Exploring 10-year Trends

Storage is the cornerstone of data center. Without it, the world as we know it today wouldn’t exist. The data that we store is extremely important to our businesses and even to our families. As such, the storage industry – and storage administrators in particular – are notorious for moving very slowly and being extremely cautious. It only makes sense when you consider what’s at risk. Interestingly, the enterprise storage landscape today seems to be moving very fast. Storage startups have been multiplying like rabbits in the last few years. For the industry as a whole, the technology they’re developing and the way they’re reshaping the paradigm we use to evaluate and design storage in the data center is invaluable. However, as things rapidly change, there’s another side of the story to consider.

10-year Trends

At Storage Field Day 9 recently, NetApp founder Dave Hitz talked about stepping back from what’s new and exciting today to look at the big picture. He argued that “Top Ten Trends of 2016” sort of lists like this one can be very helpful to consumers, but they’re actually not that interesting to big vendors who are playing the long game. He suggested that a trend that spans the course of a year is really just an event. What’s important if a company wants to really cement itself as a player in the industry for the long term is to look at what will be huge in the industry for a long time.
Take an example from data center history to illustrate Dave’s point: PCs were not always commonplace. When the concept was first introduced, they were obviously a game changer. But not every desk had one right away. It took a decade (or even more) before it was just expected that there was a PC on every desk and most employees new how to use one. Dave’s opening session at SFD9 posited – and I agree – that for NetApp there are two major “10-year” scale trends that make sense to focus on.

Flash Storage

Flash storage is cementing its place in the data center every day as the cost continues to come down and performance continues to go up. High capacity flash storage is now becoming economical, as evidenced by products like SanDisk’s InfiniFlash offering. So flash storage officially runs the gamut of data center storage needs, from blazing fast, low capacity to still pretty fast, high capacity. As the cost continues to come down, it will only be a matter of time before many data centers contain mostly (or even in some cases only) flash storage. Wikibon estimated last year that by 2020 the cost (including data reduction) per terabyte of disk over 4 years will be substantially higher than the cost per terabyte of flash.

Source: Wikibon, 2015
Source: Wikibon, 2015

With the acquisition of Solidfire, NetApp now has a well rounded flash storage portfolio that includes the E-series workhorse, the All-Flash FAS for the NetApp data services you’ve come to know and love, and the SF-series for scale-out flash storage.
Dave was quick to mention that although this is the general trend, spinning disk isn’t going anyway. There is absolutely a case to be made for continuing to use spinning disk for certain data center use cases, and to pretend that’s not the case would be foolish. That’s not to say that every storage vendor needs to have an offering with spinning disks; but the market will continue to have a demand for them.

Hybrid Cloud

As Scott Lowe eloquently wrote yesterday, there is no future in which on-premises data centers are abandoned and all business runs in the public cloud. Although that may be an attractive idea for a few, a one hundred percent public cloud model is not even on the table for most businesses. For regulatory reasons and data sovereignty reasons and gray-ponytailed tin foil hat reasons.
Hybrid cloud is the future.
NetApp’s Data Fabric strategy is to provide the rich data services that they’re known for across an organization’s entire data center landscape, including on-premises, in a cloud exchange, or in the public cloud.

Source: NetApp, 2015
Source: NetApp, 2015

If you’d like to learn much, much more about these offerings from NetApp, and their founder’s thoughts on where IT is heading with regard to private cloud, I encourage you to watch these videos:

Disclosure: ActualTech Media principals – David M. Davis, Scott D. Lowe and James Green – regularly participate in both paid and unpaid events sponsored by a variety of vendors across the technical landscape.  Payment in this case may take the form of direct payments, travel expenses, meals, and various and sundry gifts.  Further, as a part of ActualTech Media, we have direct relationships with a number of technology vendors from whom we accept payment to perform various projects and services.  For this article, Scott Lowe attended Storage Field Day 9.  NetApp paid Gestalt IT and, in turn, Gestalt IT paid for expenses related to our trip to visit NetApp.