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What lies ahead in the storage world

Federica Monsone, founder of A3 Communications, speaks to industry shapers about the likely 2019 trends in data storage

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: MicroScope: MicroScope: Look to the future

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. And so is a good plan. As many people in the IT industry will tell you, some trends follow the same patterns over and over again. Some challenges will be overcome and create success stories. Others will prove insurmountable (or not cost-effectively so) and will see vendors come and go quicker than some trade shows. Knowledge of what has come before is a great tool when trying to forecast what is yet to come; here we talk to some industry leaders about their views of what 2019 has in store for the data storage industry.

It will come as no surprise that the cloud is still going to be one of the biggest discussion points over the next 12 months. Michael Amselem, VP of international sales at CTERA Networks, a provider of secure enterprise file services, told Microscope: "In 2019, it will all be about the 'fit' between the channel and the cloud customer, and specifically how resellers can zero in on the specific and evolving needs of enterprise, SMB, or government customers. We know there’s a certain class of customer that wants to explore multi-cloud approaches to their digital transformations. Others are focused on strict industry regulations that require data privacy and governance-focused solutions. And for others, it’s paramount to minimise the performance limitations of cloud services. Over the next year, successful resellers will be able to deliver diverse and customisable cloud-based solutions that can fit the exact requirements of their customers."

Gartner agrees that the cloud market is on the rise: By 2020, 90% of organisations will have adopted hybrid cloud infrastructure management capabilities, according to the firm. Cloud migration is here to stay, but it is essential to take a close look at what a move towards the cloud would entail. Dani Naor, VP of international sales at storage-as-a-service provider Zadara Storage, reminds us of why: "If we cast our minds back to five or six years ago, enterprise migration to the cloud was perceived by IT teams and MSPs as complex and risky. But the advantages of cloud computing soon became apparent, and what followed from around 2015 was a slow but steady move to migrate company data from traditional storage to the cloud. Unfortunately, in many cases, companies and MSPs overlooked the fundamentals, and only in the past year or two have they discovered that a complete cloud migration takes careful and execution."

Naor continues: "In 2019, we are likely to see MSPs taking a more thoughtful and deliberate approach to cloud migration. Those that do not will suffer from considerable setbacks. The key to success over the coming year is continuity, and this can be achieved by addressing the challenges and potential pitfalls that come with each step towards cloud migration."

The traditional appeal of the cloud-based model, with its ability to offer scalable, flexible resources at the drop of a hat, to turn capital expenditures into operating expenses, to make app deployment quick and easy and, sometimes, to offer attractive SLAs, has driven the growth of this market in such a way that vendors and resellers alike have taken an interest in joining the party. Amselem of CTERA offers some figures to this effect: "Cloud infrastructure sales grew almost 50% year over year to $15.4 billion in Q2 2018 according to IDC, while traditional non-cloud IT infrastructure investment continued to shrink. Enterprises are shifting from legacy storage systems to modern, software-defined cloud solutions. Channel organisations investing in software-defined storage and cloud storage services, some of the highest-growth areas in enterprise IT today, will thrive in 2019 and beyond as organisations seek to evolve their strategies with modern approaches to file storage systems."

Someone who sees things moving in a slightly different direction is Emilio Roman, VP of EMEA and global alliances at cloud and object storage specialist Scality. He agrees with Michael Dell who said that: "2019 and beyond will see a move away from cloud-only solutions and increased opportunities for the channel to sell on-premises solutions that integrate with the public cloud in a meaningful way for organisations. This will effectively tilt the centre of gravity of these solutions away from public cloud and back to on-premises.’ Roman commented ‘Over the coming months, the mobility of workloads and data will increase in importance as organisations who leapt into public clouds are now understanding the reality of the associated costs and complexities. Customers will not turn their backs on the on-premise model though, as the value that cloud services add in terms of agility, flexibility and value-added functionality remains huge. Enterprises will evolve from 'all in with cloud' to 'we want the ability to move between cloud and on-premises.' The normal," continued Roman, "will include visibility of resources independent of location as well as the ability to move resources quickly and efficiently to the right location on-demand based on business or technical requirements."

