Building a New Storage Roadmap

A look at the technologies that are reshaping enterprise data storage.

Jim O'Reilly

August 22, 2017

9 Slides

It’s safe to say that we haven’t had this much happening in enterprise data storage for three decades. Things are evolving on every front, from software to networks, from drive interfaces to drives themselves and the vendor landscape is rapidly changing, with many new players and some signs of struggle among the old leaders.

The Dell-EMC merger is one of the waves of change flooding through what had once been the steadiest and slowest-evolving segment of IT. Here was the giant of the storage industry recognizing that business fundamentals such as hardware platforms were becoming commodities and that failing to adopt a software and services worldview was a recipe for disaster.

Who would have thought the mighty RAID array would begin to lose market share so quickly? Likewise, even leading-edge pundits are surprised at the growth of public clouds, while the 100 TB 2.5 inch solid-state drives projected to arrive in 2018 have hard-drive makers a bit panicked, especially Seagate.

You might be taken aback if I say all these changes are  just a taste of what's ahead. The next three or four years will see a much wider restructuring of storage, impacting what and how we store data in ways that will astonish, surprise and perhaps even scare you. The idea of fixed-size blocks of data has been in place for so long that it is a pillar of the storage faith. With some of the new technology, storage becomes byte-addressable and everything we know about storing an entry changes, from hardware to operating systems, compilers and applications.

Byte-addressability is on Intel’s Optane roadmap, so it’s real. Remember, Intel can do the CPU tweaks for space management; it owns the leading compilers and link editors, so that code can be created to a standard, and it has storage devices in the pipeline.  The result will be blindingly fast data storage. Instead of moving 4K bytes using a driver and SCSI software stack, data can be permanently stored with a single CPU command!

If all of this isn’t enough, servers and storage appliances are converging on a common design, where the storage bays of a server are sufficient for a set of very fast SSDs, which then can be accessed across the cluster as a pool of storage.

But there’s more! Instead of the hierarchical architectural model that has been around from the start of the computing era, new server designers, such as Gen-Z, place memory and storage at the same peer level as CPUs, GPUs, and networks on a shared fabric. Now all of these super-blocks can reach out over the fabric to other computers and read and write directly to their memory or storage. This is indeed a “pool of resources,” but managing it requires a new view of how resources are accessed and allocated.

Software-defined infrastructure is the new mantra for these virtualized systems. All the resources are virtual elements in a shared pool, with policy-driven orchestration managing the virtual resources and tying them to physical gear as needed.

Part of the SDI concept is the use of chainable microservices, with instances being created to host more copies of any service as needed to meet demand. With software services so divorced from the base hardware, the value of the system shifts to the services and the hardware becomes standardized, but very inexpensive. This underscores the wisdom of the Dell-EMC merger.

Let’s take a closer look at the changes ahead for enterprise data storage.

(Image: WIRACHAIPHOTO/Shutterstock)


About the Author(s)

Jim O'Reilly


Jim O'Reilly was Vice President of Engineering at Germane Systems, where he created ruggedized servers and storage for the US submarine fleet. He has also held senior management positions at SGI/Rackable and Verari; was CEO at startups Scalant and CDS; headed operations at PC Brand and Metalithic; and led major divisions of Memorex-Telex and NCR, where his team developed the first SCSI ASIC, now in the Smithsonian. Jim is currently a consultant focused on storage and cloud computing.

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