The 10 Biggest Storage Stories Of 2015

2015: Consolidation, Fragmentation Shape Storage Industry

Just when it seems the storage industry couldn't get any wilder, a year like 2015 comes along with so many startups, funding rounds, acquisitions and other massive changes that challenge the technology and business models of newbies and old guard alike.

To top it off, the year saw something no one could have imagined just a year ago: Dell's acquisition play for EMC. At the same time, the big change that was most expected -- Cisco's becoming a major storage player to take advantage of its server and networking capabilities -- didn't happen, as storage turned out to be one of Cisco's few failures, and a spectacular one at that.

CRN was there watching it all unfold. Turn the page to see just how interesting a year it was with a look at all the key trends and key players in storage in 2015.

10. Acquisitions Galore

While Dell's planned acquisition of EMC made headlines throughout 2015, it was by no means the only acquisition in the news.

Other significant acquisitions during the year included:

-- EMC in August acquired Graphite Systems, a startup developer of high-performance storage technology that can be used to run applications without a server.

-- IBM in November acquired Cleversafe, a developer of object-based storage software.

-- Seagate in August acquired Dot Hill, a major producer of primary storage systems, for about $694 million.

-- Hitachi Data Systems in February acquired Pentaho, a developer of big data and Internet of Things technology.

-- Barracuda Networks in September unveiled plans to acquire Intronis, a provider of data protection services mainly through managed services providers.

Smaller acquisitions included Carbonite's acquisition of cloud storage technology from Rebit, and Dropbox's purchase of Office 365 document editor CloudOn.

9. Big Funding Of Storage Startups

Storage industry funding didn't seem to slow down any in 2015:

-- Infinidat, whose team developed EMC's Symmetrix and IBM's XIV enterprise storage solutions, in April unveiled a new $150 million round.

-- Tintri, developer of virtual machine-aware storage solutions featuring both flash and hard disk capacity, in August received $125 million in new funding.

-- Hybrid cloud data protection technology developer Datto in November closed a $75 million B round.

-- Data-aware scale-out NAS startup Qumulo in February unveiled the closing of a $40 million B round.

-- ClearSky Data, a developer of technology to manage data storage across physical and cloud infrastructures, in November closed a $27 million B round, just three months after closing $12 million round.

-- Startup data protection software developer Rubrik in May unveiled a $41 million round just three months after unveiling a $10 million round.

-- Hyper-converged infrastructure solution developer Scale Computing in July closed an $18 million round.

8. Rationalization Comes To The Cloud Storage Business

2015 could be the year in which the notion of free cloud storage was finally laid to rest.

The year saw a number of companies exit or prepare to exit the cloud storage business altogether. LaCie, Tigard, Ore., this fall closed its Wuala service. Adobe in November said it plans to close its Adobe Revel cloud service, which included 2 GBs of free capacity, by early 2016.

Meanwhile, Microsoft said that, starting early next year, it will cut the amount of storage offered in its free OneDrive accounts from 15 GB to 5 GB, and will end an offer in which users who stored their camera rolls on the service would get an additional free 15 GB of space. Microsoft in mid-December backpedaled on part of the cut, with caveats.

7. NetApp Gets A New CEO

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based NetApp in July ousted Chairman and CEO Tom Georgens, and named in his place George Kurian (pictured), executive vice president of product operations, on an interim basis. He was shortly thereafter given the position permanently.

Kurian took over the helm of the industry's second-largest independent storage vendor at a time when it faces declines in revenue that it attributes to a slow uptake of its Clustered Data Ontap storage architecture. However, Kurian told CRN, his company is overcoming the issues and competing well against both its legacy and startup competitors.

6. Symantec Preps For Sale Of Veritas

Symantec in August unveiled plans to sell its Veritas storage business for $8 billion, ending a long story of unfulfilled promises that started with Symantec's 2005 acquisition of Veritas for $13.5 billion.

The move followed that of rival CA, which last year sold its Arcserve data protection software business to a private equity firm.