According to Roman, visibility into cloud services usage and cost management will become a priority for CFOs and CIOs. The global economic environment will continue to put pressure on earnings and profits, pushing enterprises with large cloud spends to seriously investigate how much they spend, with whom, why, and the return they are getting. "For the past few years," he continued, "many organisations have been driven by a 'cloud at any cost' mantra, but as evidence mounts that certain cloud services cost more than originally thought, these organisations will push their existing cloud vendors for better deals, perhaps through a multi-vendor strategy, and/or move resources back on-premises."

Another issue that has traditionally been associated with cloud computing is security. Until a few years ago, and to some extent today, many organisations were reluctant to move their data and apps to third parties’ infrastructures due to the uncertainty around their abilities to offer suitable protection.

Matt Starr, CTO at backup and archiving specialist Spectra Logic, told Microscope: "When it comes to the hybrid or multi-cloud approach, the industry’s response to the increased number of security breaches has been an emergence of solutions that boost cybersecurity." He added: "Cybercrime has never been more sophisticated. Interestingly, this trend, coupled with extreme weather events, is what has been driving the development and deployment of a breed of disaster recovery storage tactics. In 2019 we will see more and more organisations adopt measures to protect their data from cyber and physical threats in a bid to maintain business continuity irrespective of such disasters." Starr continued: "Using a 'tape air gap' for example, is becoming a critical component of a robust data protection strategy. An air gap is an electronically disconnected copy of data, such as the data that resides on offline tape media and away from the network so unable to be hacked, enabling IT directors to better fight cybercrime and ransomware."

Brian Biles, Chief Product Officer and co-founder of self-protecting enterprise cloud provider Datrium, also believes that Disaster Recovery (DR) as a service will become more visible in the coming year. "DR as a service has been emerging for a while, and it is poised to come to the fore before too long. It is cost effective and it works. Interesting, solutions will start shipping in 2019. They will use deduplicated storage on S3 as replicas of on-prem data instead of expensive, live flash clusters. VMware cloud updates will remove the requirement of converting from VMware on prem to AWS instances in the cloud, which never quite works as expected. The combination of these improvements will create working DR as a service offerings at reasonable prices, and the channel is ideally positioned to bring these to the market."

Datrium is taking self-protection further still with increased scaling, an integrated backup catalogue and a growing number of hybrid cloud innovations. Datrium’s Biles believes that in the future, all infrastructure will need to include this self-protection technology, and as more and more organisations are actively requesting this, all primary storage and HCI vendors are taking a keen interest in meeting this need. "One of the main challenges here is to add onto an older architecture. For example, built-in backup on primary storage would require universal dedupe and disk storage options to scale out cost effectively. Most primary storage systems today are heading to be based on flash-only which does not provide economic long-term backup storage. Most HCI architectures today require separate backup software and infrastructure to protect data, so redesigning the products to include scale out backup features will take some time and substantial effort; but many appear to be heading in that direction to remain competitive." The opportunity for the channel is clear: Aim for these technologies now and you will reap the rewards before your competitors, who will be late to the party.

Disaster recovery and data protection overall show no sign of slowing down. Organisations continue to create data and expect to draw value from this, to turn it into usable information. Starr explains: "The explosion of content we have been witnessing continues to occur on a wide scale. And the adoption of Artificial Intelligence and machine learning technologies, the use of 4K in the M&E space, and the pressure on networks to keep all data from past coverage for future use are just some of the drivers forcing IT teams to rethink the way they run their infrastructures. And the channel is expected to put forward the most cost-effective solutions that will allow end users to meet their performance objectives while staying within budget. There is pressure on both sides of the fence, and this will only increase in the coming year."

