Does Data Storage Really Change?

By Paul Rubens

"Back in the good old days storage staff made storage decisions, but the genie is well and truly out of the bottle now," Russell says.

A result of this change in responsibility has been a change in the type of storage that was being purchased in 2014. One reason that there has been talk of "peak array" having been passed is that non-storage people are more likely to choose new, alternative storage options.

"Five years ago non-IT staff storage choices may have been similar (to storage staff's choices): SANs, Fibre Channel and so on – whatever was most common and reasonable. But now a virtualization or server team might say "that seems pretty expensive," says Russell.

"They don't have a degree in storage, and new entrants like Tintri – with storage that is optimized for virtualization – or Nutanix – with a virtualization platform  – are tempting because they sound like they are optimized for virtualization," he adds.

It's the threat from this type of storage solution that led to EMC – arguably the company with the most to lose when it comes to traditional array products – announcing initiatives like Project Liberty in mid-2014. This, you may recall, provides the features and functionality of EMC's VNX mid-range storage arrays in software – so a VNX minus the physical storage devices.

It also updated its ViPR software array meta-platform (or perhaps even software defined storage platform) and productized Project Nile into Elastic Cloud Storage.

"EMC wants to look like it is a company that is embracing the future to look progressive," says ESG's Mark Peters. "All this gives it breathing room – it is straddling both sides of the fence, but there is a difference between having products to market and products to sell. EMC still sells more VCE (Vblocks)  and VMAXs  in a day than they sell these new products in a month."

Storage Products

That describes the storage trends of 2014, but what about products? What was the most significant product to appear in the last twelve months? For Gartner's Russell it is (indirectly) another EMC product: VMware's Virtual SAN (VSan). The product made a huge splash when it was finally launched in March after six months' beta testing.

Although only a version 1 release, and functionally incomplete, Russell reasons that it still does what it does well and resonates with mid-market companies and remote offices. It seems that server and virtualization teams are embracing it, and there have already been some deployments at a significant scale, he says.

But he gives two main reasons for choosing it as the most significant product of 2014:

1. As the leading hypervisor vendor turned IT management platform provider, VMware has the ability to provide storage capabilities to a new audience. "They (VMware) can really move the storage industry," he says.

2. VMware has rapidly developed a broad ecosystem of many third-party providers making Ready Nodes for accompanying hardware, and also software add-ons ( from companies including Atlantis Computing and Nexenta) that complement the solution.

And what about ESG's Peters? Does he agree with Russell's choice of VMWare's VSan?  He believes the product is significant – because it represents part of a likely future trend towards buying IT as "blobs that do things"– but Peters' most significant product for 2014 is something more general: flash.

Why flash? "You couldn't do VSan without flash in the server. And tape has a future because of flash. So there's no doubt that flash has caused the biggest storage changes in 2014," Peters concludes.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

This article was originally published on December 12, 2014

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