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ARRAY WITH YOU! Storage is growing... but you'll have to make way for new tech

You've released a bigger/faster/cheaper array? Cool story bro

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Storagebod Despite my enthusiasm about recent upgrade announcements, there’s a part of me that wonders: who really cares about arrays these days?

The announcements from IBM, HDS, NetApp and the inevitable EMC announcement later in the year just leave me cold. The storage array is nearly done as a technology: are we going to see much more in way of genuine innovation?

Bigger and faster is all that is left.

Apart from that, we’ll see incremental improvements in reliability and serviceability. It does seem that the real storage innovation is going to be elsewhere or down in the depths and guts, practically invisible to the end-user and consumer.

So things I expect to see in the traditional array market include a shift from a four/five year refresh cycle for centralised storage arrays to a six/seven year refresh cycle. Centralised arrays are getting so large that migration is a very large job and becomes an increasingly large part of an array’s useful life. We will see more arrays offering data-in-place upgrades – replacement of the storage controllers as opposed to the back-end disk.

An Intel-based infrastructure based on common commodity components means that the internal software should be able to run on more generations of any given hardware platform.

We’ll also see more work on alternative to the traditional RAID-constructs, declustered, distributed micro-RAIDs.

There are going to be more niche devices and some of the traditional centralised storage array market is going to be taken by all-flash arrays: but I am not sure that market is as large as some of the valuations suggest.

All-flash arrays will take off once we have parity pricing with spinning rust. Yet until then they’ll replace a certain amount of tier-1 and find some corner-cases but it is not where the majority of the world’s data is going to sit.

So where is the bulk of the storage market going?

Object storage is a huge market but it is mostly hidden. The margins are wafer thin when compared to the AFAs and it does not directly replace the traditional centralised array. It is also extremely reliant (at the moment) on application support. I know, I know, I’m a broken record on the latter...

The bulk of the storage market is going to be the same as it is now: direct-attached storage, but in the form of ServerSAN. If this is done right, it will solve a number of problems and remove complexity from the environment. DAS will become a flexible option and no longer just tiny silos of data.

DAS means that I can get my data as close to the compute as possible. I can leverage new technologies in the server, such as Diablo Memory Channel Storage. Yet with ServerSAN I can also scale out and distribute my data. That East/West connectivity starts to become very important, though.

Storage refreshes should be as simple as putting in a new ServerSAN node and evacuating an older node. Anyone who has worked with some of the cluster file systems will tell you that this has become easy, so much easier than the traditional SAN migration. There is no reason why a ServerSAN migration should not be as simple.

I would hope that we could move away from the artificial LUN construct and just allocate space. The LUN has become increasingly archaic and we should no longer be worrying about queue depths per LUN, for example.

There are still challenges: for example synchronous replication over distance, a key technology for active/active stretched clusters is still a missing technology in most ServerSAN cases. Personally I think that this should move up the stack to the application but developers rarely think about the resilience and other non-functional requirements.

At some point someone will come up with a way of integrating ServerSAN and SAN. There’s already discussion on how VSAN might be used with the more traditional arrays.

The storage array is certainly not dead yet. Much like the mainframe, it isn’t going away, but we are going to see an increasing slowing in the growth of array sales; business appetite for the consumption of storage will continue to grow at a crazy rate but that storage is going to be different.

The challenge for mainstream vendors is how they address the challenge of slowing growth and address the new challenges faced by their customers. How do they address the "Internet of Things"? Not with traditional storage arrays… ®

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