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The Rapidly Changing World of Storage DynamicsThe Rapidly Changing World of Storage Dynamics

Storage has always been good to the channel and with growth rates resulting in a digital universe that is expected to reach 44 zettabytes by 2020, it's a safe bet storage can be counted on to be good to the channel for years to come.

Michael Vizard

June 20, 2014

4 Min Read
The Rapidly Changing World of Storage Dynamics

mvizard.jpegStorage has always been good to the channel and with growth rates resulting in a digital universe that is expected to reach 44 zettabytes by 2020, it’s a safe bet storage can be counted on to be good to the channel for years to come.

Obviously, a fair amount of that data is going to be compressed and not all of that data will need to be permanently stored. But for all that opportunity the growth rate we’re currently seeing is driving major shifts in the hierarchy of storage technologies as evidenced by the decline in sales of high-end magnetic storage systems at both EMC and NetApp.

The big reason this shift is occurring is because of the rise of solid-state drive (SSDs) that provide orders of magnitude better performance that magnetic storage. The challenge this creates for both storage vendors and their channel partners alike is that most of those SSDs are being plugged directly into servers. Typically sold by server vendors and their partners, the rise of SSDs is starting to reshape who is selling what types of storage in the channel.

Storage vendors, naturally, are not sitting idle. Vendors such as NetApp have created unified storage systems that combine the performance and capacity benefits of SSDs and magnetic storage. But no matter how you cut it, the performance attributes of SSDs plugged directly into a server are too compelling to ignore, especially if that server itself is an in-memory computing platform.

In fact, the prospects for that approach look so bright that many of the manufacturers of SSDs are looking to own the business directly. Case in point is Sandisk, which this week moved to acquire Fusion-io for $1.1 billion. Suddenly the vendor dynamics that solution providers in the channel that specialize in storage need to work through and around are looking a whole lot different.

Vendors such as PernixData that virtualize RAM and Flash memory see all this turmoil as an opportunity for managing storage at a much higher level of abstraction. In fact, PernixData CTO Satyam Vaghani, said one of the big problems that traditional storage and server vendors have today is they are too conflicted when it comes to whether to apply SSDs at the server and storage level. More often than not the server group within the same company is at odds with a storage group pushing Flash arrays and Flash-enhanced magnetic storage.

Naturally, it’s not much different on the customer side. The larger the customer the less likely it is that the person buying servers is the same person responsible for making the storage decision. Solution providers frequently find themselves navigating the internal politics of a customer that can be divided against itself as much as the vendor they represent.

And just to make matters more interesting, there’s also a simultaneous shift underway to software-defined storage (SDS) that makes storage systems simpler to manage. Usually based on some form of an object-based storage system, SDS enables IT organizations to combine the management of file, block and object-based storage under a common management framework.

As big an opportunity as SDS might be, however, no one can be quite certain if SDS is a standalone market. At the moment the entire enterprise as we know it is becoming software-defined. In that eventuality, SDS might wind up being a feature within a much larger software-defined enterprise.

Finally, large amounts of the data that needs to be stored is going to wind up inside and out of the cloud; potentially giving solution providers a whole other class of vendors that they need to manage alongside their existing on premise storage vendor partners.

No one can say with absolute certainty how all this will all wind up. While change is usually good for the channel, solution providers that deliver storage systems today may look very different tomorrow.

In that context, solution providers that specialize in storage just might want to take a giant step back to reconsider where they fit in the totality of a rapidly changing IT infrastructure landscape.

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About the Author(s)

Michael Vizard

Michael Vizard is a seasoned IT journalist, with nearly 30 years of experience writing and editing about enterprise IT issues. He is a contributor to publications including Programmableweb, IT Business Edge, CIOinsight and UBM Tech. He formerly was editorial director for Ziff-Davis Enterprise, where he launched the company’s custom content division, and has also served as editor in chief for CRN and InfoWorld. He also has held editorial positions at PC Week, Computerworld and Digital Review.

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