Friday Nov 30, 2007

Top 10 Storage Technology Trends

It’s getting to be the end of the year – and Sun, like every other vendor I assume, is looking at the new technology trends that have (or will) impact our industry.

My team and I were asked to evaluate some – to see where to prioritize future investments, evaluate current and future competitive threats, etc.  Ensuring we stay ahead of the technology game.  So below is our very own top 10 list of emerging technologies.  (As well as some color to what Sun is doing here) 

I’m sure we’re missing some and comments and claims are our own, they don’t represent any commitment or position from Sun Corporate (For official news on Sun go here…)    

 Top 10 Storage Technology Trends:  

1. Open Storage Platform (aka general purpose storage, open source storage):  Trend #1 is a term we coined, so it may not sound familiar.  It is a combination of market trends as well as a direction Sun is taking with its newer products.  The concept of a common platform is not new – several vendors have tried to build one platform that can run multiple storage applications, saving users time and money.  “Open” is a relatively new concept for storage, but not for software or servers.  There are generally three components that make up an Open Storage Platform:

  • General Purpose Components: General-purpose servers, processors, storage and operating systems are now being deployed in enterprise-class storage devices. Previously, storage vendors had built proprietary operating systems, ASIC chips and other custom-built components. As commodity chips, components and software have matured, storage vendors are now using general purpose components in their systems. The cost savings are significant - however, most vendors' prices remain the same (contributing to vendor margin). Sun's philosophy is to pass these savings to the consumer. Enterprise-class systems based on general purpose components give customers higher-value systems at a fraction of the cost (see graphic below). They are also much more flexible, as they can be re-purposed for other uses.
  • OS/File System Storage Services: Traditional appliances charge customers extra in software licensing costs for data management services like administration, replication or volume management.  What if this functionality came already embedded in the storage system itself?  Sun's newest file system, ZFS, has started to incorporate these services at the File System level. ZFS deploys point-in-time-copy, volume management, administration and data integrity features like Copy-on-write and RAID. Storage services deployed at the OS-level have several benefits, including efficiency, performance, reliability and affordability (no more licenses for extra software needed).  And before we think this is a new concept, mainframe has been doing it for years. The new concept is doing this in the open systems space – and Sun Solaris ZFS is leading the charge.      
  • Open Source Storage Software: The ability to download software, test it and add features to it is critical to developers building new applications – we’ve seen this in the OS market.  But what about storage?   This has been an investment area of Sun’s - Sun actually offers one of the most complete open source storage software stacks (from protocols to drivers to data management software).  Developers can build their own storage solutions and sell them by leveraging Sun’s open source software (see the Nexenta Storage Appliance for a perfect example).  Open source has an added benefit to customers with in-house development resources - customers can deploy new software features by searching for it in the open source community or even developing it themselves (why wait for vendor roadmaps?). This is not possible with a proprietary appliance. 

The simplest way to show the impact the Open Storage Platform concept will have on the storage industry is a basic economic comparison.  We used IDC's Pricing Database to compare over 50 actual purchase orders of enterprise disk (Sun ST9900, EMC DMC3), Midrange Disk (Sun ST6140, EMC CX3) and a Sun product built on our Open Storage Platform (the SunFire X4500):

  • Enterprise Disk = $18.84/GB
  • Midrange Disk = $10.39/GB
  • Open Storage Platform = $1.50/GB
    (7x less than Midrange and 13x less than Enterprise)
NOTE:  There are certain applications and features that must run on higher-end disk.  But at a $1.50, customers will be compelled to find which applications should be running on the SunFire X4500. What is even more remarkable, the SunFire X4500 includes the server, OS, data services, storage and networking components - all for $1.50/GB! 

Game-changing economics…

2.  Virtualization:  Where to begin?  The benefits are obvious – massive savings through optimization, consolidation and optimization.  The best definition of virtualization I have seen came from the 451 Group’s Virtualization Report which defined Virtualization as, “A software abstraction layer that permits aggregation, emulation or partitioning.”  Let’s look at the different types of virtualization out there today

