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The data storage industry will turn upside down in 2017, or will it?

Rich Castagna reviews the prognostications offered by data storage vendors on the future of data storage technology in 2017.

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: Storage magazine: Announcing the best data storage products of 2016!:

I predict ... that the Chicago Cubs will win at least one more World Series over the next 108 years. If you don't think I'm going out on a limb with that prognostication, think about how someone making the same prediction back in 1908 would've been laughed into Lake Michigan -- after all, those Cubbies had Tinker to Evers to Chance and Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown on the mound.

We can meet up in a North Side Starbucks in 2124 to see how that prediction fared. Meanwhile, we have our hands full with a steady stream of 2017 predictions and self-serving surveys from data storage industry vendors that are just begging for some attention.

It's an annual thing, as vendors try for a vox populi approach to marketing to persuade you that your peers -- and you -- are yearning for their technologies.

Here are some of my favorite vendor-generated divinations on the data storage industry, along with my probably much-less biased take on their predictions. As usual, to protect the not-so-innocent, no vendor names are revealed.

Disaster recovery is a disaster

We have our hands full with a steady stream of 2017 predictions and self-serving surveys from storage vendors that are just begging for some attention.

If you believe all the stats coming from data protection companies, you might as well just kiss your company's data goodbye; it's toast. One such report stated that "more than 90% of large businesses report major incidents occur at least several times a year, and nearly 60% report major incidents occur at least monthly." Monthly?! That's discouraging enough to make any backup admin seriously consider a career change.

A somewhat cheerier but painfully obvious data storage industry prediction came from a leading backup app vendor: "In 2017, organizations will take ransomware more seriously and implement ways to rapidly identify compromised content and automate its recovery."

Here's another from the gee-no-kidding department of another major backup application vendor: "Threats from hacking, as well as the proliferation of botnets and malware (specifically ransomware) will keep IT managers up at night throughout 2017." It looks like ransomware is shaping up as a major data protection theme for 2017.

If you believe all the stats coming from data protection companies, you might as well just kiss your company's data goodbye; it's toast.

Another vendor's survey noted that 26% of responding companies are using five to 10 different backup products. Maybe that is what's making disaster recovery so confusing and hard to do. The survey seemed to drift into a game of liar's poker with a question about how long it will take to recover from a server failure: 19% said less than an hour, while 55% said one to two hours. If that's true, then I guess having major incidents occur every month is no big deal. One of the real shockers in this survey was the response to the question, "How critical is speed of backup and recovery of data for you?" Ninety-eight percent said it was very critical or important. I guess the remaining 2% were buffing up their resumes.

All-flash in the pan

Data protection wasn't the only data storage industry practice picking up predictions for the coming year. If it seems like flash has been the big story in storage for the past three or four years, it's because it has. It's hard to overstate flash's role in the evolution of storage -- but, of course, some vendors and storage swamis just can't resist.

Take this bon mot from a leading analyst firm serving up a backhand slap to hard disks: "Anything in a data center that physically moves gets less useful and loses share of wallet." I guess if you work in a data center you should freeze -- fast! -- or you're liable to be considered "useless." Seriously, the flash phenomenon is beginning to soar to previously unimaginable heights, with Samsung's 32 TB and Seagate's 60 TB solid-state gizmos slated to ship in 2017. And you have to look high and low to find a perspicacious pundit who might dare to say that all-flash arrays are still niche products. Perish the thought!

Software is the new hardware

Come on, storage vendors, repeat after me: 'I will stop saying 'software-defined storage' in 2017.' Please!

Come on, data storage industry vendors, repeat after me: "I will stop saying 'software-defined storage' in 2017." Please! But at least one WAN vendor is ignoring my plea with its prediction that "Everything becomes software-defined" this year. Of course, there are pretty strong arguments that everything has always been software-defined, but I get the point. It's the old commodity hardware argument, and it's a pretty good one except when good ol' common off-the-shelf gear just isn't up to the task. But the vision is pretty cool, much like The Wizard of Oz sitting behind a curtain and controlling everything in the data center with a few keystrokes and clicks.

What's really going to happen in 2017?

Okay, here's the bottom line, the truth according to me: Despite the threat of a new onslaught of disaster recovery surveys, we all know that DR is hard, and it's likely to cost a company some cash. But you have to do it -- and you have to work at it to make sure it will work for you when you need it.

Flash is great. Flash is terrific. Flash is wonderful. It's also still pretty expensive, considering the alternatives. And it's probably overkill for apps that just sip from the storage performance cup. That's why hybrid systems will continue to be the most popular implementation for solid-state storage. And while it's true that we've all turned into little data chipmunks, hoarding bits and bytes almost as fast as we create them, really huge, and hugely expensive, flash drives will likely be appropriate for only the biggest big data prestidigitators around.

And sure, software will undoubtedly get better -- probably at a faster rate than hardware -- but it just might need some help from some really cool hardware innovations once in a while.

Next Steps

ICYMI: Reviewing data storage industry predictions for 2016

Data storage startups to watch

The evolving world of data storage technology

This was last published in February 2017

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