The enterprise storage industry is in transition and probably will be for some time as everything from the media to the array to software and even the physical location of all these components strives for relevancy in an increasingly complex digital economy.
The latest market research numbers should put aside all doubt that enterprise storage as we know it today is not long for this earth. But while this will certainly put a strain on the profits of the leading storage vendors, it is still too early to call for their demise. In fact, given the changes being made to their top platforms and their overall storage portfolios, there is every indication to suggest they are more than ready to roll with the changes.
As a whole, the enterprise data storage market saw a decline of 2.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2015 even though shipments were actually up about 10 percent, according to IDC. Research manager Liz Conner pinned this on greater activity in areas like server-side storage and cloud-based deployments rather than the big storage arrays that dominated in the past. At the same time, all-Flash arrays saw a whopping 71.9 percent year-over-year gain to produce nearly $1 billion in revenues, while hybrid arrays drew nearly $3 billion to now account for about 28 percent of the overall storage market.
Even more interesting, though, is the rise of hyperscale storage environments and the increasing tendency of large cloud providers to turn to Original Device Manufacturers (ODMs) to provide solutions based on homegrown specifications. While all but one of the top storage vendors (HPE) saw sales declines, collectively the ODM vendors saw a healthy gain of 12.6 percent. While many of these manufacturers are small, they nonetheless represent a growing threat to the hegemony that the top vendors have enjoyed for many years.
But ODMs are not the only source of storage market disruption. Multiple start-ups are leveraging solid-state storage, advanced memory architectures and a host of other advancements to provide highly flexible storage solutions for a range of enterprise applications. Pure Storage’s new FlashArray//m10 aims to bring all-Flash capabilities to mid-sized enterprises where they can support burgeoning virtualization and private cloud infrastructure. The system starts at less than $50,000 for 25 TB of effective capacity and can be easily upgraded to larger m20, m50 and m70 versions as data loads increase. As well, it provides enterprise-class features like five-nines availability, SaaS and mobile-based management capability and sub-microsecond latency for up to 100,000 32k IOPS.
And of course, top cloud providers are more than willing to take on the enterprise load, which results in greater workloads being ported to ODM hyperscale solutions and less to traditional enterprise arrays. Microsoft recently released the StorSimple Virtual Array, an all-software solution that provides everything from simple file serving to disaster recovery across public, private and hybrid clouds. The system runs on either Hyper-V or ESXi and allows organizations to manage up to 64 TB in the cloud, using either NAS or iSCSI for local storage and leveraging Azure Site Recovery and other features on the public side.
These challenges may seem daunting for the established storage vendors, but as I mentioned they are already retooling their portfolios for the new data economy – essentially leveraging the same Flash, cloud and economies of scale advantages of their competitors.
The upshot is that the enterprise is no longer limited to the handful of solutions that guided storage infrastructure in the past, which is both good and bad. Certainly, more choice is always welcome, but it also makes the development path a bit murkier, especially as individual applications start to seek out their own optimized storage solutions. This puts IT under the gun to provide a broad range of storage capabilities while still keeping data within a secure, managed footprint, all the while giving users the impression that they have unlimited resources and feature options at their disposal.
It’s a classic technology conundrum: the more you can provide, the more that is expected of you.
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.