  • Server Virtualization:  The ability to host Windows, Linux and Solaris operating systems on one platform has literally taken the market by storm.  A huge boon to IT managers and developers alike.  VMWare led the charge with some start-ups and open source initiatives in tow.  On October 5, 2007 Sun entered the race with Sun xVM.  (And if virtualization has hit the systems world, expect to see it hit the desktop market soon…)      
  • File Virtualization (a.k.a Clustering, Global Namespace, Unified Namespace, NAS Virtualization):  A few years ago we were talking about Grid Storage – a bunch of storage nodes acting as one, single system.  File virtualization is shaping up to be the technology that will take us there.  In 2005 & 2006 we saw EMC buy Rainfinity, NetApp buy Spinnaker and Brocade buy NuView.  In recent years we we have seen EMC announce Rainfinity, NetApp announce a rough start to Data OnTap GX (based on Spinnaker technology) and file virtualization start ups Ibrix, Isilon and LeftHand Networks continue to grow.  Expect this market to heat up, and consolidate as start ups are either bought, or simply run out of runway.    
  • Virtual Tape: A disk system that emulates a tape library.  Virtual Tape has been in the mainframe market for years, and Sun is the market leader here.  Virtual Tape Libraries (VTL) in the open systems market are relatively new – disk prices have eroded to a point where backup administrators can now take advantage of disk’s access speeds without replacing their exiting backup infrastructure.  IDC pegs this market as small, but growing at 16.2% (2006-2011 CAGR). 
  • Virtual Disk (aka Storage Virtualization):  A disk system that aggregates 3rd-party disk and offers disk partitioning.  A necessity for anyone that needs to consolidate their environment and/or make data migration between independent systems easier.  Virtual Disk Systems include IBM’s San Volume Controller (SVC), FalconStor’s IPStor and Sun’s award-winning StorageTek 9000 arrays.          

3. Thin Provisioning:  Better system utilization is the name of the game.  Most admins know that the utilization rates on their disk systems are not where they need to be.  Thin Provisioning allows admins to allocate or provision space to specific applications, making full use of their system’s capacity.  3PAR spearheaded open systems Thin Provisioning and NetApp offers it as a part of Data OnTap.  Sun announced Thin Provisioning on its StorageTek 9990V system in May – meaning consumers can have the world’s fastest enterprise array, Virtual Disk AND Thin Provisioning all on one platform. 

Pretty cool…  

4. Data Deduplication (aka De-dup, Single-instance storage):  In a world where there is more data coming into a company than can possibly be managed – data compression ratios ranging from 10:1 to 50:1 sound pretty darn nice (See how De-dup works here).  Data Domain, Diligent, FalconStor and other upstarts get credit for bringing this new technology to market and larger vendors are quickly following suite.  De-dup is still emerging, can have performance issues and does not work perfectly for every application – but economics dictate its worth consumers investigating where it can work for them.

There are two emerging de-dup architectures:  “Inline” – where the de-dup magic happens in real-time, as data comes into the system, as found in Diligent's ProtecTIER appliance.  Or “Post-Processing” where the magic happens as a secondary process after the backup job, as found in FalconStor’s Single Instance Repository (SIR) software.  Both have their pros and cons, and deciding which approach to use depends on balancing your performance vs. complexity needs.  For the record, Sun sells both….         

5. Data Encryption:  One need only read the horror stories of lost tape and disk drives to see the importance of data encryption.  While it has been around for a while – the need has never been greater.  Growing storage capacity has caused another problem – one can store a lot of personnel records on a single cartridge or drive.  In an age of identify theft, losing one storage device can put a company out of business.  The new trend is not how to encrypt, but where to encrypt  On the host server?  On an appliance in the network?  In the storage device itself?  Decru (since bought by NetApp) benefited from this trend with their encryption appliance.

I once worked with a brilliant engineer whose favorite saying was “never put a product where a feature should be.  I’d say this was Sun’s philosophy when we delivered the Sun StorageTek T10000 tape drive.  Put simply, Sun put an encryption chip next to the compression chip on the drive – so data is encrypted as it is fed onto the tape.  Simple and affordable – no extra appliance needed.  Sun also offers the StorageTek Crypto Key Management Station to centrally authorize, secure and manage encryption keys.

6. Eco Storage (aka Green Storage/IT):  I freely admit that when I was first approached with “Green Storage” I was a skeptic.  I would have also never guessed Al Gore would win the Nobel Peace Prize!  But Eco also stands for Economics.  If you save power and footprint, and the world while you are at it – who can argue with that?  But the challenge for storage customers will be sorting through the vendors who make REAL Eco investments vs. the ones that just add “Eco” or “Green” to their marketing collateral.  Sun’s in the “real” category, investing heavily in Eco IT.  Sun’s Eco efforts can be seen here...        