With these ever-growing volumes of data, and the unabating pressure placed on the IT infrastructure to increase performance, technologies are being developed and 2019 will see some take centre stage. Josh Goldenhar, VP of products at software-defined block storage innovator Excelero, made some interesting comments: "Now that off-the-shelf parts can deliver about 80% of the IOPs of a traditional system for a fraction of the price, it is no longer necessary to live with the limitations of traditional systems. The IT buyer is increasingly aware of this, and with off-the-shelf drives delivering 4-5 million IOPs/drive at under 200 microseconds of latency, IOPs is no longer a challenge; latency is the frontier. Any reseller needing to up their performance game should take a close look at this trend."

As a result of this quest for minimal latency, according to Goldenhar, 2019 will see enterprise NVMe and enterprise SATA SSD achieve price parity on a GBP/GB basis. Further, while not crossing the mythical GBP/GB cost line of spinning drives, advancements in density such as 128TB SSDs vs. spinning 3.5' drives at 14-16TB will lead end users to consider SSDs not just for performance, but for broader use cases too. "This will be an incredible opportunity for the channel. The advantages in density, power and cooling, and random-access ability of these SSDs will make users start to doubt the viability of spinning media vs. the convenience, speed of access and reliability of solid-state media," added Goldenhar. "As SSDs, including NVMe-based SSDs, fall in price and replace HDDs, the market will continue to grow. This is a trend channel organisations must stay abreast of as they plan their portfolios and budgets for the next few years," he concluded.

Any platform migration, however, must be considered very carefully to avoid ending up tied to a particular vendor. Starr explainsed "As we move into the year, the need for flexible solutions such as NAS, object storage, tape libraries, cloud and unifying software, will not go away. Users' requirements will change and so will the technologies best suited to their needs; the channel will not be able to ignore the fact that any solution will be expected to allow users to migrate data freely and cost-effectively from one vendor to another."

Behind many of the above trends for 2019 is the increasing value placed on artificial intelligence and machine learning and the related cloud services, said Roman. "Just as Moore’s Law once dictated that computing power doubles every two years, the amount of CPU and GPU power that the hyperscalers can bring to bear on data workloads will make such cloud data services more and more valuable, leading enterprises to push an ever-growing number of data subsets to cloud providers for short-term analysis projects," he told us.

Digital transformation is evident all around us, but while it requires convergence, IT is still siloed. Biles explained the idea: "IT needs the ability to move staff from system administration to software development if it is to make software run smoothly in hybrid cloud environments. However, that is not possible if organisations rely on SANs. Distinct silos of expertise, budget, and staffing inhibit convergence. Every enterprise that rises to the challenge must converge its on-prem systems, and this is an issue that can only be solved if simultaneous thinking goes into the organisation itself: If IT people are siloed, ... the results and digital transformation will be slowed."

No list of forecasts for 2019 would be complete without one of the biggest buzzwords of the moment: GDPR. We spoke to Ronan McCurtin, senior director for Northern Europe at cyber protection and hybrid cloud storage vendor Acronis. He told us that the coming year will see a battle between privacy and convenience: "We are currently indifferent to privacy. Everyone clicks “I agree” to each website visited. GDPR has teeth but will need to act quickly or this indifference will soon become disdain. Apps suggest it is in our best interests to click I agree so that we get the best experience, but how do we verify our data is not being misused?" That will no doubt become a widespread debate in the coming months.

It is undeniable that the IT industry overall is undergoing a shift that follows the changing way in which organisations use technology. The focus is no longer on the infrastructure but on the delivery of services to the business. Productivity, policies and SLAs are sitting alongside cost and performance in the drive of technology adoption. Ultimately, in 2019 as in previous years, with IT departments under pressure, end users will turn to the channel for guidance. Any reseller looking to gain from this shift should investigate the drivers behind these trends and ensure they are present in their upcoming strategy.

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