Is the Storage Industry as Stable as It Seems?

Arthur Cole

The latest research on the enterprise storage industry has it pretty much on the same track that has been laid out over the past few years: increased cloud consumption, growing Flash deployment at the expense of magnetic media, and the steady decline of large, distributed arrays.

But a quick peek under the headlines suggests that the evolution of storage may not be as cut and dried as many experts think – that perhaps even today’s disruptive technologies may themselves become disrupted by the end of the decade.

Some of the latest numbers on the storage industry come from India’s Markets Report World, which has the sector growing by 15.87 percent annually between now and 2020. The key drivers are familiar by now: increased demand for cloud-based resources, rising concerns over data availability and security, and demand for higher performance and more streamlined architectures through increasingly software-defined solutions. This largely jibes with assessments from IDC, Gartner and other research houses, as well as leading storage vendors like EMC-Dell and HPE.

But some voices are beginning to question this view. SpectraLogic CTO Matt Starr told Information Age recently that the long-term costs of scale-out cloud deployments are already starting to strain IT budgets, so much so that many organizations are pulling data back to on-premises storage. And for those who think on-premises will consist mainly of Flash, new disk technologies like heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) that stand to improve the capacity and lifespan of spinning media are just around the corner.


Even applications that depend on the speed and agility of Flash may have an alternative in the near future. A Massachusetts company called Nantero has begun licensing its Nano-RAM (NRAM) solution based on carbon-nanotube technology that, according to BBC Research, stands a good chance of taking over both Flash and DRAM in applications ranging from enterprise storage to consumer electronics. The technology offers equal speed and higher density than DRAM, lower power consumption than Flash, and can withstand more extreme environmental conditions than either. It can also be manufactured in existing CMOS fabs more quickly and at less cost. The first taker is Fujitsu, which is expected to ramp up production in 2018.

And while top vendors still dominate the storage industry, there is also a wealth of start-ups looking to break into the market with new architectures and new ways to manage data under storage. As Enterprise Tech’s George Leopold notes, venture capital is flowing toward firms like Kaminario and Panzura based on their ability to design and manage infrastructure for emerging initiatives like the IoT and increasingly virtualized workloads. Panzura already claims to have 26 petabytes of storage deployed on hybrid cloud architectures tied to Amazon, Google, Microsoft and other leading providers.

Market forecasts generally follow the patterns that guide most predictive analytics processes: that what is happening now will continue to happen until it comes to a logical conclusion. As we’ve seen many times in the past, however, things don’t always go as planned.

Data storage is still the focus of vibrant research and development, and its role in the emerging digital economy all but assures that demand for greater efficiency, lower costs and higher performance will produce a steady stream of innovative solutions for the foreseeable future.

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.


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