7. Object Archive (aka CAS, Application Aware Archive): The dizzying array of regulations, compliance requirements and influx of data have made the archive market one of the fastest growing markets in IT and storage.  And customers must continually evaluate which archive approach will work best for them.  The trend here is to “build a better mousetrap archive.”  The challenge is this, an archive system must:

  • Store a lot of data affordablyHoneycomb
  • Have WORM  functionality so documents show up un-altered in an audit or court of law
  • Be easily and quickly accessible
  • For more than 100 years…
Easier said than done.  While tape continues to be the old staple in archive, and faster and denser tape systems are coming out each year – a lot of new innovations are happening on the disk and software side.  Disk-based object-level archive systems include EMC’s Centera, HP’s RISS and Sun’s StorageTek 5800 “Honeycomb” pictured at right.  Sun’s ST5800 system uses advanced meta data features and processors close to each storage cluster for fast access to deep archives – great for digital library, Web 2.0 and HPC applications and environments. 

But do keep in mind for deep archive; Sun’s StorageTek SL8500 Tape Library is tough to beat – just one library's max raw capacity is 56 Petabytes, and data sitting on tape consumes 0 kilowatts and generates 0 CO2 (see above trend #6)   

8. New Interfaces, Protocols & Configurations: There is a lot of change happening in storage systems and how they are configured.  The three primary ways storage is attached is Direct Attached Storage (DAS), Storage Area Networks (SAN) and Network Attached Storage (NAS).  A disk system can also be configured in a couple different ways.  RAID configurations stripe data across multiple drives and impact a system’s reliability and performance.  JBOD (Just a Bunch of Disks) is more affordable because it does not require a disk controller, but provides no data redundancy.  New interfaces and protocols will impact each of these markets significantly. 

  • SAS:  In DAS, Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) is a newer serial communication protocol that will make data transfer speeds much faster and at a lower cost.  SAS drives have replaced parallel SCSI for internal storage, and SAS HBA external host interfaces are just starting to ship in volume.  SAS disk arrays started shipping this year and SAS JBOD are starting to ship.  To complement the SAS HBA's and SAS arrays, there are new network components called expanders which are basically switches.  Generally SAS disk will be cheaper than Fibre Channel (FC) with similar performance and capacity.  (Sun has SAS host I/F, disk I/F and SAS disk drives)
  • iSCSI:  In the SAN market, the iSCSI protocol is making a significant impact by taking the cost out of expensive Fibre Channel SANs.  iSCSI allows users to send SCSI commands over their existing IP networks. 
  • File Virtualization:  In the NAS market, file virtualization is making NAS farms much more scalable and manageable (See trend #2)
  • Clustered RAID:  A new innovation to watch in the RAID market is horizontally scalable RAID or clustered RAID for large applications.  Digi-Data is a small storage company pushing this innovation. 
  • JBOD:  Keep your eye on Sun in the JBOD market.  JBOD is more affordable than RAID, but does not have RAID’s redundancy and reliability features.  But what if you had an infinitely scalable file system with data integrity and RAID features running on JBOD, say, something like ZFS?
  • Unified Storage:  Another trend in this area are unified or hybrid devices – storage systems that can handle multiple protocols and interfaces, including iSCSI, Fibre Channel, and NAS – all in one unit.  Makes sense to users with a dizzying array of choices in the market.             
  • 10GbE:  Lastly, 10 Gigabit Ethernet or 10GbE is the latest and fastest of the Ethernet standards that will re-shape data center networking – offering a fast, common and affordable network technology for IT and Web 2.0 applications from supercomputing to networked storage.

9. Solid State Disk (aka SSD, Flash, Memory):  We see the perfect storm happening around SSD.  SSD has no moving parts, making it one of the most reliable and fastest storage mediums in the world.  But it is incredibly expensive when you compare $/GB vs. Disk and Tape storage.  However, SSD has made a name for itself in the consumer market (digital cameras, phones, iPods, etc.)  The price pressure in the consumer arena is enormous – and this had been rapidly eroding the price of SSD.  As SSD prices drop, expect to see hybrid disk drives and storage systems that leverage more SSD for greater speed and IOPS.        


10.  Storage as a Service: 

Storage as a service offered over the Internet has been talked about for years – but poor performance and implementations have cooled this trend.  However, Amazon has given Storage as a Service a power boost with its Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3).  By leveraging Amazon’s existing e-commerce and storage infrastructure, the company is offering customers storage capacity for $0.15 per GB-Month of storage used – possibly the cheapest $/GB on the planet.  And while this may have more play in the consumer market, Amazon could re-invigorate the storage as a service trend.  Also keep an eye on Sun’s Internet Service offerings over             

--- Updates ---


My storage team and I focus on three of the most important aspects in any industry: customers, competitors and market trends. There is insight to gain and share in this role, so here is our take on Sun and Storage.


« July 2016