10 Storage Predictions For 2015

Top Of Mind In 2015: Looking At Better Ways To Store Data

Customers have always been excited about better ways to store and manage data. 2015 will provide many new definitions of "better" in the storage context.

Does "better" mean higher capacity or higher performance from SSDs? Does it mean a focus on software or on hardware? Is all-flash the future? Will big data apps run better if the servers migrate to the storage, and not the other way around?

2015 will see a combination of the above and more, as new capabilities become commonplace in the storage industry. And while the move to many of these new "better" technologies is typically led by startups, legacy storage vendors will show they are ready for such coming disruptions as all-flash arrays and software-defined storage.

2015 indeed will be a very interesting year for storage. Here's a look at some of what can be expected.

10. Storage Revenue: 2015 Will See Growth, Or Not

While the headline on the first prediction seems like a way to weasel out on making a prediction, it is impossible to predict with confidence whether the storage industry will see revenue growth. Storage revenue was down year over year during the first couple of quarters of 2014, but then rose in the third quarter, according to IDC.

The number of TB of capacity will grow in 2015, and SSD and flash storage will see big growth. Storage software revenue will grow. But will this all add up to a growth in overall storage revenue? That remains to be seen.

And the very fact that overall storage revenue may not grow has big implications for those whose livelihoods depend on traditional storage sales, especially in terms of whether they are ready to take on the latest technologies or not.

9. Big Data: Storage Impacted By How Processed, Not By Capacity

While the term "big data" refers to the ability to process data, and not to the actual volume of the data, it is safe to assume the amount of storage capacity devoted to big data will grow.

However, the big impact in 2015 from big data will be in terms of how the processing is done. Because big data includes either data that is kept long enough to process but not worth storing over the long term, or data that is generated by gazillions of devices, or both, traditional storage may not be able to keep up with the processing. So look for new devices and new processing solutions from storage vendors that will help improve the performance of big data.

8. EMC Will Change

EMC will be in for some really big news in 2015. That's a for-sure. The company is under pressure from investors to go through some sort of split, perhaps by selling off its share in VMware. The company also reorganized a couple of times in 2014 as a way to get ready for the cloud, and will likely make more significant changes as a way of pre-empting potential impacts to its legacy storage business.

One of the biggest wild cards for EMC, and to be honest, for the storage industry as a whole, will be the question of who will run the company in 2015 and beyond. Chairman and CEO Joe Tucci is due to retire this year, but that was true in 2014 and 2013 and 2012. Will he step back and open the door to new leadership? Or will the board of directors ask him to stay on? He has brought EMC to a position of strength despite industry changes, but is the company ready for a new hand at the tiller?

7. More Connections To The Cloud

2014 saw cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure introduce plug-ins that allow server and storage hardware easy access to public cloud capacity on an as-needed basis. NetApp was among the first to introduce such connectivity, but 2015 will see wide adoption, which will let solution providers bring more of their hardware infrastructures into data centers with direct connections to the cloud.

That will be a factor in cutting down on the amount of storage capacity required by customers, especially for burst or test/dev applications. However, providers of related services will see their business grow as customers explore new applications to take advantage of the technology.

6. Back To The Future: Storage Software Industry Goes Retro

The storage software business could get exciting again for the first time in a few years as a couple of old names vie for attention with all the startups and all the storage hardware vendors that have added advanced software capabilities.

The first is Arcserve, which in 2014 split off from CA as a separate storage software business. "Arcserve" as a stand-alone company disappeared in 1996 when it was acquired by CA, then known as Computer Associates.

The second will likely be known as Veritas. Symantec, which in 2006 acquired storage software giant Veritas, plans in 2015 to spin its storage software business into a separate company. The actual company name has not been announced, but it seems a safe bet to assume it will be Veritas, given that moniker's history and familiarity.

5. Hyper-Converged Infrastructure Grabs Significant Storage Market Share

The deployment of hyper-converged infrastructure solutions will explode in 2015 as customers find them an easy way to combine server, storage, networking and virtualization technologies with a single management point and a single throat to choke. That makes them ideal to replace stand-alone storage solutions for many tasks like virtual desktops, remote and branch office computing, and disaster recovery.

The introduction in late 2014 of VMware's EVO: RAIL hyper-converged software stack, while not the first or the best solution by far, will be notable in 2015 as the spark that generates widespread interest in hyper-converged infrastructure solutions. By year-end, almost every server, storage and networking vendor will offer their own solutions, and customers will run with them as an easy way to build private clouds.

4. SSDs: Capacity, Not Speed, The Focus

While much has been made of the performance gains achieved by using SSDs instead of spinning hard drives, and with good reason, 2015 will see the SSD focus shift toward capacity.

SSDs in 1-TB capacities are common, and several vendors have introduced 4-TB models. SanDisk and a few other vendors have already unveiled plans to introduce 6-TB and 8-TB SSDs in 2015.

Why the focus on capacity? While SSD performance will increase in 2015, it will be on an incremental basis. However, capacity increases can provide more differentiation and market buzz. And with the growing requirements for high-performance storage, customers will pay for the extra capacity, especially as cost-per-gigabyte drops over time.

3. All-Flash Storage: Big Growth, But Done Consolidating

2014 saw a lot of investment in, and acquisitions of, all-flash storage systems developers. By year-end, every major storage vendor had viable solutions to compete with a "host" of startups whose numbers declined due to being acquired or folded during the year.

In 2015, the consolidation will largely be complete, giving legacy and startup vendors already in this market room to expand. There will be plenty of business to go around as customers take advantage of falling prices and new enterprise software capabilities to replace existing arrays with all-flash arrays for many tasks. The startups will say they offer performance premiums over legacy providers, while the legacy companies will tout the advantage of integration with existing solutions. Everybody wins.

2. Software-Defined Storage To Become Commonplace

Software-defined storage in 2015 will become a major part of the storage business as large storage vendors join their startup rivals in embracing the change.

Key to this is the fact that legacy storage vendors, which might otherwise be expected to push back against software-defined storage to protect their legacy hardware, realize they need to change or get left behind. While not rushing to make their technology available as software-only offerings, they have started to do so, and can move quickly to do more as customers see the advantage of separating storage functionality from specific hardware platforms.

The big winners in 2015 could be white-box server and storage vendors that can partner with developers of software-defined storage stacks to compete in the major leagues of storage.

1. Servers Will Run On Storage Systems

Unabated growth of data, especially data generated by big data applications, will make it increasingly harder to move data to where it needs to be processed. So why not move the processing to the data?

Server virtualization for the most part is the ability to spin up a software-defined server on any industry-standard hardware. And storage arrays are really nothing more than specialized storage software running on industry-standard servers.

2015 will see these come together with new ways to mount, migrate and delete servers on storage arrays with excess processing capacity. EMC's new VMAX3 arrays were the first from a major vendor to run virtual servers on the array itself, but there is nothing stopping other storage vendors from doing so. And in 2015, they will.