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When technologies collide, the customers win

It should be apparent now that new technology drives advances of older technology. Storage companies have a lot to lose if their technology is eclipsed by newer technology, so they continue to fiercely market and invest in extending the older technology. Survival is a driving force for a company and for individuals that have invested their careers in aligning with a technology.

The competition, if you can call it that, between a new technology and the previous generational technology is interesting to watch if you are not invested in one or the other. The older technology must be advanced to stay relevant. In the storage industry, this competition usually means increased capacity at a lower cost with better performance.

An example of this is the advent of solid state storage in the form of NAND flash technology as part of a primary storage device. Flash-based storage continues to become less expensive quickly with capacity increases due to lithography process improvements, better efficiency with added intelligence to manage usage characteristics, and longer lifespan with techniques such as write amplification. It looks as if the reductions will continue for some time based on investments being made into the technology and the number of competitors, but NAND flash itself will be challenged in the future with new generation solid state technologies. Phase Change Memory (PCM) appears to the next solid state technology with promise for continued advancement in the 2015-16 time frame.

At the same time, solid state storage advances are pushing hard disk drives — the current generation technology for primary storage. Heat Assisted Magnetic Recording (HAMR) and Shingled Magnetic Recording (SMR) are technologies developed to increase the recording density.

These will address cost issues but may create issues in the areas of I/O access density, which measures the amount of work being done on a disk drive. Because the disk drive is an electro-mechanical device, the number of I/Os may not be increased in relation to the capacity increase and the ability to get information from the device may be reduced in that relationship. The time to rebuild information from a failed drive in a RAID configuration also suffers from new hard drive technology. The larger capacities may take so long to rebuild that the probability of a second failure becomes unacceptable.  Some vendors have implemented advanced Forward Error Correction using Erasure Coding to address this problem.

The advances that new technology forces on older technology are valuable to customers and help “move the ball forward,” to use a football term. Competition is good for the customer whether it is in the form of storage vendors competing with products or in the form of new technologies competing for generational change and dominance.

(Randy Kerns is Senior Strategist at Evaluator Group, an IT analyst firm).

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