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Top 10 storage trends in 2011: solid-state technology, cloud, big data make a mark

Dave Raffo

Solid-state technology dominated the data storage headlines in 2011, even if the technology has yet to become widely adopted. Cloud storage,

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as well as storage and backup for virtual machines (VMs), also played a prominent role in the news this year.

Here's a review of the top storage trends in 2011 and the news stories associated with them.

Top 2011 storage trends

Storage trend 1. The cash follows flash. The big money flowed toward solid-state storage in 2011. Fusion-io Inc. turned its early lead in the PCI Express (PCIe) flash market into a $237 million initial public offering (IPO) to become the only storage company to go public in 2011; most of the large funding rounds when to solid-state startups; and two young solid-state drive (SSD) companies were acquired for $300 million-plus apiece.

Flash storage system vendor Violin Memory Inc. was the biggest fundraiser among storage vendors in 2011, picking up $75 million over two rounds, including strategic investments from Toshiba America and networking vendor Juniper Networks Inc. All-flash storage-area network (SAN) vendor SolidFire grabbed $25 million in funding, while SSD chipmaker Virident Systems Inc. closed a $21 million round. SanDisk Corp. acquired Pliant Technology Inc. in May 2011 for $327 million to move into the enterprise SSD market, and LSI Corp. bought flash controller startup SandForce Inc. for $322 million in October 2011. Fusion-io also paid $95 million for flash caching software startup IO Turbine Inc. And in December 2011, reports surfaced that Apple Inc. was looking to spend at least $400 million on flash controller startup Anobit Technologies Ltd.

Related news on flash and solid-state technology:

Storage trend 2. Symantec discovers virtual backup and appliances. Symantec Corp. came to these areas late, but its 2011 push into virtual machine data protection and backup appliances signaled that both technologies have become mainstream. Symantec is pushing its V-Ray technology for dealing with virtual servers as an answer to VM-only backup products from Veeam Software and Quest Software Inc. Symantec now sells its NetBackup and Backup Exec backup software on appliances to compete with disk targets from EMC Data Domain and others. Quantum Corp. contributed to these trends by acquiring virtual backup software startup Pancetera Software Inc. and launching VM backup on a disk appliance.

Related news on Symantec and virtual backup:

Storage trend 3. Cloud storage’s future still unclear. Cloud storage generated a lot of noise in 2011, mostly from storage vendors. While the concept is still being defined, there were signs of a breakthrough. Startups that began by selling cloud storage gateways have become more viable alternatives to on-premises arrays, and organizations have generated petabyte-scale private clouds. And according to the latest Storage magazine/SearchStorage.com Purchasing Intentions survey, adoption of non-backup cloud storage services is at 21% (from 14% two years ago).

Related news on cloud storage:

Storage trend 4. VMware moves deeper into storage. Server virtualization titan VMware Inc. is becoming increasingly concerned about how virtual machine administrators manage storage. That was evident in its inclusion of storage features in vSphere 5, such as file system improvements, Storage Distributed Resource Scheduler (Storage DRS), the vSphere Storage Appliance (VSA), vStorage APIs for Storage Awareness (VASA) and expanded vStorage APIs for Array Integration (VAAI). VMware also showed off more advanced VAAIs at VMworld that could eliminate the need to set up logical unit numbers (LUNs), RAID groups and network-attached storage (NAS) mount points while provisioning storage.

Related news on VMware and storage:

Storage trend 5. Acquisition focus spins from arrays to hard drives. While 2010 was a year of blockbuster storage system vendor acquisitions, the biggest deals of 2011 involved consolidation of hard drive companies. Western Digital Corp. moved to bulk up its enterprise drive presence by acquiring Hitachi Global Storage Technologies (HGST) Ltd. for $4.3 billion and Seagate Technology Plc paid $1.375 billion for Samsung Electronics Co.’s hard drive business (while extending the NAND flash agreement between the two).

Storage array vendors still made acquisition targets in 2011 -- there were just fewer of them for less money. Hitachi Data Systems Corp. acquired its OEM NAS partner BlueArc Corp. for $600 million, NetApp picked up LSI’s Engenio storage platform for $480 million and Oracle Corp. brought CEO Larry Ellison’s Pillar Data Systems in-house.

