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Top virtual data storage market trends in 2013

Hot storage trends in 2013 for VMs, VDI and storage virtualization included flash, software-defined and VM-aware storage, and hyper-converged systems.

Some of the hottest data storage trends of 2013 for virtual servers and desktops and storage virtualization reflected an acceleration of past-year themes such as software-defined storage, hyper-converged systems and virtual machine-aware storage.

Flash-based storage and server-side caching remained a major topic of interest in the virtual data storage market as storage vendors sought to improve the performance of virtual server environments and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) deployments.

Meanwhile, the failure of long-standing storage virtualization vendors to increase the market share for their products left them "desperately jumping on the software-defined storage (SDS) bandwagon to re-invent their products and make themselves relevant," according to Valdis Filks, a research director for storage technologies and strategies at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc.

"Most of the storage virtualization value proposition disappears when you consolidate into fewer larger arrays, and storage migration and many other storage features have moved into servers," Filks explained via an email. "Storage virtualization does not manage arrays -- just high-end provisioning -- so it creates more layers to manage, not fewer."

Below are a collection of stories that reflected the trends of 2013 in storage for virtual servers and VDI and storage virtualization.

Flash use ramps up in virtual environments

All-flash storage systems, hybrid arrays that mix solid-state drives (SSDs), hard disk drives and flash-based caches, especially in servers, are becoming common in virtual server and VDI environments to boost performance.

"Storage admins have traditionally been change-resistant: safe and conservative," said Terri McClure, a senior analyst at Milford, Mass.-based Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), via email. "But we are seeing more and more willingness for IT organizations to try new storage technologies and architectures, like flash-based systems or vSANs [virtual storage-area networks], to meet the need for speed, growth and flexibility that virtualized environments require."

For more information about flash use in virtual environments, read these related stories:

Noise level for software-defined storage gets louder

Vendors may spin software-defined storage in different ways, but at its most basic level, most agree SDS abstracts the software that controls the storage functionality or services from the physical storage hardware.

"The term 'software-defined storage' is so broad as to have become almost meaningless, but the underlying trend is to divorce IT from underlying hardware dependencies and shift the equation from spending time managing storage to managing data," McClure said. "Anything that enables that is a good thing."

SDS creates the potential for scale-out storage that can use commodity hardware, in contrast to the tightly coupled software and hardware of traditional storage-area networks (SANs) and NAS systems.

"Storage functionality and the control point show signs of shifting to the virtualization tier, enabling the potential shift away from SAN toward commodity-based internal and direct-attached storage. Examples include Microsoft Storage Spaces and VMware vSAN," observed Mark Peters, a senior analyst at ESG, via an email.

Related stories from 2013 include:

Vendors of traditional storage virtualization take on SDS

Storage virtualization failed to catch fire the way some vendors hoped it might, but the buzz around software-defined storage is giving them another chance to reposition their products.

Read this sampling of related stories from 2013:

Momentum builds for converged infrastructure/hyper-converged systems

The word "converged" gets tossed around a lot in virtualization circles, but not all converged systems are alike. The hyper-converged system combines the storage, network, compute and hypervisor in one box, eliminating the need for a dedicated storage network. Another type, often referred to as converged infrastructure, bundles pretested, preconfigured and pre-integrated storage, server and network products.

Nutanix, Scale Computing and SimpliVity fall into the hyper-converged category. Newcomer Maxta added a software version of hyper-computing late this year, similar to the VMware vSAN that's in beta. Established vendors EMC and NetApp say their converged stacks are big sellers. EMC sells its storage in Vblocks through VCE, a joint venture with Cisco and VMware. NetApp sells a FlexPod reference architecture, with Cisco as its main partner.

"The convergence of server, networking and storage into a single platform is driving the ongoing management and maintenance of storage into a policy-driven automated environment at a virtual machine level," ESG's Peters said. "In this new environment, workloads are provisioned based on performance, cost, security, availability, etc., and server, network and storage resources are provisioned through automation."

Read these related stories for more information on converged and hyper-converged systems:

VDI-tailored storage options expand, improve

Successful VDI implementations often hinge on the storage's ability to handle potentially performance-crippling boot storms that happen when users sign on at the same time.

"Storage economics and performance remain a significant sticking point with VDI, but flash storage systems and, more interestingly, server-side caching technologies are helping drive efficiencies and greatly improved economics," Peters said.

Related stories from 2013 on VDI storage include:

Virtualization-aware storage offers advantages

Storage designed for virtual server environments was hardly a new topic in 2013, but it continued to generate interest. By increasing communication between the array and the hypervisor, VM-aware storage can provide advantages such as improved data migration and performance.

Related stories from 2013 include:

VM support in storage systems increasingly extends beyond VMware

Storage vendors have long supported the virtualization technology of the dominant vendor, VMware, and they've been gradually adding support for additional hypervisors, especially Microsoft's Hyper-V.

To read more about storage market trends related to VM support, check out the following 2013 stories:

Storage management adapts to virtual environments

Vendors continued to enhance both virtualization-specific and general storage management tools to provide more fine-grained insight into the performance of virtual environments.

Read this sampling of related stories from 2013 for more information on how storage management is adapting to virtual environments:

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