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Will today's storage tech be here tomorrow?

It's hard to tell which storage techs will stand the test of time, but looking back at some of yesterday's storage technologies can help.

Once regarded as an interesting storage technology, RDX has been tossed around like a storage hot potato. RDX lets you use hard disks like tape -- you slip the hard disk into an RDX cartridge, slot it into an RDX drive and you're ready to back up your data with all the advantages of disk-based backup, like random access, and the portability of a backup tape.

But, as much as you try to disguise them, hard disks aren't tape. They aren't as portable, durable or reliable -- especially after sitting on the shelf for a few months or a few years. And those shortcomings mean it also can't scale, so it has remained in the price-conscious small biz/SOHO space.

The peripatetic RDX

Developed by ProStor Systems more than 10 years ago, RDX emerged as a promising storage tech about the same time disk started to infiltrate the backup process in most companies. RDX-based products were sold by a bunch of ProStor partners, including Dell, HP, IBM, Imation and Tandberg Data.

But the removable disk revolution never happened, and, in 2011, Imation and Tandberg Data each snapped up parts of ProStor's RDX intellectual property and product lines. A couple of years later, Overland Storage, looking to diversify from its sagging tape backup business, scooped up Tandberg Data, getting RDX as part of the package. And earlier this year, the Overland-Tandberg combo was, in turn, gobbled up by Sphere 3D.

All those transactions have a whiff of incestuousness about them, but the bottom line is: You can't tell who's the owner of RDX without a scorecard. And while there are undoubtedly some satisfied users out there, there were never enough of them to keep what seemed like a good idea from the storage graveyard.

But RDX isn't the only idea to dim quickly in the harsh reality of the storage world.

Whither LTFS?

Linear Tape File System, or LTFS -- the storage tech that makes a tape look like NAS -- also had a seemingly bright future not too long ago when it was introduced by the LTO consortium, with IBM spearheading its development. Putting a NAS-like file system on a tape and possibly fronting it with a small storage appliance spawned a variety of new applications for tape, such as high-capacity repositories for streaming media and active archives that leveraged the economies of tape while offering random access to files.

But LTFS got stuck on the drawing board -- at least in the enterprise market. Most of the LTFS products available today are aimed at the media and entertainment space. There are a number of available enterprise-class products and services that have been built around LTFS, but implementations have been limited and the technology has become a faint blip on the radar screens of storage pros.

Creeping from the grave

This is nothing new. There are a bunch of storage technologies that have clawed their way out of the coffin. Some of them were reincarnated with new names and some buffed-up tech, while others found new life when the real world caught up with their capabilities.

There are a bunch of storage technologies that have clawed their way out of the coffin.

Information lifecycle management was a bitter pill for storage shops to swallow, even when shortened to a catchier three-letter acronym: ILM. There were a number of good reasons for its chilly reception. It was more a practice than a product in many cases, requiring a fair amount of manual labor. But that heavy lifting was only part of the picture: Few storage shops saw a need for ILM. Fast forward to flash storage and hybrid arrays, and suddenly ILM had a reason to live and clear value. Dropping that pesky acronym helped, and calling it automated tiering left no doubt about what it could do to eke out max performance from pricey solid-state storage.

Continuous data protection -- or CDP -- is another zombie storage tech. Some saw the benefits of continually backing up data rather than dealing with it in one big batch, but few could figure out how to fit it into their existing backup environments. So, it languished for years, before being pulled from the brink of extinction by server virtualization and endpoint data protection. Suddenly it was needed -- indeed, in some cases, it was the only solution for adequate backup in those environments. It's rarely called CDP now, but in the form of snapshots and replication, it's now threatening to replace those backup apps it wouldn't work with years earlier.

Perhaps the most prominent storage zombie that has been revived is cloud storage. Now, it's one of the top three storage buzzwords du jour. But when it first appeared back in the mid '90s, it failed to stir IT's imagination as it does today -- with the help of the storage industry hype machine, of course. Back then, these businesses were referred to as managed service providers -- not the fun and fluffy cloud moniker that's so familiar today.

The next walking dead?

So, there can be life after death -- at least for some storage technologies whose time finally comes. Surveying today's storage scene, it's interesting to speculate about which currently hot storage tech will sizzle and which will fizzle. Hyper-converged systems? Software-defined storage? Object storage? Time will tell.

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This was last published in October 2015

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