Is a New Era of Storage Upon Us?


Yesterday's post on SSD deployment got me thinking about the future again -- in this case the future of storage.

While it may be true that many applications don't lend themselves well to solid-state disks, and therefore will always spur demand of traditional spinning disks, it's also true that the nature of enterprise storage is on the verge of the same profound changes that are sweeping the rest of the data center.

Virtualization, cloud computing and converged storage networking are all conspiring to greatly alter the long-standing relationships between desktops, servers, storage and even applications and users. The problem at this point is that it is difficult to say exactly how these changes will play out, or what we'll be dealing with when the transition is complete.

I'm apparently not the only one thinking along these lines. Dave Rosenberg, co-founder of SOA developer MuleSource, says that continuously expanding data requirements in modern enterprises could very likely send RAIDs the way of the dinosaurs. The rise of petabyte-scale storage is beyond the means of today's RAIDs, most of which are built on 1 TB drives. As you add more drives to meet your needs, the likelier it is for non-recoverable simultaneous failures and you lose your ability to maintain automatic data protection. He says to be on the lookout for the merger of low-cost processors and high-capacity drives as RAID's replacement.

EMC is also prepping for an industry-wide transition, according to this report from analysts Charles King and David Hill. The pair claims that the company sees the third era of storage getting under way, the first two being the DAS era and the SAN era. This new paradigm will be marked by virtual technology that replaces the physical connections between server and storage with an environment more attuned to seamless support for virtual machines and consolidated applications. Purpose-built storage systems, like the new Symmetrix VMax, will be the order of the day.

Whenever I think about the future of storage, I hearken back to an interview I did with the Enterprise Strategy Group's Mark Peters earlier this year, in which he speculated that if SSDs were to evolve to the point where they could replace HDDS en masse, then that would probably spell the end of the storage network altogether. After all, why put up with all those networking hassles when you can easily lodge several TB of Flash storage in the back of a server with little or no heat or space considerations?

"We don't have hard disks and tiering and all the other things in a storage hierarchy just for fun," he said. "They are there because we haven't got some magic uber-storage device. If you can put storage the size of a pinhead directly on the server, why wouldn't you?"

As the old saying goes: "The truth is out there." (Well, maybe it's not all that old.) One way or another, the appropriate storage technologies will rise to the surface like cream in raw milk. The process of change may hold many uncertainties, but the result should be well worth the effort.