Storage pros are responding to these challenges with creative strategies, such as combining solid-state storage for high throughput needs; cloud services for backup, archiving, and disaster recovery; scale-out storage architectures for cost-effective, highly resilient capacity growth; and data encryption to protect information both on premises and off. The mainstreaming of 10 Gigabit Ethernet and data and storage network consolidation are adding their own twists.
On the business side, we're seeing signs of an improving economy, and, for IT, nowhere are these positive signals stronger than in the storage market. Despite some natural disasters that battered the component supply chain, 2011 was a year of robust growth in the storage business. IDC's most recent Worldwide Quarterly Disk Storage Systems Tracker found that, in the third quarter of 2011, storage vendors posted year-over-year revenue gains of 10.8%, to just under $5.8 billion, while capacity of total shipped systems rose 30.7% year over year. Two of the largest pure-play storage vendors, EMC and NetApp, saw 15% to 20% revenue growth last year. On Wall Street, shares of drive manufacturer Seagate jumped more than 40%.
In the enterprise, the 313 business technology professionals we surveyed, all of whose jobs involve managing, operating, or buying storage systems and services, suggest that we're entering a period of steady but manageably linear storage growth, with most reporting rates of less than 24%. Technology is helping, too. Commodity SATA drives now top out at 3 TB, so adding capacity is less of a challenge.
In fact, we're entering an era in which performance--specifically, I/O throughput--is more important than capacity in a storage infrastructure strategy. Notwithstanding price spikes resulting from temporary supply disruptions, such as Thailand's floods, hard disk capacity has gotten so cheap that the biggest return on your storage investment comes by boosting application performance. In storage, this means increasing I/O throughput and decreasing latency.
A major driver of this change in emphasis is the falling price and increasing capacity of solid-state disks, but it's by no means the only one. The pervasive use of virtualized servers improves resource utilization, but at a performance cost, since many applications share a single system's network and storage interfaces. For IT, that means you need not be running a high-end transaction-processing application to tax the throughput of mechanical drives; 10 or 20 SharePoint servers could expose bottlenecks.
Just replacing a mechanical disk with an SSD while sticking with the same controller-based storage array design is far from an optimal solution. Jonathan Goldick, CTO of Violin Memory Systems, says the problem with hybrid setups--think trays of SSDs commingled with HDDs--is that the controller architecture is designed for spinning disks. "Ten SSDs will saturate any controller," Goldick says. That reality is spurring interest in specialty, purpose-built solid-state storage systems.
This report includes 44 pages of action-oriented analysis, packed with 37 charts. What you'll find:
- Why you need full solid-state systems, not just storage
- Vendor ratings in four key areas, including virtualization