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5 data storage trends to watch in 2020

Containers, cloud, flash memory and SaaS dominated data storage news in 2019. We take a look ahead at how these and other developments will play out in 2020.

A look back at 2019 gives us insight into key data storage trends entering 2020. Over the past year we saw new storage procurement methods, different shapes for cloud storage, and faster flash. And you can expect those developments to accelerate in 2020.

Storage as a service takes root

The maturity of storage as a service is one data storage trend that's hard to overlook, as all the major vendors offer it as an option. Buying on demand allows a company to switch capital costs to an OpEx purchasing model.

Dell Technologies and NetApp joined the as-a-service game in big ways in 2019. Dell On Demand and NetApp Keystone as-a-service delivery models launched last year in an attempt to catch up to those already implemented by IBM, Pure Storage and Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

Pure Storage began offering an on-demand buying model for updating storage hardware in 2015 with Pure Evergreen. A separate Opex licensing, Pure Storage as a Service, was launched in 2018. Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) launched HPE GreenLake in 2018. HPE has pledged to offer all of its products as a service by 2022.

The SaaS model augments or replaces the traditional hardware refresh cycle. But whether more companies take the plunge in 2020 will be influenced by business dictates, not vendor hype, said Tim Stammers, a senior analyst for storage at 451 Research, based in New York City.

"Buying storage by the drink depends entirely on your business. Some industries still prefer CapEx spending. At the least, though, it's important that your business be aware that all of the major storage vendors now offer a pay-as-you-go scheme," Stammers said.

Cloud providers move on premises

Another of the data storage trends to watch in 2020 is the movement of public cloud services on-premises, while data center vendors accelerate their push to offer services in the cloud.

Array vendors have supported cloud tiering for years. Initially, this meant little more than providing a plugin for replicating snapshots or archiving cold data to the public cloud. Now, the major cloud providers have flipped the script, and want an increased presence inside the data center.

Amazon Web Services introduced AWS Outposts cloud systems for deploying infrastructure as a service on site. AWS Outposts machines sit behind a firewall to continuously shuttle data between local storage an Amazon EC2 and EBS instances.

Google Cloud Platform (GCP) in 2019 made its Anthos container platform generally available to build and manage services, either in the hybrid cloud or on clustered local nodes.

The Amazon and Google releases follow the lead of Microsoft, which introduced Azure Stack hardware bundles in 2017 from leading array vendors.

While cloud providers want to make inroads in the data center, storage vendors are placing their own big bets on the cloud. Notable cloud-oriented data storage launches in 2019 included:

  • Dell adding cloud racks for VMware Cloud on Dell EMC, its answer to AWS Outposts.
  • IBM acquiring Red Hat. While storage changes are reportedly not imminent, it will bear watching to see how Red Hat's multi-cloud storage products fits within the IBM storage portfolio.
  • NetApp extending OnTap file services (AWS and Azure) to NetApp HCI with all-flash SolidFire storage.
  • Pure Storage unveiling Cloud Block Store, a version of its storage software written to operate in AWS.

Containers push storage, services closer

Containers are quickly turning from novelty to necessity as more organizations deploy a microservices architecture. While containers are often deployed in virtual machines, running on bare metal generally has lower latency and higher performance.

Data storage vendors have previewed hardware platforms that natively integrate containers, both as primary storage and as an adjunct to existing storage arrays.

  • Dell Infrastructure Solutions Group president Jeff Boudreau described Dell EMC's next-generation midrange storage system as a "software-defined and container-based" architecture. That system is due to launch in early 2020.
  • HPE stitched together two software acquisitions -- BlueData and MapR -- to create the bare-metal HPE Container Platform, which is in preview.
  • As part of the $34 billion Red Hat acquisition, IBM picked up the Red Hat OpenShift Container Platform.
  • NetApp launched NetApp Kubernetes Services on NetApp HCI, giving customer the option to launch containers on an all-flash system.

Smaller players advanced containers, too. Startup Portworx has started to address the need for backup and disaster recovery of containerized data, signaling how containers are starting to take hold as a mainstream data center tool. Array startup Reduxio dropped hardware to go all in on containers with the launch of Magellan Cloud Data Platform.

Storage will stay in your memory

Persistent memory is another of the data storage trends that continued to bubble in 2019. Intel Optane SSDs hit the market in April, after years of anticipation, and storage vendors jumped on the new technology.

Dell EMC refreshed its PowerMax SANs with Intel Optane SSDs to handle reads and migrate hot data. HPE injected Optane SSDs in the 3PAR all-flash flagship as a read cache, while Pure Storage introduced Optane-based DirectMemory cards for its FlashArray block storage.

Intel form factors include the Intel Optane DC persistent memory dual inline memory module (DIMM) and dual-ported Optane SSDs. Intel DIMMs will help nudge storage class memory (SCM) closer to the mainstream, said Jim Handy, a semiconductor and SSD analyst at Objective Analysis in Los Gatos, Calif.

"Now that Intel Optane is out, I expect a new breed of companies will use it to start producing boxes of hyper-fast storage. They will have fleeter feet than the established vendors to develop a software layer that enables [Optane] to sit between SSDs in a server," Handy said.

Optane is built on 3D XPoint technology, which Intel developed with partner Micron for more than a decade. The two companies ended the partnership in 2019, although Intel still buys wafers from Micron. In October, Micron introduced its 3D XPoint-designed XT100, a competitor to Intel Optane.

NVMe fabrics hitched to low-cost NAND

Advances in NVMe flash continued apace in 2019. It's almost routine for a storage array to support shared flash via PCIe-connected NVMe SSDs. Development of NVMe over Fabrics (NVMe-oF) remains a work in progress.

NVMe network fabrics are a critical component of the NVMe flash ecosystem. The fabric minimizes latency between servers and storage arrays. Startup Lightbits Labs is among the storage vendors touting in-the-box TCP/IP as a natural fit for Ethernet-based NVMe fabric.

"TCP is going to be a big inflection point to adoption of NVMe over Fabrics. Every x86 server ships with standard converged Ethernet adapters, which lets you run NVMe over Fabrics with TCP," said Eric Burgener, a research vice president of storage for IT analyst firm IDC.

Others see remote direct memory access-based Ethernet technologies and lossless Fibre Channel as eventual mainstays in NVMe-oF.

In 2020, look for storage vendors to bring out multi-tiered arrays that make use of NVMe, quad-level cell (QLC) NAND SSDs and traditional SAS and SATA SSDs in the same system. Most large vendors already have equipped their systems to easily integrate QLC drives after NAND fabrication plants ramp up production in earnest.

Production of new quad-level cell (QLC) NAND SSDs is just ramping up, but the low-cost flash is appearing on vendor roadmaps. Dell EMC PowerMax and Pure Storage FlashArray//C arrays support NVMe flash, QLC drives and SAS/SATA SSDs in a single multi-tiered system.

These are just some of the data storage trends that customers should be mindful of as the calendar flips. As is true of IT in general, you can also expect the unexpected to have an impact on storage technology in 2020.

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