With all the changes taking place in and around data infrastructure, IT executives are in a quandary as to how to allocate their budgets. Do you lower capital costs by investing more heavily in the cloud? Do you shore up your own data center? And if so, where?
A major conundrum is storage. Bulky disk-based arrays have long been the mainstay of the data center. Indeed, much of the surrounding network and service architectures are designed to take advantage of a discrete, centralized storage pool. But with cloud storage, advanced memory architectures and the movement toward integrated, modular compute/storage appliances, many enterprises are caught between the desire to implement better, faster storage and the need to leverage expensive but still perfectly functional storage systems.
Disk storage in particular is becoming increasingly difficult to justify, says Enterprise Storage Forum’s Drew Robb, since it no longer provides the performance required of modern production environments but isn’t as effective at long-term storage and archiving as tape. Disk shipments, in fact, have been dropping since 2011, and Flash is already starting to eclipse 15k SAS and Fibre Channel solutions. With trends like mobile computing, hyperscale infrastructure and the de-emphasis of the local data center as a primary resource gaining momentum, it seems less likely that disk will contribute to overall data productivity in any significant way in the coming decades.
Indeed, the slow death of traditional enterprise storage is driven largely by the ability of the cloud to provide data access to a range of devices both in and out of traditional enterprise settings, says Jaspreet Singh, CEO of software developer Druva. At one time, a centralized storage architecture was necessary to improve resource utilization and boost reliability and durability compared to client-side storage solutions. These days, however, knowledge workers need access from virtually anywhere and on a range of clients, so converged, cloud-based solutions are on the rise, backed by service-based management and backup platforms.
For those who are interested in leveraging legacy storage systems a bit longer, the best way to do that is through server-side storage solutions, says Arun Agarwal, CEO of Infinio, which just happens to specialize in server-side storage solutions. Parochial interests aside, however, the fact is that boosting the storage capabilities on the server is an effective way to improve storage performance without jamming up the array with reams of additional traffic. In this way, the enterprise can keep crucial data close to the application where it is needed while avoiding the I/O bottlenecks that often emerge as the chief detriment to overall storage performance.
This is all the more reason why the recent Dell-EMC merger is so interesting. With both companies heavily reliant on traditional data center platforms, including big storage arrays, for their revenue streams, it is still unclear how a combined entity will be able to wean itself from those platforms for more flexible, cloud/mobile friendly solutions. Dell has made no mention as to the future of its Compellent and PowerVault lines, but EMC can most certainly bring a range of software and Flash solutions to the table, which can be used to either supplement or supplant Dell’s Big Storage platforms. Merging corporate cultures and product lines is no picnic, of course, but being a private company, Dell at least has a little more flexibility when pursuing emerging, and often risky, business objectives within fast-moving technology markets.
With new technologies and changing user requirements all hitting the storage farm at the same time, establishing a long-term storage strategy will be difficult at best. For many, the best thing will be to push all storage into the cloud and let someone else worry about building the right infrastructure to suit your needs. Of course, anyone who has ever conducted even a medium-sized migration from one cloud provider to another knows that you can never free yourself from decisions on storage infrastructure entirely.
Ultimately, though, the choice over storage will come down to application requirements: high-speed, high-performance solutions for emerging mobile apps, broad scalability and flexibility for Big Data, and massive capacity for the archives. And it’s a good bet that for every application that comes your way, there will be an ideal storage solution for it somewhere.
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.