Top Storage Trends for 2014 – Editor

Many already in place but also new ones

By Jean-Jacques Maleval on 2014.01.02
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Here are our predictions of the top trends in storage for 2014. Many of these trends were already in place last year and will be confirmed but there are also new ones.

2013 was not a great year for the global storage industry. About all the storage giants record lower revenue for their external disk subsystems and the global market was decreasing for the first time since many years. The petabytes installed continue to increase at a fast speed but this trend is not compensated by the decreasing price/GB of the solutions. It's a little better for software, a growing market, but at a slower speed. It's much better for backup appliances, according to IDC. Despite this slowness, start-ups continue to be created in storage, no less than 57 the past three years.

Storage continues to definitively be the core element of IT management strategy, no more viewed as an individual component.

2014 will be the first big year for all-SSD systems with the arrival of EMC, joined by about all the storage giants and many start-ups that were the firsts to enter into this market, some of them being already acquired (Whiptail by Cisco, XtremIO by EMC) or becoming public (Fusion-io, Violin Memory), and other ones with sometimes remarkable products. New companies will enter into this already crowded field but there will be some consolidation as there is already 34 firms in the world offering this kind of all-flash units for critical applications. But manufacturers will have to push technology to give the possibility to integrate these extremely fast devices to their current traditional NAS and SAN. Hybrid (SSDs+HDDs) with tiering will continue to be acquired by a choice for customers needing higher capacity configuration.

Of course, storage software and hardware for virtualization environments will continue to be an excellent business and some companies in this field, like Veeam Software, are exploding.

There was a lot of buzz on software-defined storage, new words to build solutions based on commodity hardware managed by software (hypervisors) with scale-out capabilities and non-proprietary solutions at a much lower TCO than traditional NAS and SAN big silos. It's essentially a marketing stuff, even embraced by EMC. In fact this "new" concept was real since many years. For example, Datacore was in software-defined storage since its inception in 1998 and claims now more than 10,000 customers.

NAS devices will play a large role in the 2014 storage landscape, especially small NAS for private backup outside the company rather than public cloud. Add to that that some firms like Synology or Thecus are giving for free a huge bunch of software, unfortunately not easy at all to use. Documentation represents hundred of pages and you have to be a network expert to understand some sentences. There is lot lot of improvement needed here.

All the form of data reduction have a great future, thin provisioning, compression and mainly de-dupe, adopted by a lot of vendors, and going to new places: for primary storage and of course all-SSD systems, and also NAS, backup and cloud storage to reduce the network bandwidth. But all de-dupe algorithms for calculations are proprietary.

Object-based storage, once more, is not a new concept, but is going to grow rapidly, notably pushed by Amplidata, Caringo, Cleversafe, DDN, EMC and Scality.

We cannot avoid the growing trend of big data analytics and technologies, such as Hadoop, cloud infrastructure such as OpenStack, Swift for objects and Cinder for blocks. They consume a lot of storage and are now applied mainly to monetize data notably from social media.

The biggest event in HDD last year was the official announcement by WD's subsidiary HGST of its helium 3.5-inch drive at 6TB, a big push (50%) from the current highest 4TB capacity units without this hermetically sealed process. Seagate is supposed to release soon a 5TB device with more traditional technology. But it will have many difficulties to approach HGST. Toshiba will also be in trouble in this sector of high capacity 3.5-inch HDDs. There are only two questions about these helium drives: their price, not yet revealed, and the ability for HGST to produce these units in mass volume. For Seagate, the answer is single magnetic recording (SMR) to push the areal density, but WD, HGST and Toshiba will follow. Then (but when?), it will be heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR). In the enterprise market, 10,000rpm and 15,000rpm SAS will definitively adopt the 2.5-inch rather than the 3.5-inch form factor.

Globally the market of HDDs will probably stabilize and eventually decrease in number of units sold as SSDs are replacing them in low end storage devices (subnotebooks and notebooks) and in the high end for mission-critical applications. All the specs of SSDs are in favor of HDDs, but two, price and capacity. The gap in term of price is narrowing in favor of SSDs, more accessible. Furthermore, most recent SSDs reach capacity of terabytes and approaching HDDs, the result of economics of scale in flash chip manufacturing. The magnetic devices are also affected by the move of users to cloud storage rather than an external disk drive for backup, but globally, the capacity not acquired by consumers is sold by HDD makers to their cloud provider.

