Is Legacy Storage Dead?

Every major vendor will bring out a flash-only storage system before the end of the year--and almost every one of these products will fail. Legacy vendors have got to stop treating solid-state storage as if it were just a faster hard drive.

George Crump

April 6, 2012

3 Min Read
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The spring 2012 Storage Networking World conference is all wrapped up and put away. As I mentioned in my last column and as we discussed in the updates on our site, there were a wide variety of discussions ranging from tape to SSD to cloud. In fact, the only topic usually present but missing from this year's show was legacy storage.

Legacy storage systems might not be dead, but all the capabilities that used to be compelling--sharing storage, thin provisioning, snapshots, and replication--are now the minimum bar for entry. The way these storage services are delivered needs to be re-thought as well. In the zero-latency world of solid state, they add too much weight to the storage system. We either need much faster controller architectures or a much lighter storage services layer.

Storage startups are on top of the technology sea change. Every storage system startup that we talked to at the show is integrating SSD into its system, not just offering it as another storage tier. These companies are taking advantage of SSD to not only improve performance but to enable the use of technologies such as deduplication and compression. Some vendors are focused on bringing SSD to the smallest of businesses, using a few SSDs to make inexpensive hard drives meet the performance demands in the mid-market.

Another wrinkle from the startup community: the continual creep of cloud storage infrastructures into the mainstream data center. These architectures traditionally have been focused on solving long-term storage retention issues for providers and enterprises. We saw two vendors update their cloud storage infrastructure software at the show and a key deliverable of these updates was performance. Cloud-storage infrastructures are taking over more of the data center and are becoming appropriate for more production workloads. These designs are no longer just the data dumping ground.

Legacy storage system vendors are trying to keep pace with the new cast of startups. We expect every major system vendor to bring out a flash-only system before the end of the year. We also expect almost every one of them to fail at the attempt. For some reason, most legacy vendors treat solid-state storage as if it were just a faster hard drive. I think they will learn the hard way that these systems are going to expose bottlenecks in their controller and storage services software design.

All of the legacy storage system vendors have either bought their way into--or in a few cases actually designed--their own cloud storage infrastructure offering. As we will discuss in our upcoming Cloud Storage Infrastructure Report, these legacy vendors know that this is an important market. In the future we'll see a new level of convergence in enterprise storage where most of the repository data set is all stored on a cloud-like architecture.

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George Crump is lead analyst of Storage Switzerland, an IT analyst firm focused on the storage and virtualization segments. Storage Switzerland's disclosure statement.

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