A New and Divergent SAN Market

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    New data has just come out on the Storage Area Network (SAN) market, and while the news is good, it nonetheless points to a sector in turmoil as the enterprise tries to figure out how to shift its storage footprint for the cloud and mobile era.

    Technavio Research put the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for SAN solutions at a healthy 22 percent for the remainder of the decade, the result of strong demand for improved storage utilization, greater flexibility and the need to ramp up performance for highly dynamic workloads. It is important to note that the SAN of today is very different from just a few years ago, when disk-based solutions dominated the market. These days, flash-based systems are gaining in popularity both in the enterprise and in the cloud, as are completely new iterations such as server-side SANs and fully virtualized platforms.

    Meanwhile, 451 Research points to a growing storage market overall, with revenues nearly quadrupling over the next five years to top $65 billion. This is in large part due to the anticipated demands of Big Data and the Internet of Things, although more traditional workloads are also expected to ramp up as organizations seek to derive more value from their data. In this light, most of the action will go toward public cloud and all-flash solutions, while demand for traditional disk-based SAN and NAS will be less robust. And spending patterns will vary greatly between industry verticals, with sectors such as retail devoting perhaps a quarter of their storage budgets to the cloud by 2017 versus 17 percent or so for the enterprise market at large.

    In general, the SAN will remain a common facet for enterprises that need to keep large amounts of data – terabytes, if not petabytes – at the ready for time-sensitive applications, says tech author Evan Koblentz. This is particularly crucial for organizations that rely heavily on relational database processing, whereas those that deal mostly with small-scale file processing would probably do better with a NAS or private cloud configuration. It is also important to note that SAN technology is always evolving and in general is moving away from specialized hardware to more generic platforms that rely on advanced software to provide many advanced services, such as file replication, snapshots and disaster recovery. This, in turn, is making the SAN more accessible to the mainstream enterprise.

    At the same time, however, increasingly modular solutions are starting to erode the SAN market, or at the very least blurring the lines between the SAN and other forms of storage. Atlantis Computing, for example, is out with a new line of Flash-based appliances that mimic the SAN in function if not in form. The Hyperscale CX-4 is small enough to fit in a remote office location but powerful and flexible enough to deliver high-end storage services to both local and distributed users. A 4 TB device can be had for about $43,000, and comes with none of the overhead complexity of a traditional SAN that forces the need for highly trained operators. At the same time, multiple units can be deployed in conjunction to produce a highly scalable, highly responsive scale-out storage solution for cutting-edge workloads.

    There are those who say the cloud will bring about the end of the SAN in the enterprise, but this is not exactly true. Surely, today’s complex, disk-oriented behemoths are not long for this world, but new forms of SAN are already emerging, and as long as there is a need for local data infrastructure, there will be a need for local storage and a way to network it together.

    We may quibble as to whether these constructs constitute a “real SAN” or not, but the same basic functionality will remain in demand.

    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.

    Arthur Cole
    Arthur Cole
    With more than 20 years of experience in technology journalism, Arthur has written on the rise of everything from the first digital video editing platforms to virtualization, advanced cloud architectures and the Internet of Things. He is a regular contributor to IT Business Edge and Enterprise Networking Planet and provides blog posts and other web content to numerous company web sites in the high-tech and data communications industries.

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