Follow an innovative idea from Seagate, Kinetic, an HDD with direct Ethernet interface. We see this product being more and more adopted this year by OEMs and system integrators to store data directly on network without the use of servers. It's also possible to build disk arrays with Kinetic drives. WD has not reacted to this proposal up to now.

To finish with the HDD industry, 2014 will be an important period for the two biggest manufacturers, Seagate and WD, because they will renegotiate with the Ministry of Commerce of the People's Republic of China (Mofcom) the strong conditions imposed following their acquisitions, Samsung and Hitachi HDD businesses, respectively. Today they are obliged to remain an independent competitor of their acquired firms and not benefiting entirely of their consolidation.

Concerning interfaces, the battle for PC in now between USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt with faster speed, with USB 2.0 and Firewire progressively disappearing. PCIe is also going to be more and more adopted, rather than SAS, for enterprise SSDs, with the help of the NVM Express working group. 16Gb FC is replacing 8Gb FC, as the same trend appeared some years ago with 8Gb FC becoming a substitute of 4Gb FC, but globally this interface continues to decline. 56Gb/s IB - in competition with 10GbE whose price is drastically decreasing, and 40GbE - will continue to remain the deluxe interface particularly appreciated for HPC, with not enough competition, Mellanox and Intel (following acquisition of QLogic assets) being the last ones in IB.

We project that flash chips makers including Intel, Micron, Samsung and Toshiba/SanDisk will finally dominate the SSD market because they are manufacturing by themselves the most expansive components of a flash drive, chips. The controllers are a crucial part of the unit but their price is going down. Also these big companies can offer to buy smaller ones if they need it. Is was the case with Toshiba acquiring assets of OCZ and SanDisk buying many years ago (in 1996) msystems, and then Pliant Technology in 2011, FlashSoft and Schooner Information Technology in 2012, and finally SMART Storage Systems last year. A rare exception is LSI selling a lot of controllers coming from SandForce, acquired in 2011, to smaller SSD players without the resources to design their own controller. Today, we have counted 119 SSD makers in the world. Here too, wait for some consolidation and shutdown in 2014.

MLC is ousting SLC as the primary flash technology.

A lot of investments have been made since many years into other non-volatile silicon technologies and to replace or magnetic recording or flash that seems limited in capacity over time, the dream being to get even a small foot in the huge market of storage devices. Here MRAM seems to be one of the most promising technology. Yet no one has convinced the industry and the majority of the new silicon technologies is more dedicated to embedded hardware.

Tape is having its last spot, cold storage, to archive petabytes and exabytes coming, at companies like Amazon and Google. LTO continues to be there, notably in video applications with large files with the use of LTFS. Same applications also use optical discs. It's clear that tape and optical do not have a great future globally.

We continue to be surprised by the number of companies offering online backup despite the slow bandwidth of Internet and the problem of security partially resolved by encryption. Our updated database contains around 3,000 firms in this sector around the globe, and any end user in the world can access all of them. Based in Hong Kong, Ashay Systems, one of the providers of software for cloud storage companies, claims over 9,600 MSPs or VARs delivering its secure backup products and services to their business customers. Analyst firm ABI Research calculates that the number of personal cloud storage accounts doubles to one billion in 2013, but the majority of customers only use the limited capacity offered for free. There is a big battle between providers to regularly increase the number of gigabytes of their free offering. 2013 even saw the start of the nearly-unlimited cloud backup trend. Flickr offers a massive 1TB to all free accounts for photos and videos.

There were some shutdowns last year, like Nirvanix and Symantec Other clashes are probable and consolidation is a necessity. It's impossible to know who are profitable in this activity being generally just a part of their business. That's the case for example for many web hosting firms that diversified in online backup to optimize their IT infrastructure. On their side, Amazon, a giant in cloud storage with AWS, as well as Google or Windows Azure, never disclosed any figure on their revenue or profitability.

Another use of cloud backup is data recovery for cheaper storage outside the enterprises. More and more organizations are moving to hybrid cloud, with backuped locally and externally as they don't trust entirely outside storage.

Skyrocking Mobile devices (BYOD) are driving a lot of consumption of storage and cloud storage.

Video management, surveillance and big data become three other boons for storage.

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