Storage market under pressure to adjust to the future

The overall storage growth rate is still positive, but no longer double-digit. Big-data management requests more storage, there is no question about that; but price points are decreasing. Additionally, more and more enterprises are moving parts of their data – in particular their backup and archiving data – to the cloud. This opens new opportunities for newcomers but also for established vendors. However, flash memory will only be an interim solution. The next technology wave is under way already.

Hence, the storage market is in a huge transition. Flash memory is moving with large steps into mainstream, either as tiered solutions or in the form of “flash-only data centers”. The pressure which the big storage providers (e.g., EMC, HP, IBM, and the like) are experiencing with the need to generate downstream compatibility opens up a window of opportunity to newcomers (e.g., SimpliVity, Tegile, and so on).

On the other hand, SanDisk has launched a series of large-scale cooperation partnerships, e.g., with HP and IBM. The growing volumes and also 3D-NAND technologies are driving price points even further down. However, flash storage should only be seen as an intermediate step away from disks. A series of new storage technologies are leaving the labs (e.g., racetrack memory, phase-change-memory/PCM). PCM storage is the most promising for the next development phase of storage systems. As a reminder, PCM memories allow to store more than one bit per storage cell. First major vendors are planning PCM-only storage systems in 2016 (e.g., IBM). Initially, these PCM storage systems will have a digital interface for compatibility with existing systems. However, in order to unlock the full potential of PCM cells, a new way to store, access and transact with non-digitally stored information (e.g. in 4, 8, 12 , 16 discrete statuses) need new computing technologies, and new software may be required. It has already been shown that PCM cells may generally also be used as parts of the computing logic, not only as memory cells. This may be the base for multivalent computing which may replace computing as we know it today, by cognitive computing, which is much more oriented towards the way the human brain works (IBM Watson is only a precursor of this development).

This will clearly open up new opportunities for software vendors, service providers as well as for enterprise computing customers. One example of accepting this new challenge can be seen in the recent split out of Veritas – a renowned vendor for backup and archiving – from Symantec. Symantec Corp did not really make any use of the Veritas heritage. Also the new Veritas will remain a privately held company, it has a huge footprint in the market (about 7,800 employees worldwide). Service providers and enterprise users should expect a whole new marketing and awareness campaign with a series of announcements for new products and services in the next week and quarter.

Bottom line: The trigger point for new storage systems has been pushed now. Storage systems, which are an alternative to spinning discs, have reached a critical mass. Service providers and enterprise users should get ready for this new technology and learn about new opportunities, new price points and new performance horizons.