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Vendors, analysts guess future of data storage in 2016

After Rich Castagna offered his look at the future of data storage in 2016, vendors and analysts shared their guesses on what will happen this year.

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By now, everyone's probably well past scratching out "2015" and writing "2016" on their checks (remember checks?) and have already forgotten just exactly what New Year's resolutions they made.

But, hey, it is a new year, and you're all probably raring to go and ready to take on new projects, bolstered by a still mostly unspent budget and a lot of great expectations. It's that traditional recharging of our psyches and souls, and it fills us with all kinds of optimism.

And if we need a little nudge into the future of data storage -- even just a subtle shove -- we can always count on the annual prognostications of storage industry pundits, analysts, vendors and -- ahem -- maybe a storage editorial writer.

Having already shared my forward-looking visions in this space, I soon discovered that there was still a lot of ground to cover as my email inbox spilled over with dozens -- nay, scores! -- of predictions on the future of data storage, pouring in from the aforementioned constituencies. Some were pretty insightful, most were blatantly self-serving, and still others were good for a chuckle or two. Without naming names, here are some of my inbox gems.

"Contrary to popular belief, tape will not die in 2016 …"

Tape is taking longer to die than Generalissimo Franco did back in 1973 … and 1974 … and 1975. This prediction on the future of data storage -- boldly suggested by a backup software vendor, not the LTO Consortium -- goes on to make a very good point by adding that tape is still a "reliable and cheap" offline medium for cold archive. The prediction then swerves a bit in the opposite direction and says that cloud storage will replace tape in some cases. So maybe tape dies in 2017 … ?

"Orchestration and automation will ensure smoother operations and shorter scaling time …"

This is another vendor contribution on the future of data storage -- and a curious one at that. My mind might be stuck in the storage world and maybe I don't see the big picture, but isn't doing things faster and easier the whole point of orchestration and automation? Maybe they just didn't want to go too far out on a limb and make the data center of the future sound too good.

"Hardware is the new software, the emergence of scale-In hardware architecture …"

I'm not even sure I know what this one means. But if we're living in the age of software-defined storage and this prediction is correct, does that mean we should look forward to hardware-defined storage -- or hardware-defined software? Whatever it means, I'll be sure to keep an eye out for it in 2016. I guess what they really mean is that hardware does actually matter and despite "software-defined" showing up in front of every conceivable data center thing these days, we still have hardware and it's still pretty darned important. I couldn't agree more -- although I might've said it a little differently.

"Dell-EMC chaos will ensue …"

I suppose this prediction on the future of data storage hinges on your interpretation of the word "chaos." And, let's be honest here, this prediction came from a vendor of -- yes, you guessed it -- storage systems. So this is more of a prayer than a prediction.

"What excites me about the future of tape is the new use cases that LTFS is opening up …"

My email inbox spilled over with dozens -- nay, scores! -- of predictions on the future of data storage, pouring in from the aforementioned constituencies.

In this case, the prognosticator's excitement is understandable as this prediction on the future of data storage does come from one of the LTO Consortium members. I was once excited by LTFS -- and I still think it's pretty cool -- but it's been many years now and there are only a handful of products built around that technology. As I read on, what really caught my eye, however, was the use of the acronym "tNAS." That got me revving up the Google machine to see who minted that acronym. Frankly, I was afraid that I wasn't "in the know" and maybe tNAS was the storage buzzword du jour. It actually means "tape as NAS" so feel free to toss that acronym around.

"High-profile security breaches are set to continue in 2016, and more executives will become the targets of hackers …"

Those of us who aren't executives can breathe a sigh of relief -- and try to remember not to stand too close to any executives in 2016. I'm not sure it takes all that much insight or expertise to predict that something bad that's been virtually unchecked for years will get worse in the coming year. A hint or two about what we should do about it would've been nice.

"Extinction of the IT specialist …"

That's a pretty gutsy prediction to make -- especially by a storage product vendor. I think they're predicting that their customers will go the way of the dinosaurs. (I have this picture of IT specialists clinging to their beloved tape libraries, and together being hauled out of data centers and dumped into museums.) But there was a serious part of this prediction that describes a world where everyone in the data center is a generalist, and everything has to be simple and manageable through a single pane of glass. So it's not really about extinction, but rather about IT utopia.

Thanks to all of these vendors, analysts and perceptive pundits for sharing their visions of the near -- and far -- future of data storage and its place in our data centers. I don't know about you, but I'm still pretty optimistic about 2016.

Next Steps

Our data storage wish list for 2015

Rich Castagna's 2016 data storage industry picks

One expert's take on data storage's future

This was last published in February 2016

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Which prediction on the future of data storage will happen in 2016?
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Well, every storage vendor has a "preferred" future where they are successful in the market. The problem is always the timing of their storage "solution" and how it fits with where the storage market is headed. So like the 1980s when a dozen (or so) companies were building hard disk drives, we now have a dozen (or so) companies building flash storage arrays, which include a lot of software, and maybe a dozen (or so) companies building object-based storage solutions, which are primarily software-defined. There has been some M&A activity in both segments with NetApp recently buying flash storage vendor SolidFire, and IBM acquiring object storage vendor Cleversafe. Flash and object are the future of storage. Flash for hot or transactional data and object for everything else. Tape will find ways to hang around. Yes, too bad that LTFS has not caught on in a bigger way. Remember that Google's last line of defense is to restore your Gmail box from tape.
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