Top Storage Technology Trends for 2017 – Editor

3D NAND only revolutionizing technology but lot of enhancements
By Jean Jacques Maleval on 2017.01.09

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As in 2016, we see this year only one revolutionizing technology even if there will be a lot of enhancements in the current $100 billion+ storage industry. Look to several start-ups, especially in software designed in their R&Ds in Israel.

They will continue to rapidly replace HDDs into PCs and notebooks, and up to high-end storage systems. Without moving parts, they are more and more reliable, much faster, now even offering more capacity than HDDs in smaller form factor with about all of them with AES encryption as an option or not. The biggest change this year for all storage hardware will be the massive move from 2D to 3D NAND (with more and more layers) to get bigger capacities and lower prices from all flash chip makers (Intel/Micron, Samsung, SK Hynix, Toshiba, Western Digital/SanDisk and probably Powerchip. USB keys and portable phones will also benefit. As well the fast PCIe interface with NVMe, with higher bandwidth and lower latency, will flood the market to progressively taking the place of 6Gb SATA and 6Gb/12GB SAS connections. Another promising flash technology is 3D XPoint/Optane from Intel/Micron, high-priced but extremely fast, supposed to begin to be in production in 2017 after being announced in August 2015.

Their areal density is extremely difficult to increase. Now the only way is to add more disks into drives filled with helium inside the units. We continue to wait to see if hybrid HDDs and SMR will finally be successful in a global market declining in units shipped since 2014. Maybe there is a chance to have the first announcements of HDDs based on heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR) with an added laser to push the areal density on magnetic disks, but probably not the performances. In any case don't wait for available products before 2018 in the best case.

Prices per gigabyte of these two different storage components continue to be largely in favor of the mechanical devices and all of them were decreasing these past years, more rapidly for SSDs than HDDs. But this trend is going to change for a while because of supply tightness of NAND chips as well as HDDs and their components.

USB keys
With increased capacity of flash chips, USB keys will reach 2TB to become a possible replacement of external HDDs and SSDs.

It's a recent technology not yet generally accepted and pushed by companies like Everspin and Nantero.

The market continues to decline, is monopolized by LTO (generation 7 at 6TB native) and is now used only for big volumes of cold storage with the competition of high-capacity nearline HDDs. Same trend is happening for WORM optical discs.

The best method is and will be a combination of backup on user's site (with HDDs or storage subsystems) and on cloud outside. This means that there will be always three copies of data in case of any accident: on primary storage, local and outside backups.

The industry will jump on the bandwagon of PCIe/NVMe - as we said before - and USB Type C, this later inaugurated by Apple will become the main interface for all notebooks, PCs and even smartphones for its fast speed. But Thunderbolt is far to die with its new 3 generation supporting 40Gb/s bandwidth. SAS and SATA will decline like FC even with the introduction of a new version at 32Gb/s. The three FC leaders in the past, Brocade, Emulex and QLogic, have been acquired.

Promising markets and applications:

  • Convergence and more than that hyper-convergence are two major trends. We will continue to see a tremendous growth in the adoption of hyper-converged storage for scalability, cost and storage efficiency, with Nutanix leading the pack after running its IPO last September.
  • All-flash arrays continue to be a growth market in competition with flash as a software-defined tier. Hybrid configurations with a mix of SSDs and HDDs represent a bigger sector for a while.
  • Monolithic storage subsystems are replaced by a lower-priced scale-out architecture comprising several nodes (servers with HDDs or SSDs that can be add on demand) on a fast GbE network with, on top, a software managing the entire system and excluding expansive disk array controllers as one or more copies of data are split on different nodes.
  • Data analytics and artificial intelligence will generate value from stored data.
  • Docker containers are becoming part of the industry.
  • Public cloud storage is one of the fastest sector in storage with leaders Amazon AWS, Google Cloud Storage and Microsoft Azure.
  • Among the most promising market for storage is the video industry including surveillance and post-production with the increase of image definitions needing huge storage capacities.