Top 5 Storage and Data Center tech predictions for 2016

Every few years we see major shift in technology trends. With more Internet of things; comes more data and we need a new way of computing. In 1965 Gordon Moore foresaw future when he was working at Fairchild Semiconductor. His vision is Moore’s Law. Moore’s Law helped companies to make software for tomorrow. This post is not an attempt to foresee future, but an attempt to cover how technology trends may change Storage and Data Center industry in 2016.

1. Magnetic storage disk numbers will decline in the enterprise space.

It well known that all flash array (AFA) sales numbers are growing and almost all storage vendors have atleast one AFA in their portfolio. Some vendors convert/enhance their already popular storage array lineup with flash drive only offerings. HPE 3PAR and EMC’s VNX2 arrays can be offered with only flash drives. Flash arrays come in different variant, general purpose dual controller arrays, AFA with scale-out architecture, inline deduplication and compression etc. The general purpose flash array with dual controllers is finding its way into more small and medium datacenters to suffice traditional workloads. Arrays with most modern features such as scale-out, deduplication are being used for specific workloads. Therefore the adoption rate of AFA may fuel the decrease of magnetic disks.

2. Enterprise flash drives with more storage space will appear and the cost will come down.

Most semiconductor manufacturers have already announced that they are now less focusing on 2D NAND (Planar). Most flash storage devices that we use today are all 2D NAND. And most importantly drives used in storage arrays are 2D NAND’s. On Nov 2015 HPE announced support for 3D NAND drives on their 3PAR series arrays. In 2016 we will continue to see most vendors doing the same. We cannot say for certain that 2D NAND drives prices will come down drastically but there will be a price difference when compared to the previous year.

3D NAND drives have better capacity when compared to 2D NAND drives. There is also another exciting new technology which Intel and Micron has introduced; it is significantly better than 3D NAND. 3D XPoint (Branded as Optane) is denser than 3D NAND and also leaps ahead in performance. Intel and Micron claims their 3D XPoint drives are more durable than any SSD in the market today. A common misconception is that 3D NAND and 3D XPoint is the same. This is not true; both NAND technologies are entirely different. 3D NAND internal structure will look like a sky scraper. 3D XPoint is a dual stack approach and the metal conductor will be sandwiched between the memory cells. The following image illustrates how a memory cell is accessed, the white bar is a metal conductor and each memory cell stores single bit of data.

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My prediction is that we will see more 3D NAND drives appear on market as well as being supported by storage arrays. For 3D XPoint it will take atleast another year. Because Optane drives uses NVMe and PCIe interconnect. Both are not present in storage arrays, except EMC’s upcoming DSSD; which uses PCIe interconnect.

3. Adoption of NVMe protocol and fabrics will kick start in the enterprise space

Non Volatile Memory Express (NVMe) is a new storage protocol. NVM express work group claims that NVMe is better than SCSI. NVMe is in development since 2009. But only in 2015 it is widely known and interest on it has sky rocketed. Here is Google trends for search term “NVMe”,

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NVMe presents many advantages over SCSI. It uses Ethernet, PCIe as a transport medium and NVMe over FC fabric is a work in progress. Adoption of NVMe will kick start in 2016 and will continue to grow. Popular interfaces like SATA and SAS may become obsolete in the near future if NVMe adoption grows.

During EMC world 2015, DSSD was demonstrated; DSSD is an enterprise storage array that uses NVMe protocol over PCIe interconnects. This array outperforms all the all flash arrays in current market and is expected to be generally available anytime in 2016. NVMe protocol is not just used to access SSD. It is used to access nonvolatile memory as well. NVRAM is a PCIe based SSD used to extend the capabilities RAM.

NVMe will slowly be adopted as an alternative for SAS, FC, and SATA. It is also possible for a storage controller to connect over PCIe to its disk enclosures. NVMe over Ethernet and FC may also replace current host connectivity protocols. Therefore my prediction is; we will witness adoption of NVMe fabric and NVMe protocol by some enterprise storage systems.

4. Software defined storage solutions will grow as the cloud adoption increases.

A near perfect solution does not exist in market today. By completely transforming your storage infrastructure to server based software defined storage, you create compute and storage silos. Few Hyper Converged Appliances in the market today provides appliance based compute and storage solution. But its scalability is limited. It’s not possible to expand the appliances beyond certain limit.

Although the above described challenges pose a threat, SDS is a perfect candidate for cloud based infrastructure. For example, Ceph is the most used storage solution in OpenStack because it is open source and just requires hardware. OpenStack also supports various storage arrays. But most people who adopt OpenStack do not want to use enterprise storage arrays (usage of Ceph is an evidence for that). Existing supported storage arrays can be configured to connect with Cinder, Swift and Manila.

During the recent OpenStack summit, users were asked to participate in a survey. The results of survey are published as a report after each summit. In the survey the following question was asked and the result is in the image.

Which OpenStack Block Storage (Cinder) drivers are in use?

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Image originally appeared in OpenStack user survey report

The survey result showed Ceph is the most preferred choice for block storage deployment. This confirms software defined storage is leading in OpenStack cloud. VMware EVO:RAIL is a hyper converged appliance which by default uses VSAN. VMware also partnered with a number of OEMs to have their own variant of EVO:RAIL but VSAN remains as the only storage option. Similarly EMC’s SDS offering is ScaleIO. EMC also has an open source SDS controller called CoprHD. CoprHD is based on ViPR Controller and it abstracts all storage arrays in datacenter. It supports EMC arrays as well as 3rd party arrays using OpenStack Cinder driver.

My prediction is, rapid adoption of cloud and interest in SDS solutions will grow further in 2016.

5. Most importantly, Companies will realize that cloud is not an alternative to a traditional data center.

When OpenStack was being widely known most people thought it to be a replacement of traditional data center. The truth is, OpenStack is for cloud aware applications. Running your Microsoft Exchange server or a database on the virtual machines (Instances) is not a good idea when high availability of instances is a question. One of the fundamental limitations when it comes to block storage is that, OpenStack cinder does not support shared volume access to an instance. A volume can be mounted to only one instance at a time.

Mainframes were enjoying great market share in 90’s and early 21st century, its lucrative market share was threatened by emergence of rack servers. Today’s servers are very much capable of doing what a Mainframe can do. But still Mainframes are not out of industry yet. Similarly emergence of cloud and cloud aware applications will transform IT industry because the applications which are being developed are solutions to real world problems. But the traditional computing infrastructure will continue to exist in its own space.

Note: This article is based on my own insights in storage technology and not based on market report or analysis. 


Also published on Medium.