This content is part of the Essential Guide: A look back at the 2014 data storage market
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Storage trends 2014: Hyper-converged, flash and cloud dominate news

Hyper-converged, all-flash and cloud storage formed a three-legged stool of dominant storage news in 2014; Symantec stunner added an element of surprise

We finished 2014 with a lot more options for hyper-converged, all-flash and cloud storage than when the year began. None of those technologies are in the mainstream yet, but all three moved a long way toward getting there over the past 12 months. We went back and looked at the top news over the past year to compile this list. Here are our five storage trends of 2014.

Hyper-convergence gets hypercharged

Entering 2014, hyper-convergence was a niche market cornered by startups Nutanix and SimpliVity. Then VMware came out with its Virtual SAN (VSAN) software, and launched an EVO: RAIL OEM program that pulled in major storage and server vendors. By the end of the year, Dell, EMC, Fujitsu Ltd., Inspur Group Co. Ltd., HP, Hitachi Data Systems, Net One Systems Co., NetApp and Super Micro Computer Inc. all committed to hyper-convergence products, mostly through EVO: RAIL.

VMware made its biggest move into storage yet with VSAN, taking a page from the early hyper-convergence startups' books and allowing customers to pool storage, compute and networking in one package. But the competition didn't stand still. Nutanix scored its own OEM deal with Dell, pulled in $242 million total in two funding rounds and added its all-flash system, AWS support for backup and more deduplication.

SimpliVity partnered with Cisco on a reference architecture, Scale Computing beefed up its hyper-converged boxes, and newcomers Maxta and Nimboxx jumped into the game.

More features for all-flash arrays

The all-flash array market matured in 2014, with every major vendor selling at least one product. Still, there was a lot of fine-tuning as both smaller all-flash vendors and the large array companies added features. Many of the additions came to platforms that were initially built specifically for flash and emphasized pure performance. As competition flooded the market, those vendors realized they also need traditional data management and protection features to make all-flash mainstream.

Storage trends 2014: All-flash array vendors get serious

IBM updates FlashSystem

EMC adds compression to XtremeIO

Violin all-flash array gets dedupe, compression

Kaminario beefs up density on all-flash array

SolidFire adds auto snapshot feature

IBM, EMC, Violin Memory, Kaminario, SolidFire and Pure Storage added features to their all-flash array platforms to gear up for heated competition. These features included inline deduplication, compression, replication and encryption.

Oracle and NetApp introduced new all-flash platforms, each with modern storage management built in. Oracle entered the market in October with its FS1 Series Flash Storage System designed primarily to run its database software better. NetApp started limited shipments of one-node versions of its long-awaited flash-only FlashRay systems.

Flash remained a hot technology for investors in 2014, as Pure closed a whopping $225 million funding round, SolidFire took in $82 million and Kaminario pulled in $53 million.

Cloud hovers over storage landscape

As with hyper-convergence and flash, storage vendors spent a great deal of time working on their cloud strategies in 2014. Data protection is moving to the cloud in a big way, particularly disaster recovery, with products and services popping up from all types of companies.

Much groundwork was also laid for hybrid cloud storage during the year. NetApp launched Cloud Ontap, a version of its Data Ontap operating system for customers who want to move data between public clouds and on-premises or private cloud storage. Around the same time, EMC acquired cloud startups Cloudscaling and Maginatics to enable a similar bridge to the cloud. EMC also picked up cloud gateway startup TwinStrata in 2014.

IBM and EMC launched elastic storage products for cloud. IBM's Elastic Storage combines its General Parallel File System and Watson supercomputer technologies and is available on the IBM SoftLayer cloud. EMC's Elastic Cloud Storage appliance runs on public and hybrid clouds and uses EMC's ViPR software-defined software.

Storage remained a big piece of the public cloud services, with Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure battling for supremacy.

Breaking up's not so hard to do

Most years include several mergers or acquisitions that bear close watching in the near future. In 2014, however, breakups outshone mergers and acquisitions as Symantec, HP, IBM and eBay all decided to split or sell off major business units.

Symantec's splitting up will have the greatest impact on storage. Symantec CEO Michael Brown in October said the company will keep its security business under the Symantec brand and will create a new company with its data protection and data management portfolios. The new storage company -- not yet named -- is expected to become operational by the end of 2015. It may look a lot like Veritas before Symantec acquired it for $13.5 billion in 2005.

Many people in the industry felt Symantec never gave its full attention to its storage products after acquiring Veritas. While Symantec has done well selling its NetBackup enterprise backup software on appliances, its Backup Exec SMB backup application struggled. Symantec launched Backup Exec 2014 in June, fixing problems that plagued the product since Backup Exec 2012 made its rocky debut two years ago.

HP's storage division will remain with the enterprise segment of the company after it spins off its PC and printer business. The split probably won't have much impact on storage, unless HP makes another run at merging with EMC. IBM sold off its x86 server business to Lenovo, which could have a tangential impact on storage. IBM also broke up with its storage OEM partner NetApp in 2014, ending its deal to sell NetApp FAS arrays under the N Series brand.

CA Technologies spun off its Arcserve backup software into a separate company, and the data protection unit that spun out of Syncsort in 2013 picked up a new name (Catalogic Software) and CEO (Ed Walsh) in 2014.

EMC avoided the breakup trend, finishing 2014 intact despite pressure from investors to sell off VMware or merge with a larger company. Despite talks to merge with HP and exploring a VMware deal, EMC held on to its storage, VMware, Pivotal and RSA Security divisions as CEO Joe Tucci maintained the federation is "better together."

Acquisitions: Billions spent on flash, little on anything else

Flash and cloud were the major storage acquisition targets in 2014. The big money went on flash, while cloud buys were smaller and more strategic.

Seagate, seen as a laggard in solid-state technology, spent $540 million on LSI's solid-state drive controller and PCI Express (PCIe) card platforms. Those flash technologies were then sold by chip maker Avago soon after it bought LSI for $6.6 billion.

Seagate's hard disk drive rival Western Digital continued its flash buying spree, gobbling up all-flash array startup Skyera. SanDisk paid $1.1 billion for PCIe flash pioneer Fusion-io, and EMC bought in-stealth server-side flash vendor DSSD.

EMC made four cloud acquisitions in 2014. It bought cloud gateway pioneer TwinStrata, then added cloud infrastructure play Cloudscaling, cloud file system startup Maginatics and cloud-to-cloud backup vendor Spanning.

NetApp and Microsoft also grabbed cloud data protection targets. NetApp paid $80 million for Riverbed Technologies' SteelStore appliance business. Microsoft acquired InMage, and will use its Scout software as a piece of its Azure cloud disaster recovery service as well as on a branded backup appliance.

Hitachi Data Systems expanded into on-premises backup, buying virtual tape library pioneer Sepaton.

Next Steps

Storage trends 2014: Cloud DR tops disaster recovery trends

NetApp announces VMware EVO: RAIL appliance

Dig Deeper on Data center storage

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With all the splits this year, the stage is set for a lot of interesting acquisitions next year.