Primary Storage Pendulum Swings Back to the Server

A definite shift toward attaching primary storage directly to servers is underway.

Michael Vizard

October 31, 2014

3 Min Read
Primary Storage Pendulum Swings Back to the Server

Right about now most solution providers should be taking notice of the fact that storage once again is being attached directly to servers. After several decades where network attached storage (NAS) server and storage area networks (SANs) dominated the landscape, a definite shift toward attaching primary storage directly to servers is now underway.

Case in point is a recent reseller agreement struck between Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) and Scality, a provider of storage software, dubbed The RING, which allows organizations to mix and match hard disk drives (HDDs) and solid-state drives (SSDs) how they see fit.

Part of the shift toward software-defined storage, Scality CEO Jerome Lecat said the long-term storage trend in the data center is to move away from storage appliances to where software is used to provide shared access to commodity storage directly attached to servers. Much of the reason for this is because applications running on virtual machines increasingly require lower I/O latency than can be achieved using anything attached to a network.

By 2020 Scality is estimating that the software-defined storage market will be worth about $5 billion. But Lecat also contends that the implications of that shift may be profound for the storage industry as whole. With fewer NAS and SANs required, the rate at which the overall storage market grows in terms of revenue will be significantly less than it has historically been. After all, if customers are mixing and matching commodity storage devices on servers they are going to spend less on much more expensive dedicated storage systems, said Lecat. All told, Scality figures the total storage market by 2020 will be worth about $13 billion, with about 45 percent being addressable by software-defined storage products.

The implications of that shift go well beyond the technology. While there tends to be one IT team inside small-to-medium (SMB) organizations, the enterprise segment of the market has seen the rise of dedicated storage administrators to manage NAS and SAN systems. If more primary storage winds up being attached to servers, it’s probable server administrators inside large enterprises will be making the primary storage decisions. For a lot solution providers that sell primary storage into the enterprise, that may mean they need to form new relationships inside those organizations.

In addition, this shift is likely to require solution providers to rethink where they put their storage vendor focus. If more primary storage is being sold attached to a server, the vendors that sell servers will hold more sway than vendors that only sell storage systems. And even in companies that sell both servers and storage, solution providers still will have to reorient themselves around the different channel programs that vendors such as HP tend to have for selling servers and storage.

All this portends some major disruption to a storage market that historically has been a major source of revenue for the channel. There’s no doubt IT organizations will consume more storage than ever, including secondary systems managed by storage administrators. But given the fact that primary storage is usually the highest margin set of products in the pantheon of storage, a fundamental shift toward commodity drives on servers has implications for solution providers that ultimately will affect their bottom line in ways most of them have yet to fully appreciate.

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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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