8 Emerging Data Storage Trends To Watch In 2021

A focus on the actual business requirements from storage infrastructures, and not on the legacy discussions about speeds and feeds, the names on the bezels, and where the data is actually located, will characterize the storage industry of 2021 and beyond.

Storage In 2021 And Beyond: Less Focus On Tech, More Focus On Data Value

The storage, management, protection, and valuation of data is and will continue to be a critical function of IT well into the foreseeable future — that is not in doubt. Businesses will continue to collect data at an ever-increasing rate, and need new ways to find information from that data while keeping it available and safe.

However, going forward, many of the technology details of data storage will be of increasingly less importance, while the discussions around business value will boom. Just like no one talks about SAN vs. NAS, business users soon will not look at “on-prem vs. cloud” or “NetApp vs. Pure Storage.” Instead, storage decisions are increasingly being made based on what the businesses need to grow their business and generate profits, and not where and how the data is stored.

The storage, management, protection, and valuation of data will continue to be the heart of businesses large and small. Here, CRN looks at what to expect for the storage industry in 2021 and beyond. Click through our slideshow to read more.

The Line Between On-Prem And Cloud Will Be Erased

Store data on-premises or in the cloud? Customers won’t care.

The line between on-premises data storage and cloud-based storage has in the last two years started to blur, and 2021 will see that line blur away even more as storage vendors embrace the cloud.

NetApp pioneered the idea of seamlessly tying on-premises, public cloud, private cloud, and edge storage into a single architecture, which for that company is known as the Data Fabric, and its all-flash storage rivals Pure Storage and IBM have recently taken huge steps to make their technologies and the cloud inseparable. Other major storage vendors including Dell Technologies and Hewlett Packard Enterprise are moving in that direction, but were slow out of the gate.

It’s a big step for a storage vendor to make it easy to move data to the cloud and potentially off its own hardware. But business users are getting to the point where they don’t have a preference where the data is stored as long as it is accessible and safe and subject to manipulation to reduce costs. Watch for this trend to continue in 2021.

Software-Defined To Take The Wind From Storage Hardware Sales

With all the excellent storage arrays available in the market, it’s sometimes hard to remember that nearly all if not all storage is software-defined. All the services related to the storage, management, and protection of data is defined by the software stack which in most cases runs on commodity hardware. Sure, storage hardware vendors may truthfully respond that their hardware is optimized to run their software stacks. Or there may be some proprietary hardware inside the more commodity hardware base that impacts the storage performance. But the storage services themselves are defined in software.

Take away the hardware, and what is left? A software stack that with little or no modification can run on other commodity servers. Or take away the commodity or alternate hardware, and what is left? A software stack that with little or no modification can run on the cloud.

Two things could happen related to this in 2021. First, solution providers and their clients will see more software stacks available from more well-known storage brands for integration on hardware or cloud bases of choice. Second, Investors are going to start to realize that the way they measure a storage vendor’s value is not dependent on revenue, which will shrink as the vendors look more to software-defined storage, but instead on the value those vendors bring to their clients.

No More Vendor “A” vs. Vendor “B”

Walk around the data center of nearly any business and try to find any that have settled on a single vendor for storage. It is increasingly difficult to do so. What businesses are looking for is not what a vendor provides, but what actually meets their need for scale, performance, flexibility, ties to the cloud, and a myriad of other requirements to run their workloads.

All the top brand vendors and most of the less-well-known brand vendors produce extremely good storage products, whether its on-premises hardware, the cloud, or software-only products. But no single vendor can meet all the needs businesses have. That’s why hardware refreshes are fraught with angst: If storage hardware, for instance, is at end of life, what’s to stop every hardware vendor from swooping in to try to be the next vendor of choice, since the customer will likely need to learn new management interfaces and capabilities anyway.

In 2021, watch for the brand-focused sales motion to continue decreasing in importance as solution providers bring multiple options to their clients based on those clients’ specific requirements. It won’t be universal. Some clients will continue to have affinities for certain vendors. But business requirements will trump everything else.

‘Speeds And Feeds’ Morphs To ‘Needs’

Storage sales can no longer start off with the “speeds and feeds” conversation, which refers to the performance specifications for how quickly data can be moved, stored, or processed. One of the main reasons for this is the fact that applications deal with data in different ways, and so the performance of data storage often depends more on the application than on the underlying storage.