Related news on acquisitions:

  • Western Digital hopes to increase its SSD presence with Hitachi GST acquisition
  • Seagate procures Samsung hard drive business, expands NAND flash partnership
  • HDS buy of BlueArc gives firm its own NAS platform
  • NetApp's LSI Engenio block storage purchase to target high-performance computing (HPC)
  • Pillar becomes part of Ellison's Oracle family; will become main SAN platform
  • Company execs explain the Oracle storage business strategy

Storage trend 6. "Big data" becomes a big deal. The term big data was obscure through the end of 2010, at least in the storage world. Then EMC began to digest its acquisition of scale-out NAS vendor Isilon Systems Inc, and lumped storage of large data sets into the same bucket as technologies that perform analytics of large data stores for business intelligence. NetApp got into the act after it acquired Engenio, and other vendors such as DataDirect Networks apply the term to their HPC systems. NetApp -- with Engenio -- and EMC -- with its Greenplum analytics platform -- have also embraced open source Hadoop software that plays a big role in the analytics side of big data.

Related news on big data:

Storage trend 7. All-flash storage, but not for all users yet. The options for solid-state storage systems expanded this year, both in the number of vendors offering viable products and in the choice of form factors. SSD first crept into storage as an option for placing a few drives alongside spinning disk in storage arrays. In 2011, all-flash systems became available at a price that rivals spinning disk. eBay purchased 100 TB of the all-flash storage arrays Nimbus Data Systems Inc. began selling in 2010, and startups SolidFire and Pure Storage Inc. came out of stealth with all-flash systems that compete with mainstream SANs on price. Kaminario Inc., Texas Memory Systems (TMS) Inc. and Violin Memory launched higher performing all-flash systems for more specialized loads.

Server-based PCIe flash also gained a lot of attention this year. Fusion-io said Facebook alone has bought at least $150 million of its cards, and EMC has been teasing its “Project Lightning” foray into server-side PCIe flash since May 2011. In addition, MLC flash became an alternative for enterprise users as vendors worked to make the less expensive alternative to single-level cell (SLC) flash more reliable.

These are still early days for all of these options, though. A recent Storage magazine/ SearchStorage.com Storage Purchasing Intentions survey found that 25% of respondents use solid-state storage; while that figure is up 10 points from the previous year, it's still a small segment of the market.

Related news on all-flash storage:

Storage trend 8. Dell and EMC get divorced. Dell Inc. officially ended its storage partnership with EMC in October 2011, after blatant signs of infidelity on both sides. Dell acquired EMC systems competitors EqualLogic Inc. and Compellent Technologies Inc. in recent years, as well as scale-out NAS technology from Exanet Ltd. and data reduction from Ocarina Networks to take on EMC in other areas. EMC cut Dell out of its OEM partnership with its new VNX midrange platform, and launched a channel-only VNXe system for SMBs that appeals to the heart of Dell’s target audience. Now Dell is starting over with all of its own storage technology, and EMC is making itself more attractive to channel partners.

Related news on Dell and EMC:

Storage trend 9. EMC’s unification strategy. After months of speculation, EMC collapsed its midrange Clariion SAN and Celerra NAS into one platform in January 2011. The vendor made a splashy launch of its VNX unified storage and VNXe for SMBs, sparking a debate with NetApp over what true unified storage means.

Related news on EMC unified storage:

Storage trend 10. Still waiting for tiered storage, primary deduplication and FCoE to fly. Emerging data storage technologies usually take longer to materialize than expected, and that’s the case with these three. Despite most major vendors adding automated sub-volume tiering software in recent years, adoption has barely ticked up. Primary deduplication and compression are showing up in storage systems from startups, but big vendors are still working on integrating the technologies. And despite the best efforts of Cisco and other storage networking vendors to push Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) in recent years, 16 Gbps Fibre Channel and 10 Gigabit Ethernet remain more popular choices in enterprise storage.

Related news on tiered storage, primary deduplication and FCoE:

 


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