Internet of Things, tried and true magnetic media still has a lot to offer the old-line functions that many enterprises will continue to rely upon even in a cloud-dominated universe.
One of these developments is shingled magnetic recording (SMR), which overlaps the read-write tracks on the disk so they resemble roofing shingles. The technology has actually been around for some time, but only recently have fixes for the inevitable overwrite and drive-banding issues produced a viable solution for the enterprise. Interestingly, many of these fixes involve the same data-shuffling techniques used in SSDs, such as write amplification and over-provisioning. The technology is still emerging, however, and write speeds are still on the slow side, which means initial deployments will likely be confined to the data archive.
Meanwhile, Flash itself is undergoing a series of changes primarily to the file management and operating software that provides many of the enterprise-class features that drive cloud and data center deployments. The Flash Translation Layer (FTL), for one, is seeing new levels of intelligence that reduce file corruption and lessen CPU overhead, while the new NVMe interface promises to deliver greater SAS and SATA functionality to the PCIe standard used in integrated server/storage environments. Ultimately, of course, the goal is to provide full SAN capabilities like snapshots and deduplication, but we’re not there yet.
And in the tape array, get ready for increased capacity, performance and functionality, according to the Tape Storage Council, as a broad swath of developers like Oracle, Fujifilm and Sony continue to make gains in compression, aerial density and other key attributes. And with tape costs still a fraction of even hard drives, demand will likely accelerate as Big Data and the IoT push both long-term storage and capacity demands into high gear. And if reliability is a priority, tape is still orders and magnitude better than even the most stable of disk solutions.
For far too long, the narrative in the storage industry has centered on who will “win” the ongoing battle between the various media. But this is rather foolish because the trend lines across the data industry are clearly showing a mixed environment in which applications can easily compile the appropriate storage environment via the wonders of abstract data architectures.
In this light, of course, the real winner is the enterprise, which will finally have access not only to the newest technologies, but the ones that provide the most favorable characteristics for the job at hand.
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.