Cloud computing is throwing a number of long-standing IT models out the window. For most of enterprise history, more was always better – more power, more capacity, more network pathways.
On a fundamental level, this is still true, but it does not necessarily mean the data center will have unfettered access to everything it needs. More storage, more processing, more switching means more cost for someone, and while the cloud will always be at the ready, at some point costs will have to realign themselves with reality.
In this light, the enterprise is starting to look long and hard at its infrastructure investment to determine not only what needs to be kept in-house due to security and availability reasons but also how to deliver the appropriate resources at the lowest possible price point. And nowhere is the need for such a thorough analysis greater than storage.
As I mentioned in a previous post, storage experts are starting to talk about capacity shortages by the end of the decade as demand starts to exceed worldwide production capabilities. Seagate’s Mark Whitby, for one, says the data industry could be about 6 zettabytes short of requirements by 2020 due to the 10-fold increase in demand expected by Big Data and the Internet of Things. Once demand starts to bump up against available capacity, of course, we can kiss the era of low-cost storage goodbye.
This puts a twist on the narrative that the storage industry has been following for the past five years or so—the one that has solid-state technologies supplanting disk and tape for all but the lowest-performing applications like archiving. If capacity starts to become valuable, it just may be that disk in particular could find that sweet spot between price and performance that the data industry is craving.
Solutions like Western Digital’s Re+ device, for example, are bringing operational costs down, primarily through new energy-sipping techniques, while still offering high capacity. The 3.5-inch drive delivers 6 TB for as little as 6 watts, about 40 percent less than existing Re and Se drives in the series. At the same time, WD’s HGST subsidiary recently shipped its one millionth helium-filled HelioSeal device, which leverages the lower friction encountered by internal moving parts to provide high-speed performance with the power-saving capability of a normal 7200 RPM drive, even when pushing capacity to 8TB per drive. And with less internal friction, the drives also offer a mean time between failure (MTBF) of 2.5 million hours.
Most advanced drive technologies come at a premium price however, so the ROI takes a little more time. But Seagate says it can combine low capex, low opex and high capacity with its shingled recording architecture, albeit at the cost of high performance. The Archive HDD platform is available in an 8 TB form factor for $260. At 5900 RPM and a top throughput of 190 MB/s, the device will have trouble with modern production workloads without the help of an SSD, but as the name implies, it does provide a robust archiving solution, which is likely to be a pretty big deal as the cloud era unfolds. With the overlapping style of shingled recording, the drive is able to deliver high capacities with fewer platters, which in turn lowers power consumption. Note, however, that the drive has an MTBF of about 800,000 hours, so its low upfront cost does not necessarily mean a better ROI for the full archival platform over the long term.
At the moment, the enterprise is experiencing a storage glut as top cloud providers seek to woo business with services at less than a penny per GB. But the good times never last, and if data patterns play out as many expect, it won’t be long before supply and demand do a flip-flop.
At that point, the enterprise won’t be calculating storage costs based on how much it needs, but by how much it can afford.
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.