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Data storage industry preview 2012: Rise of SSDs and clarity for cloud

Our 2012 data storage industry preview: flash and virtualization on the rise, NetApp and Dell in the hot seat, EMC prepares for life after Tucci.

By now, you’ve probably read all the recaps about the data storage industry in 2011. Here’s a look at what will unfold in 2012. A few hints of what you’ll find in our storage industry preview: flash and virtualization will continue to ascend, "big data" and cloud storage will stabilize, NetApp and Dell will sit on the hot seat, and EMC will prepare for life after Joe Tucci.

Storage Industry Preview 2012

Flash ‘floods’ the market. The stars are aligned for solid-state drives (SSDs) to surge in enterprise data storage this year. Prices are coming down, less expensive multi-layer cell (MLC) SSDs are good enough for many enterprise applications, practically every vendor offers SSD, all-flash storage arrays are available at the price of hard drive arrays and server-side PCIe flash is expanding. The Thailand floods that make hard drives harder to come by -- and hard drives more expensive in some cases -- can only help push SSDs.

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Virtualization everywhere. It’s tough to find a storage product that doesn’t at least claim to be optimized for virtual environments. A year from now, it will be impossible. Handling virtual machine backup, optimizing virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) performance and making storage easier to provision with virtual servers are key attributes for storage hardware and software. This trend will accelerate even more as titan VMware Inc. widens its storage management capabilities and Microsoft Hyper-V adoption rises.

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NetApp’s fate a sign for the industry. If you want to know what storage’s role in the data center will be in the near future, keep an eye on NetApp. In the middle of 2011, NetApp CEO Tom Georgens was crowing how only pure-play storage companies like EMC and NetApp could innovate enough to lead. But two disappointing quarters later, people are wondering if converged stacks are the way to go. If so, that leaves NetApp dependent on server and networking vendors to offer a complete bundle. NetApp is really the only major “pure” array vendor out there -- EMC has RSA Security, VMware, and backup software and hardware platforms.

So, will NetApp be acquired by a larger company looking to add storage to its stack? Will it try to acquire one or more pieces outside of the array market? Or can it innovate its way back to the growth it showed through mid-2011?

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Cloud storage, big data gain definition. By the end of 2012, there won’t be much confusion about cloud storage and big data because the market will have defined them after more organizations adopt their underlying technologies. They might ultimately be defined different than they are today, but everybody will be on the same page when talking about them -- which certainly wasn’t the case in 2011.

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Backup, SSDs at the forefront of mergers and acquisitions (M&A). The big acquisition dollars went to storage array vendors in 2010 and hard drive companies in 2011. Backup vendors could be up in 2012. CommVault Systems Inc. and Quantum Corp. are frequently mentioned as targets for tech companies looking to expand, and ExaGrid Systems Inc. and Sepaton Inc. are also mature private companies with a solid base in the backup/data deduplication market. With virtual machine backup so important now, how will Veeam Software keep the suitors away?

There will also be more consolidation of SSD vendors in 2012 because there are still too many companies selling flash for all of them to survive.

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Dell looks to rebound. Dell Inc. went through a major storage transformation in 2011 as it added Compellent storage-area networks (SANs) and Exanet’s scale-out network-attached storage (NAS) technology, and started integrating Ocarina’s data reduction into its portfolio to replace the EMC storage it sold for 10 years. The company's storage revenues took a hit as a result, but Dell executives say they have the pieces they need to become a storage powerhouse.

    Related stories on Dell:

  • Dell storage revenue tumbles following changes
  • Dell storage plans pique customer interest
  • Dell storage execs talk scale-out NAS, data reduction and EMC

Dedupe redux. Primary deduplication and compression didn’t make the splash in 2011 that many expected after a burst of M&A and the product development action of 2010. But Dell is beginning to bring its Ocarina technology into its storage platforms and Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co. is getting serious about StoreOnce. Dedupe has great value for storage systems built for virtual environments and arrays that feature SSDs. It will take more than a year, but data compression will eventually become a must-have feature for primary data just as it has for backup.

    Related stories on deduplication and compression:

Tape at a crossroads. The year 2012 will bring bad news and good news for tape. The bad news is that the cloud will continue to pull smaller companies away from tape backup and erode tape’s stronghold on the archiving market. The good news is that Linear Tape File System (LTFS) technology makes tape much more valuable as an archive medium because it lets tape behave more like disk.

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End of an EMC era. Joe Tucci has said he will step down as EMC’s CEO at the end of 2012, although he will keep his chairman position. EMC hasn’t named the successor yet, but president/COO Pat Gelsinger is considered the leading candidate inside the industry. Gelsinger and Tucci gave a keynote together at Oracle OpenWorld this year, and Gelsinger was a featured speaker at EMC World and VMworld. He also gave EMC’s forward vision at its EMC Forum in October. Gelsinger is more of a technical guy than Tucci, whose background is in finance and acquisitions, but the vision that Gelsinger has put forth so far matches what Tucci has preached in recent years so don’t expect a noticeable change of direction. At least not right away. Tucci has led EMC since 2001.

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