SAN and NAS storage trends include software-defined storage, flash

Carol Sliwa

Block-based SANs and file-based network-attached storage are long-standing data storage technologies, but new trends and innovations continue to emerge with the tried-and-true systems.

Software-defined storage, all-flash and hybrid flash arrays, and scale-out network-attached storage (NAS) are three of the most prominent trends in SAN and NAS storage that will take hold within the next five years, according to Henry Baltazar, a senior analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc.

In this podcast interview with SearchStorage senior writer Carol Sliwa, Baltazar provides an overview of the ways in which these SAN and NAS storage trends will play a greater role in most IT organizations in the coming years.

What major trends and innovations are you seeing with SAN and NAS these days?

Henry Baltazar: The big trend that everybody's circling around is the concept of software-defined storage in terms of how that's going to change provisioning and storage management. Other things that we're keeping an eye on that are very interesting are the rise of flash storage and adoption of things like all-flash arrays. And, finally, we're also seeing more interest in scale-out NAS.

How will software-defined storage impact existing SAN and NAS systems?

Baltazar: When I talk to a lot of the enterprise customers today, the big problem they have [is in] regard [to] how do we make provisioning faster and how do we get better utilization out of our systems? With software-defined storage, the way that Forrester is defining it, we believe there's going to be three key elements you're going to have to have to be able to enable this next-generation infrastructure.

First, you're going to have API-based provisioning so that your management capabilities can go and talk to all the various SAN and NAS boxes and be able to get a feel for what resources they have available and what can be provisioned on demand. Second, I think you need to have a storage virtualization-type capability, because that's going to be very key to be able to move data from silo to silo to make sure that when you actually need a high-performance resource, you can move the data to the right place at the right time. Finally, the third component that we believe has to happen for software-defined storage to be deployed is the advent of storage Quality of Service, or storage QoS. With storage QoS, that capability is basically created so you can limit and control the amount of resources each of the applications can utilize. Usually, when we see this today, it sat on either a LUN or a [virtual machine] VM or a server basis, and you can control the number of IOPS, the amount of throughput and the latency that each of the resources can utilize.

How is flash changing SAN and NAS systems and the way they're designed?

Baltazar: Flash has made tremendous inroads over the last few years, and now it's at a point where a lot of SAN and NAS systems already come with flash on board. [In] the next phase of the transition, as flash gets cheaper and less expensive to deploy, we'll start seeing better adoption of things like all-flash arrays, and we'll also see more hybrid systems, which have a larger footprint of flash, to be able to provide high performance and reduce the cost of ownership by limiting the number of spindles you have to have in an environment.

In what ways have you seen scale-out NAS evolving?

Baltazar: Scale-out NAS has really progressed a lot over the last couple of years. When we first started looking at scale-out NAS years ago, it was really pretty much confined to specific vertical markets like oil and gas, bio and research, and [high-performance computing] HPC -- areas where they had to have big files and high performance. Now, because all companies in general are seeing tremendous data growth for unstructured data, it's gotten to a point where even your average enterprise is probably going to have to start looking at things like scale-out NAS to be able to deal with the type of data growth they're seeing in their environments today.

What are your predictions for five years out with respect to trends and innovations we might see with SAN and NAS storage?

Baltazar: I think a lot of the things we talked about will come to fruition within that five-year period. Unfortunately, storage doesn't move at an extremely rapid pace. So, it will take a couple of years for a lot of these trends to get running. Software-defined storage, we believe that'll be deployed within the next couple of years. All-flash arrays, while I don't believe that flash will eliminate disk any time in the near future, flash will be a bigger part of the storage environments. But, it's going to take time for that to become the dominant storage platform. And finally, with scale-out NAS, I think that's going to become more the norm as opposed to the conventional NAS we have today. When you look at the different environments, there's just so much of a data burn that it's getting too hard for those customers to deal with the growth.

Are you seeing any other technology on the horizon that could become a big storage trend moving forward?

Baltazar: I think the other trend that actually extends beyond storage itself is the concept of converged infrastructures. We're seeing a lot of movements there in terms of people trying to combine the networking, storage and server resources to make it more efficient and more appliance-like. There are definitely benefits to that, but there will be political challenges in terms of who's going to be able to control those environments as they get rolled out.

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