For years, the trend in storage architectures has been consolidation--bigger, more complex, and more expensive systems. But the maturation of flash memory into a cost-competitive storage technology along with creative approaches that have turned banks of cheap, commodity disk drives into parallelized, consolidated pools of centrally managed storage are reshaping the landscape.
Designing enterprise storage architectures is no longer a matter of choosing the biggest, baddest storage system and bulking up as needed to create complex, monolithic, and hence expensive disk arrays that try to meet every requirement. Today storage architects are designing more specialized systems that make it easier to strike the right balance between price and performance based on a company's needs.
Storage innovation isn't just happening in the usual, predictable areas. Sure, engineers continue to find ways to pack more bits on a square inch of magnetic film. But the real innovation is coming from the long-predicted migration from magnetic to solid-state electronic storage, accompanied by scale-out architectures. These new architectures have self-contained arrays, with their own I/O controllers and network interfaces that can be aggregated, adding I/O processing power and network bandwidth as you add capacity. They're often paired with distributed file systems and cloud storage services.
In the latest sign of storage innovation, Dell just last week announced a $60 million fund to invest in five to 10 early-stage storage startups. The fund is part of the company's Dell Ventures venture capital arm.
The surge in storage innovation is driven by demand as companies struggle to store and manage increasing quantities of data. One demand driver for more storage space and better performance is the need to manage and protect big data such as Web clickstreams and customer interactions. But those aren't the only drivers. Storage needs continue to increase across the board, driven by expanding email and collaboration systems as well as the increased use of rich content, particularly video.
Don't let our use of "innovative" mislead you: This isn't bleeding-edge stuff that you should take a wait-and-see attitude toward. IT shops should develop a strategy for replacing high-performance hard disk drives with solid- state storage, and for adding scale-out products to their storage technology arsenal, particularly for applications with rapidly growing or extreme capacity requirements.
Storage Vendors Answer The Call
To meet this demand, storage vendors are improving both storage performance and capacity--the traditional yin and yang of the technology. They're finding new, and not always mutually exclusive, ways to improve I/O throughput and provide cost-efficient capacity. Companies across industries need to store more data, so they're hungry for cheaper and more efficient ways to add capacity.
Speed is a powerful driver as well, as companies try to move data in and out of applications as fast as possible, like when analyzing real-time customer interactions. Speed has never been the strong suit of spinning mechanical disks. But Moore's Law has finally driven the price and capacity of solid-state storage to the point where it's not just viable, but often is a preferable alternative to disk for performance-sensitive applications.
Download the July 23, 2012, issue of InformationWeek