Storage Soup

Dec 22 2011   10:01AM GMT

Solid state, server-based storage have staying power

Randy Kerns Randy Kerns Profile: Randy Kerns

Many new storage technologies show great promise. They have useful capabilities such as transferring data faster, storing information for less cost, migrating data with less disruption and administration, and utilizing storage resources more efficiently. Technologies get evaluated on the value they bring and are introduced into the mainstream over time.

New technologies also spawn start-up companies with investments from venture capital companies. Invariably there is promotion of the technology, paid for by the developing companies and others with a stake in the technology‘s success. There is even an industry that grows up around educating people on the new technology.

But few new technologies actually have staying power beyond five years or so. This relatively transient technology that had such great promise and promotion often leads to great disappointment, especially if you are involved in a start-up or the support industries. The investors would also lose their investments completely or have them reduced to an asset sale. The technology’s failure also colors the industry for a period, making new investments and career plans more limited.

Everyone in the storage industry seems to have their favorite technologies that crashed and burned. Remember bubble memories? Remember IPI-3? Many of us, me included, invested much of our time (way more than we should have) in developing products in the exciting new technology areas.

There are currently two technology trends to highlight that have staying power and are likely to continue evolving, justifying the investment and commitment. One is solid-state technology used as a storage medium. The other is the use of server technology (multi-core processors, bus technology, interface adapters, etc.) as the foundation for storage systems.

Solid-state usage has created many opportunities with more than one form of storage device. Currently, NAND Flash is the solid-state technology of choice. Eventually, that will be replaced with the next solid state technology, which is expected to be phase-change memory (PCM). The timing of the evolution to the next generation of solid state will probably be determined by the first company that has the technology and wants to achieve a greater competitive position than it has today. Developments in these areas may be held back by the successes and profits from NAND flash. When the price for NAND flash becomes more competitive, there may be more motivation to deliver on the next generation.

For storage systems, the transition from custom designed hardware to use of standard platforms has been underway for some time. The economics of the hardware and development costs have driven most vendors to deliver their unique intellectual property in the form of a storage application that runs on the server-based hardware. The next turn in this technology progression is utilizing the multi-core processors in the storage system more effectively by running I/O intensive applications on the storage system itself.

When a technology is in the early stages, it’s difficult to determine if it will have the staying power to justify the financial and personal investment. But, solid state and server-based storage are past those early stages and have relatively clear paths for the future. What comes next is an interesting conversation, though.

(Randy Kerns is Senior Strategist at Evaluator Group, an IT analyst firm).

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