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Riding the Storage Waves on the Way to the Next-Generation Data Center

By November 18, 2014Article

The storage industry continues to be in the middle of an exciting and disruptive shift. We are seeing disk storage give way to flash; OpenStack adoption is slowly beginning to gather momentum; and IT organizations across the board are demanding more automated and agile storage infrastructure to meet their increasingly dynamic business needs. In this crowded market where claims and buzzwords are aplenty, here are some current market trends that IT organizations need to be aware of as we look ahead to 2015. 

  • The shift from spinning disk to flash for primary storage. This shift is rapid and accelerating. Checking the native flash support box is mandatory in any assessment. But just as important is the recognition that flash is no longer a differentiator in and of itself. The tsunami coming behind it will make the flash wave look like a ripple in the pond. Storage companies that can deliver flash performance for today’s applications but also innovate above the hardware will benefit immensely from enabling customers with a platform that lets them tackle the biggest challenges of that next wave. 
  • The shift from a siloed, hardware-oriented data center to a shared, software-defined data center (SDDC). The next-generation data center demands more than what legacy storage architectures can offer, and those demands can only be met with a true scale-out architecture, guaranteed Quality of Service (QoS) and a fanatical focus on efficiency and automation. 
  • Regardless of the name, desired outcomes are all the same. Pick your favorite buzzword for what is happening in IT, and then look a level deeper. No matter what you call it — cloud, software defined data center or infrastructure 2.0 — there is no denying that enterprises are being held to a heightened standard of IT service delivery. Storage infrastructure vendors that can help customers embark on this journey will find plenty of opportunity in front of them. 
  • OpenStack looks to build off initial PoC momentum. In 2015 we will start seeing more meaningful adoption of OpenStack in the enterprise. So far we have seen large vendors invest billions of dollars in hiring developer talent. Now industry consolidation has started with Red Hat buying Inktank and eNovance. Cisco picked up Metacloud and EMC picked up Cloudscaling. With OpenStack evaluation and PoC (proof of concept) activity building as we head into the end of the year, we expect to start to see more meaningful uptick in OpenStack adoption in 2015. Storage vendors delivering the best combination of technology, integrations, knowledge and ecosystem support will be well placed to benefit. 
  • VMware gets back to its roots. Don’t count out VMware. They have revitalized their infrastructure focus and are placing big bets on both cloud and enterprise. While they package the whole story in a pretty software-defined data center wrapping, the underlying parts are compelling in their own right. NSX, vCAC, vCO, VSAN and EVO:RAIL are all looking to extend VMware’s reach to different layers of the stack where they haven’t ventured before. VIO gets them in the OpenStack game, especially for customers that want all the benefits of OpenStack without leaving the friendly confines of their ESX infrastructure. Meanwhile, VVOLs threatens to upend the traditional storage management paradigm by providing a level of provisioning and policy-based management that hasn’t existed in the past. Storage vendors best positioned to exploit the storage provisioning granularity enabled by VVOLs or the automation capability enabled by vCO and vCAC are lined up to ride the journey VMware is bringing their customers by transporting  them from the virtualized to the software-defined data center. 
  • VCE may be on the way out but converged is here to stay. Regardless of what happens to VCE now that Cisco has reduced their involvement, converged infrastructure is here to stay. With an estimated $4 billion per year in revenue from VCE and Flexpod, customers have voted with their wallets that they like to buy infrastructure in easy-to-consume packages. With increasing complexity continually being added into the IT stack from platforms like OpenStack, vendors that can package these robust parts into integrated and automated designs are in a good position to benefit from this trend. 
  • The big cloud provider effect. Amazon, Azure, Google and others are commoditizing basic infrastructure services as fast as they can. To remain competitive, service providers need to find ways to respond with differentiated services and features. This differentiation happens at the application layer by providing services that enable enterprises to confidently move more of their applications to the cloud. Storage needs to enable this value proposition for service providers, not disable it. Without consistent, predictable storage performance, it is practically impossible for a service provider to host performance-sensitive applications in a multi-tenant infrastructure. Without predictability, there is no meaningful SLA to provide the end customer. Without the SLA, performance-sensitive applications stay on premise. 
  • Last one … don’t take the bait on software-defined storage. Just because a vendor sells software separately from hardware does not make it software-defined storage. We have written about this topic at length in the past and the guidance is still the same as before: Look before you leap into software-defined storage (SDS). In fact, don’t trust any vendor that tells you they are SDS. SDS as a single product doesn’t exist. Storage is only one piece of a software-defined infrastructure. Without the intelligent control plane (e.g., VMware, OpenStack) integrated with the storage data plane, you’re not going to get very far. In 2015 SDS will remain a point of contention for vendors and confusion for customers. As the SDS landscape sorts out in 2015, perhaps the most important role will be played by the industry analysts who have to try and make sense of it all for end users. 

As we consider these various market undercurrents, one thing is clear: in 2015, the storage industry will continue to be dynamic — constantly evolving to suit the production and business demands of IT organizations and end users. 

Dave Cahill is VP of corporate development & strategy at SolidFire. He is responsible for planning, prioritization and execution of strategic growth initiatives, partnerships and industry leading solution integrations. He has more than 12 years of experience in the enterprise storage industry. Previously, Dave founded Diligence Technology Advisors, a strategy consulting practice focused on emerging enterprise technologies. He started his career at EMC and later spent six years on Wall Street as an analyst and investor.