The legacy Symantec and Veritas businesses never really did merge, and essentially operated as two separate companies, a fact that makes the process to split the two easier than it might have been. However, the split, expected to close Jan. 1, has not been easy, as investors reportedly may be hesitating.

5. Pure Storage, Box Have Big IPOs

A couple of storage IPOs made big news in 2015

All-flash storage array vendor Pure Storage, under the ticker symbol PSTG, in early October priced its IPO at $17 per share, but investors showed they were not as excited as the company had hoped by opening trading at about $16 per share, with just a few cents' uptick close to the end of the trading day. Despite volatility that took share prices as high as $20.60 and as low as $12.26, by mid-December the stock still hovered around the opening price.

Cloud storage and collaboration technology provider Box had an IPO, and its performance since has also been underwhelming. The company's shares, initially priced at $14, jumped on the IPO date in January to as high as $24.73, but have fallen since then. The stock hit a low of $10.93 per share, but by mid-December was hovering close to $14.

4. 3D NAND Tech Drags All-Flash Storage Costs Lower

2015 saw the introduction of a new version of flash memory called 3D NAND that brought the cost of all-flash storage to new lows. Samsung, Toshiba and SanDisk this year all introduced 3D NAND-based SSDs.

Round Rock, Texas-based Dell in June unveiled what it called the first all-flash storage array to feature TLC 3D NAND technology, bringing the cost of all-flash storage solutions to as low as $1.66 per raw GB of capacity. The TLC 3D NAND technology was introduced in the company's SC-4020 array.

Newton, Mass.-based Kaminario in September introduced a 3D NAND version of its K2 all-flash array, followed by HPE, which in November unveiled its 3D NAND-based 3PAR array.

3. Separating The Software And The Hardware

Storage hardware vendors insisted their storage solutions integrate hardware and software as the best way to bring storage services to customers even though the underlying hardware is typically a commodity server. This has been the case despite the rise of software-defined storage, which in theory breaks that software-hardware tie.

The tie was officially broken in 2015. Boulder, Colo.-based all-flash storage array developer SolidFire in February unveiled SolidFire Element X, a software solution based on SolidFire's Element operating system, which can be used to turn an industry-standard server into an all-flash storage array.

Meanwhile, San Jose, Calif.-based hyper-converged infrastructure vendor Nutanix in May unveiled a free version of its software stack, called Nutanix Community Edition, which is aimed at nonproduction uses such as test and development. It includes all the features of the company's appliances, except for limited scalability.

2. Cisco Exits Flash Storage Business -- For Now

Cisco in July finally did what had been expected for some time: Its venture into the storage business, Invicta, was closed.

The Invicta business, formed from Cisco's late-2013 acquisition of all-flash storage vendor Whiptail for $415 million, never really took hold. Cisco, mindful of its key relationships with most of the top storage vendors, maintained that the technology would not be sold as a standalone storage solution, but instead would be used as a storage acceleration technology for its Cisco UCS server line.

However, that technology, with the Invicta moniker, was actually prepped to be offered as standalone storage -- but it was never widely available, due in large part to what Cisco characterized as "quality issues in deployments."

Is Cisco done with storage? Not likely. The company is widely expected to make a storage acquisition. Someday. Soon. Or not.

1. Dell Looks To Make History With EMC Acquisition

Dell in October unveiled bold plans to acquire storage king EMC in a $67 billion deal that transforms the onetime PC maker into a $90 billion enterprise computing powerhouse.

The deal -- the largest in the history of the IT business -- creates a new world order in the intensely competitive enterprise computing market. When the acquisition finally closes, which Dell said would likely happen between May and October 2016, Dell will be an enterprise superpower with a prominent position in nearly every key enterprise technology segment, including servers, storage, virtualization, networking, cloud computing services, security, big data and IT services.

But nothing worth doing is easy. Potential tax issues, as well as how the deal will be funded, continue to plague the deal.