The 10 Biggest Storage Stories Of 2011

2011 Storage Industry -- A Year For Really Big "Bigs"

The year 2011 may be remembered for the really big things that happened, including a huge Thailand flood which wiped out a quarter of the world's hard drive manufacturing, big acquisitions with the potential to change the industry as we know it, big investments in unknown companies, and, of course, big data.

Yet "small" also had its place in the spotlight in 2011. Small business storage came to the forefront in a way it hadn't done in the past, while new cloud and virtualization technologies bring the potential for smaller requirements for on-premises storage going forward.

Trying to find the most important storage industry stories in a year in which so many changes were taking place is a big task. Turn the page, and see how CRN's picks matched yours for the 10 biggest storage stories of 2011.

10. Big Data Gets Really Big

Actually, this is less about the rise of big data, and more about the rise of the awareness of big data.

"Big data" is data which scales to multiple petabytes of capacity and is created or collected, is stored, and is collaborative in real time. Big data typically consists of unstructured data, which includes text, audio and video files, photographs, and other data which is not easy to handle using traditional database management tools.

Big data is the fastest growing part of data storage, and is also the messiest part to handle because of the need to gain insight from some many different types of data. That has pushed several major vendors including EMC and Hitachi Data Systems to look to open source, especially the Apache Hadoop project.

9. Storage Appliances Go Big

Instead of adding storage to an application running on one or more servers, major vendors are now more commonly integrating storage with servers and applications as part of a larger appliance. Such appliances allow the vendor to tie storage closely to an application to take advantage of storage features that would otherwise require much more integration in the field.

This move got its big start in 2009 when Oracle released its Oracle's Exadata appliance, which focuses on data warehousing and OLTP applications. The company followed up this year with its Oracle Database Appliance, which bundles Oracle 11g with servers and storage.

Other application-specific appliances appearing this year include an SAP appliance from Hitachi Data Systems, an IBM appliance based on its Netezza data warehouse technology, Symantec with its new Backup Exec appliance, and Hadoop-based appliances from EMC and NetApp.

8. Big Vendors For Small Businesses

2011 saw a renewed interest among major storage vendors in SMB storage, a part of the market served mainly by a huge assortment of second-tier vendors.

Major storage vendors have reached out to the SMB market in the past, but mainly with enterprise storage products that had certain features turned off. However, things were different in 2011.

EMC in January kicked off the year with the introduction of its VNX and VNXe, its first purpose-built SMB storage appliances. It was followed by arch rival NetApp, which tried to erase the memory of its past StoreVault foray into the SMB market with this year's much more accepted FAS2240.

Even hard drive maker Western Digital got into the SMB market with its first-ever storage appliance.

7. Clouds More Clear Than Ever

Cloud storage continued to gather momentum in 2011 as customers looked for better ways to handle data protection and disaster recovery.

IDC in October estimated that overall storage spending by public cloud service providers will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 23.6 percent from 2010 to 2015, while enterprise spending on private cloud storage will grow by 28.9. Together, the cloud storage market is expected to hit $22.6 billion by 2015, IDC said.

Established storage hardware and software vendors, startups, and IT distributors continued to rush to the cloud storage market in 2011. The low barriers to entry to the cloud storage market led to a rash of companies offering free service, although SMBs are leery of such offerings due to questions about compliance and availability.

6. The Fall And Rise Of Dell Storage

Dell this Fall ended its very profitable 10-year business of reselling EMC storage to concentrate on selling its own storage technology, notable technology it received from acquisitions of Compellent, EqualLogic, and multiple smaller vendors.

It was a risky move in the short term. Dell in the third quarter saw its total storage sales drop 15 percent compared to last year. However, sales of Dell-branded storage rose 23 percent over last year, which signals that Dell will likely exceed its best storage sales within a few quarters.

And, best of all for Dell, not only does it make much more money of its own storage products than reselling EMC's hardware, it also uses its channel-heavy storage business as a way to get partners to sell a wider range of Dell hardware.

5. VMware: Friend Or Foe?

VMware, by virtue of making server virtualization one of the most ubiquitous technologies in the IT market, has in the past couple of years done more than anyone to push customers to adopt storage networking technology as a way to take advantage of the ability to migrate virtual machines on-the-fly.

For 2011, VMware shook up the storage market again with the introduction of its vSphere Storage Appliance (VSA). VSA is a distributed shared storage solution that abstracts the computing and internal hard disk resources of two or three VMware ESXi 5.0 hosts to form a cluster which can be used for high availability and virtual machine migration.

VSA can help decrease or even eliminate the need for networked storage in smaller businesses. And what can be done for small businesses can also be done for midsize businesses, or even for parts of the enterprise, making this a disruptive technology going forward.

4. The Year Of The SSD And Flash Storage

Old school storage vendors and upstarts alike came to market in 2011 with SSDs and PCIe Flash-based storage products targeting the acceleration of everything from business critical applications to portable PCs by keeping the most-accessed data available in the highest-speed storage devices possible. While most of the new SSDs and Flash-based devices are used as part of an automated tiered storage architecture, storage vendors are finding new ways to take advantage of the technology.

For instance, startups like SolidFire and Pure Storage came to market in 2011 with Flash-only arrays. Other companies such as EMC and Fusion-io introduced Flash-based storage modules that sit in servers to take advantage of high-speed local busses to improve storage performance.

Meanwhile, startups like FlashSoft and IO Turbine entered the market with software that helps legacy applications take advantage of SSDs and Flash-based storage without the need to recompile those applications.

3. Pennies From Heaven: VC Funding Rains Down On Storage

Venture capitalists and large vendors ignored the overall doom-and-gloom feeling about business and the economy to make 2011 a banner year for investing in storage vendors including both startups and even established companies.

Among the largest VC investments in 2011 were $30 million in Pure Storage, $50 million in Coraid, $33.5 million in Actifio and $25 million in both Nutanix and SolidFire.

A couple of big storage IPOs also made waves in 2011. One of the biggest of any IT vendor was that of Fusion-io, which in June raised $234 million. Cloud storage developer Carbonite, which earlier withdrew from IPO plans, finally succeeded in 2011, but only raised $62.5 million instead of its original goal of $106 million.

2. Buy! Buy! Buy!

2011 was huge for storage acquisitions as vendors geared up for future growth or took advantage of opportunities to make a good deal.

Two of the biggest deals in 2011 were for big data software. The first was HP's controversial acquisition of Autonomy in a $10 billion-plus bid to become a leader in enterprise information management. It was followed by Symantec's $390 million buy of eDiscovery company Clearwell.

The most unusual acquisition was Oracle's purchase of Pillar Data Systems, which was owned primarily by Oracle's CEO Larry Ellison. Pillar was a huge sinkhole in terms of an investment for Ellison, and the actual value of the acquisition has yet to be determined because of tie-in to potential profits.

Some acquisition were of long-term partners, such as NetApp's purchase of OEM storage vendor Engenio and HDS' purchases of BlueArc.

1. Flood Of Hard Drives Slowed By Flood Of Thailand Water

Record-breaking monsoon rains in Southeast Asia put up to a third of Thailand under water, including many of the industrial parks where up to a quarter of the world's hard drives were manufactured.

Analyst firm IHS iSuppli estimated that about 25 percent of the world's hard drives are manufactured in Thailand. In addition, a disruption in the production of key components, including electric motors and slider assemblies, has slowed part of the production in other countries, leading both Western Digital and Seagate to estimate that fourth quarter production of hard drives will top out at about 120 million units, compared to normal expected demand in the quarter of 180 million units.

The floods were latest in a string of natural disasters which impacted the IT industry.