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Peek into the future of data storage in 2016

As we enter into a new year, here's our look at the future of data storage with some serious (others, not so much) predictions.

As the calendar winds its way down to the end of yet another year, I take an oath that I will not -- absolutely not! -- do one of those predictions-for-the-new-year columns. And just moments later -- this happens every year like clockwork -- I start to jot down some future of data storage-y things that I think might happen or maybe want to happen. Not predictions, mind you, just sort of things that might happen…

And since I'm already in a free-fall slide down the slippery slope of New Year predictions, I'm not going to hold back or play it safe. So, with my first prediction for what's going to happen in storage in 2016, I'm going to crawl way out onto the skinny end of a limb and predict that you're going to hear the word “container” a lot in 2016. By “a lot,” I mean constantly, without end, over and over again, until your ears bleed.

Prediction #1: Contain thyself

Don't blame those poor storage marketers for overworking and overusing the word “container” -- they're really groping for the latest, greatest buzzword now that “virtual” has lost much of its cachet. That's because everything is virtualized now -- storage, servers, networks, data centers -- even reality. So there's really nothing left to compare virtual to. Virtual is in danger of becoming the new non-virtual until something even more virtual comes along. Hey, maybe containers are more virtual than virtual. In any event, get ready to be containerized in 2016. And expect the future of data storage to include a good dollop of DevOps to accompany those containers along with some Agile agitprop.

Prediction #2: Whither NetApp?

Dell buys EMC. HP develops a split personality. IBM looks to the cloud. And Western Digital has turned into a compulsive buyer of flash companies. What about NetApp? Let's face it, the last couple of years haven't been kind to NetApp with dwindling sales and the ever-imminent arrival of an all-flash array that's getting to seem more and more like a road company production of Waiting for Godot. Even worse, with all those hip, young startups flashing their solid-state wares, NetApp is beginning to look like a stodgy old grandpa in a cardigan sweater.

So, my prediction for the future of data storage when it comes to NetApp is that 2016 will be business as usual, even if that business is getting a wee bit smaller day by day. There's been a lot of speculation about who would buy NetApp, but the presumptive buyers -- IBM, Cisco, HP (or even the new HP, the one with the E on the end) -- don't seem to be in the market for a traditional storage-only company. In fact, I think the opposite might be true. Maybe NetApp will try to buy its way out of the data doldrums in 2016, possibly picking up Violin Memory or one of the newer, innovative startups like DataGravity or Qumulo. The latter two might fit nicely; NetApp boasts a legacy of being the main repository of file data and the new duo has developed some very interesting ways of managing that data.

Prediction #3: A dash of flash

In 2015, the big debate related to storage systems was which is better -- a hybrid array or an all-flash array. I bet you're tired of hearing that stuff -- a controversy almost exclusively concocted by some of those upstart vendors that sell only the all-flash variety. Before we had solid state, you probably remember those famous 10K rpm vs. 15K rpm hard disk system controversies, right? Or maybe you're waxing nostalgic about those knock-down, drag-out battles between the DVD vs. CD-ROM camps, right?

Well, probably not, because those scraps never really materialized. Storage pros did the logical thing and chose the media that was right for the apps and the data it would host. With flash, we can add another media choice to the mix, but the considerations are still the same: match apps to the media that best serves them. So the hybrid vs. all-flash thing isn't really any kind of techno religious war, it's just a war of words among marketers that has managed to spin off its axis and into irrelevancy. Storage pros buy the storage that will work best for them. Period.

Prediction #4: Data protection will actually get modern

You can say anything you want about cloud storage, how it's not safe for the corporate family jewels, how getting stuff in and out is a pain, how it could fly in the face of regulatory compliance, blah, blah, blah, but there's no denying that cloud backup -- the ageless ancestor of all cloud storage services -- is finally having a profound effect on data protection. Storage shops now see the impeccable logic behind using the cloud as a backup tier so that they don't have to keep expanding the capacity of their backup targets. As we look into the future of data storage, expect to see more backup cloud-tiering options in 2016 as all the key backup hardware and software vendors build in links to cloud services.

I'll swear on a stack of VMAX user manuals that I absolutely won't do another predictions column on the future of data storage. Then I will.

The concept of flat backups will gain steam in 2016, and in a throwback to CDP (continuous data protection), backup jockeys will learn to love the combination of application-consistent snapshots and remote replication.

Both of those data protection developments are pretty cool, but the coolest thing by far is the rise of cloud DR or DRaaS (DR as a service). This is the one area where it's not taboo to use the words “virtualization” and “cloud” in the same sentence, as those two techs have been paired to create the fastest, most-efficient method of disaster recovery yet. And if that's not enough, it's dirt cheap compared to most other alternatives. If you're not looking at cloud-based DR now, put it on your 2016 to-do list.

Prediction #5: Same time, same place

As 2016 draws to a close, I'll swear on a stack of VMAX user manuals that I absolutely won't do another predictions column on the future of data storage. Then I will.

Have a great 2016.

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