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Dell Technologies’ evolution offers hints of its future

Dell’s evolution has led the company from PCs to servers, storage and virtualization. Here, Dell’s storage CTO describes what could come next.

There is no way to predict IT trends accurately two decades out, but Dell Technologies’ recent evolution hints at its future direction.

Dell technologists envision a world in which data silos vanish. Storage for unstructured data -- fueled largely by AI at the edge and multiple clouds -- will outpace demand for traditional storage arrays.

Those developments are in their early stages now. Dell Technologies has keyed in on several overlapping trends it expects will dominate across data centers: autonomous, distributed storage architecture, persistent-memory storage and software-defined everything.

"We're building for the next 20 years. The new assets we are starting to roll out will carry us forward over the next two decades," the typical lifespan for new technologies, said Sudhir Srinivasan, CTO of Dell EMC storage.

Whither the storage array?

It is difficult to handicap IT trends even a few years away, but Srinivasan pointed out constants Dell uses to predict the future.  Just as mainframes persisted through the rise of client-server computing, the internet and the cloud, hardware-based storage arrays will remain for decades.

However, Dell expects its all-flash and hybrid storage hardware will take on a broader role within 21st century data centers.

Rather than an array being merely a repository for data, Srinivasan said the state of the art will require native support of digital transformation across a wide swath of enterprise verticals. Standalone external storage networks will be re-architected as software-driven targets, with the real focus on squeezing more value from volumes of ever-increasing data.

Sudhir Srinivasan, CTO, storage division, Dell TechnologiesSudhir Srinivasan

"We will still have storage arrays [in the industry], just as we still have mainframes. But the bulk of storage, and infrastructure in general, is going to be consumed in a software-defined form," Srinivasan said.

The redefinition of hardware goes deeper than embedding hardware management in software, Srinivasan said. Over the next two decades, "self-driving storage systems" will become a reality as Dell storage customers standardize on autonomous infrastructure.

"We're also changing the way we develop software. Instead of building every product for a monolithic stack, [containing] multimillion lines of code, we're containerizing individual components within the stack," he said.

Persistent memory: Not a flash in the pan

The emergence of storage class memory also fits into the future of Dell storage. Although it lags behind NVMe flash in coming to market, persistent memory storage provides an apt media for data-intensive workloads for AI and machine learning.

Dell is investing in memory-based access now to test and design storage hardware. Srinivasan said these systems will be able to seamlessly handle massive data storage and analytics simultaneously.

"Software-defined and memory-centric compute is a going to be a big change for storage architecture," he said. "The storage (hardware) stacks flip from the block I/O to a load-store way of doing I/O. That will unlock the next quantum jump in performance."

Data-only clouds will gather

Amazon Web Services is the most dominant public cloud provider, but it was designed initially for burstable compute, not storage. Running analytics in the cloud gets expensive, especially if you need to import it back on-premises. Plus, there is no way to run analytics on the same data in multiple public clouds at the same time.

Dell has an assortment of cloud tools now, with VMware virtualization on Dell PowerEdge servers and Dell EMC storage arrays. Further delineation will lead to "data clouds" becoming an enterprise staple, Srinivasan said. In the future, Dell expects to partner with data-only cloud providers that locate in proximity to major compute clouds.

"A data cloud stores only your data and adds low-latency, high-speed access to all the public clouds for spiky compute. That gives you the best of both worlds: the ability to flip between compute clouds, and governance and control of your data," leading to higher SLAs and better data agility, Srinivasan said.

What is the successor to VxRail hyper-convergence?

Dell EMC leads the hyper-converged infrastructure sector with its VxRail product, which can be traced to EMC. HCI adoption is mostly confined to core data centers today, but Dell expects to broaden its hyper-converged platform as more workloads move to the edge.

"Because of the need to keep things small, scalable and easy to operate, we think the edge is perfectly ripe for a hyper-converged approach," Srinivasan said.

Companies already express a desire to scale compute and storage independently, sometimes known as disaggregation. By 2040, it’s entirely possible Dell will sell systems that make traditional HCI obsolete.

"I think you'll see some new architectures emerge that will blur the lines between traditional and hyper-converged in the data center," Srinivasan said.

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