The Future Of Data Storage: Flash And Hybrid Cloud

Flash-based storage and the cloud will play big roles in meeting enterprise storage needs.

Andy Walls

March 3, 2016

4 Min Read
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Conventional wisdom suggests that the trends we are seeing within enterprise data centers, such as increased efficiency through virtualization and escalating disk storage density into the multi-terabyte range, are driven by the collision of dramatic data growth and flat IT spending. In reality, the driving force within IT and business today stems from the need to gain and maintain competitive advantage by deriving greater value from data assets. No longer is the simple storage and access of data enough to sustain a leading-edge business. Consequently, flash-based storage and hybrid cloud are poised to change the enterprise storage landscape.

The all-flash data center

Flash-based storage is at the forefront of where enterprise data storage will go in the future. Not only is deployment of flash storage increasing at a rapid pace, but according to the 2015 Data Storage Market Trends survey conducted by IT analyst firm ESG, industry respondents overwhelmingly agreed that effective storage strategies are critical to core applications/business processes and can lead to competitive advantage for their organization.

Just like data itself, storage --  especially flash -- is becoming a strategic asset of modern business. In fact, thanks to complementary forces such as the continual downward spiral of flash chip prices, the growing need to lower power consumption and other operational costs, and the never-ending market thirst for faster, more responsive online experiences, the near future might very well bring us the all-flash data center, at least for active data. At the same time, there will still be a place for other types of storage for archival or less-active data.

An all-flash facility will offer many advantages. Slow-performing or aging storage solutions will no longer be a hindrance to business innovation. Companies will be able to deploy new features, applications, virtual desktop infrastructures, mobile and social systems of engagement, and new technology-driven business lines much easier. Also, the all-flash architecture will essentially eliminate silos of storage, because for the first time enterprises will be able to handle multiple workloads using only one storage medium. Most importantly, overall IT costs will go down, thanks to operational and even some capital cost savings. Enterprises will deploy different types of flash storage: robust flash to support performance sensitive applications, and less expensive flash storage where performance doesn’t provide quite as much value.

Hybrid cloud

Although the all-flash data center is a worthy objective, it’s important to keep in mind that data centers will not move entirely to flash for the logical reason that all data is not the same. Some data sets are very useful right now and thus very active; others are no longer accessed often and have turned “cold.” Enterprises will still pay to keep cold data around; they just want to pay as little as possible. And interestingly enough, this is where the future of storage dovetails with another powerful trend within business and IT: cloud computing.

The cloud provides multiple cost and flexibility benefits to organizations, but an important challenge facing the cloud is network latency. For example, data traveling from Singapore to Seattle requires more milliseconds than data accessed from flash-based storage humming away in the basement. For many industries, such as the financial sector and even healthcare, milliseconds can mean millions of dollars. It will be quite a while before local data storage goes away entirely; active data sets where performance and some other factors directly bear on derivable value. But for cold data, or even “lukewarm” data, cloud storage is a boon to business.



Enter the hybrid cloud. This IT services delivery model offers great flexibility to meet the rapidly evolving needs of modern business. Some appropriate compute and storage requirements can be moved off-premises and into the cloud, while others that really need to stay can do so. For example, a big data center designed to optimize efficiency is unbeatable on cost. Organizations that store cool data there will see a reduction in IT expenses, without sacrificing all the benefits that local flash storage provides for active data sets.

The future of storage is moving towards the hybrid cloud. Although there may be variations of the rule, we can expect active data to remain local on flash, and less active data to move toward the lower costs offered by high density disk, tape, and the cloud. As part of this move towards hybrid cloud, software-defined storage technologies will monitor and move data automatically so that applications are indifferent to where the data resides, today or tomorrow. Most importantly, the amount of storage needed will not be our major focus, because between tape and the cloud, there’s lots of inexpensive capacity available. Instead, the focus more than ever will be on what we can do with our data assets, and how much that will cost.

Flash and hybrid cloud are crucial for businesses today. Right now, enterprises of all types and sizes are evaluating IT solutions based on these readily available technologies. Many companies are implementing them now, not to simply store data, but instead to gain competitive advantage and derive all the value possible from their data assets. For companies that aren’t moving in this direction, the future looks dimmer.  

About the Author(s)

Andy Walls

CTO & Chief Architect for Flash Systems, IBMAndy Walls has worked for IBM his entire 33 year career. He was appointed a Distinguished Engineer in 2006 and has been located in San Jose, California, since 1987. In April of 2014, Andy was appointed an IBM Fellow, IBM’s most prestigious technical honor. Andy has worked in storage for most of his career since and is an industry recognized expert in storage systems architecture and NAND flash storage for the enterprise. He is currently the CTO and Chief Architect for IBM FlashSystem and is leading the work on developing the next generation of high performance storage systems. He is known as an innovator and has over 70 patents to his name. He graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a BSEE in 1981.

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