Instead, what customers are increasingly looking for is what storage technologies fit their application needs. More specifically, the SLA, or service level agreement, is key to defining storage requirements. The storage technology has to meet certain performance and uptime needs of the customers, and a simple perusal of the specifications at the back of a product brochure will not reveal the necessary information. Indeed, the SLA might be best met with a combination of on-premises and cloud storage.

Now, for a certain set of business workloads, performance will remain a key determiner of which storage technology is best suited. Think of workloads such as on-line transactions, massive data analytics, or big data or IoT, all of whom depend on performance.

But overall, in 2021, look for less focus on speeds and feeds, and more focus on SLAs.

Storage Will Be Increasingly Container-Native

Storage vendors invested big in container technology in 2020, and will therefore make containers a key part of their storage conversations in 2021.

2020 saw two acquisitions of leading container technology developers by major storage vendors. In September, Pure Storage acquired Portworx, which develops a leading Kubernetes data services platform for running mission-critical workloads in containers in production. The following month, data management and protection software vendor Veeam acquired Kasten, a developer of backup and disaster recovery technology for Kubernetes-native workloads. Meanwhile, NetApp in April unveiled Project Astra, an initiative aimed at bringing enterprise-class storage services to the Kubernetes container platform, while Commvault in July introduced a new HyperScale X series of appliances based on its Hedvig technology aimed at all data workloads including containers.

It’s no coincidence that storage vendors are investing heavily in container technology. IDC in 2020 forecast that half of all enterprise applications will be deployed via containers in hybrid cloud or multi-cloud environments. Containerized applications require a combination of primary and secondary storage, but because of the dynamic nature of containers, traditional storage technologies are not ideal.

Storage March To The Edge Accelerates

The increasing reliance on the Internet of Things will help shake up data storage trends in 2021 as all those devices at the network edge will be called on to take on more storage functions. While doing the storage part of data collection and preparation is easier to do in a centralized location, that requires ever-more amounts of data to be sent in its raw state to the central location for processing. However, by bringing storage capabilities to the edge devices, data collected by those devices can be processed and manipulated for analysis before being sent, in significantly reduced quantities, to the central location for further processing and storage. Moving storage to the edge lets the raw data be ingested, processed, and then deleted when no longer needed, reducing networking and capacity requirements.

“Security-First” Mantra To Define Storage

Remember in 2005 when security vendor Symantec acquired storage vendor Veritas, and the 2006 move by storage vendor EMC to acquire RSA Security? The plan was to combine security and storage in such a way that a single vendor and single platform would store and protect data from all manner of threats.

Neither acquisition succeeded at that goal.

Spring forward to today, and it’s a different story. Storage vendors are starting to adopt important security technologies to protect data from cybersecurity risks as it is stored, moved, and archived. This includes ransomware protection to ensure that data in an archive can be safely restored in case of a ransomware attack, and “air-gapping” of secondary storage from primary storage to prevent attacks on backup and archival data. This is making data storage technology in some cases the last line of defense against attacks.

2021 will see a huge emphasis on the cybersecurity side of storage, with storage vendors increasingly taking on the responsibility of ensuring the safety of a company’s data when other security procedures can’t.

Storage Will Get Smarter

For years, the IT industry has been talking about the fact that IT administrators have had to manage increasingly complex infrastructures with shrinking budgets and staff. The answer for this year, and even more in 2021 and beyond, is to add intelligence to those IT infrastructures.

This is especially true with storage. Storage vendors are increasingly adopting artificial intelligence, machine learning, and deep learning to bring automation to storage management. This might be as simple as monitoring capacity requirements and automatically placing an order for more capacity when needed (OK, it’s not that simple) to using data for predictive analytics to prevent issues before they occur.

HPE has been a pioneer in smart storage with its HPE InfoSight platform, which takes millions of measurements each second from storage across multiple customers to understand what is normal and help businesses react when--or before--things are no longer “normal.”

While other vendors have been moving in this smarter storage direction, expect the movement to gather steam in 2021 as businesses look to reduce the human factor of storage infrastructure management.