WavebreakMediaMicro - Fotolia

What storage technologies are customers looking for?

In the first of a two-part investigation of the storage market the question being answered is around the current user demands

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: MicroScope: MicroScope: Getting storage right

In this two part series, we ask vendors and channel companies for their views on the storage technologies SME and enterprise customers are looking for today and what they are likely to be asking for in the future. How prepared are channel partners to deliver, implement and support those storage technologies going forward?

What storage technologies are customers looking for today?

“The good news for the channel is that storage is hot,” says Chris Adams, president and COO at Park Place Technologies, citing an InformationWeek 2018 State of Infrastructure Study where storage was identified as the top factor driving IT infrastructure change.

“Enterprises and SMEs have a lot more data to host and they are going to need new hardware to do it,” he adds. That said, he stresses that “the real news isn’t the capacity, it’s the shift in expectations”. Storage may have been about archiving, compliance and disaster recovery, but with the rise of big data analytics and machine learning, “data has taken on strategic value, which businesses of all sizes are intent to squeeze for all its insightful juice. This trend is pushing customers to prioritise storage performance to a degree not common in the past”.

Adams claims that unified storage is losing some of its lustre because the ‘jack of all trades’ approach “doesn’t permit the storage software necessary to excel in each use case. This is leading more vendors toward offering specialised products for block, file, and object storage”.

Andrew McDade, Fujitsu head of category management datacentre, defines the differing priorities for SMEs and enterprises. SMEs are keen to make the most of their budgets. As a result, most vendors “are quoting hybrid solutions to hit budgets” but he predicts wider adoption of all-flash arrays will occur as SSD pricing drops. “Traditional hybrid solutions will become less relevant due to reduction of data centre foot print and higher performance,” he adds.

For their part, enterprises “are exploring deeper integration for cloud, hyper convergence and NVMe over fabric solutions. Hyper-convergence is becoming more requested and adoption is growing. Traditional SAN solutions remain relevant but hyper convergence is usually a starting point for exploration if the data/apps fit the topology”.

Jason Boxall, Tech Data vice president, vendors and alliances, advanced solutions Europe, says solutions that increase availability and performance while lowering cost are the most popular at the moment. He identifies hyper-converged storage technology “as the best solution for any customer with that brief, but other customers do still look to traditional server/storage technology”. Hybrid storage arrays are the most popular storage technology for the distributor’s customers at the moment.

He notes that while many storage systems offer “cloud tiering” or hybrid cloud capabilities, “these are rarely used by our customers day-to-day. In fact, customers tend to consider – and then purchase – all-flash systems instead for dedicated applications, such as high-performance database processing”. While some early adopters have taken on hyper-converged storage, it’s only for specific purposes (such as new web applications) “and not as their all-purpose platform”.

Jason Daly, business development manager at Hammer, agrees that hyper-converged infrastructure is becoming more popular. “Customers are increasingly looking for a new breed of hyper-converged infrastructure that contains all of the IT services and features an organisation needs,” he observes. Hyper-converged infrastructures are “taken to the next level” when they include built-in features such as automatic disaster recovery, instant local VM/file recovery, native file services, advanced self-healing, built-in file backup and improved application performance.

When it comes to enterprise customers, they are “looking to eliminate complexity, increase data protection and maximise data ROI”. To this end, they are starting to look at cognitive data management solutions to manage their entire data environment. Their main goals are data provenance, ongoing data variation, multi-copy onsite and off-site data protection, access control, version control and high availability.

Peter Yarwood, EMEA storage channel sales director at Dell EMC, has an unequivocal view on the market. “It’s all about flash. We have reached an inflection point where people are moving from hard-disk only, into hybrid with flash moving to all-flash arrays. The ease of management and the reliability, coupled with the economic value of performance, is what makes flash so exciting and a rapidly developing area for channel partners.”

He notes that flash “is more or less comparable with hard-disk drives when it comes to pricing”, but it’s easier to manage and more reliable. “For partners this means bringing greater cost-effectiveness in terms of performance and with large flash drives in SME and enterprise type environments the capacity is outstripping the growth in data requirements”. In just over 18 months capacities have increased from 1.7TBs to 14TBs, moving to 25 and 30 later this year. “Once the technology becomes economically viable to support and run 30 terabyte all-flash drives, you have a very significant technological change that channel partners are faced with,” he adds.

Douglas Soltesz, director production solutions, SME at Storage Made Easy, believes that smaller corporates are shifting to cloud-based storage from the likes of Google, Amazon and Microsoft as part of their continual search for “storage options that provide the continuous uptime and guarantee against data loss at the best price”. Larger enterprises are aiming for the same scale-out storage availability and durability as public cloud, but deploying object storage or scale-out filers from companies such as IBM, Cloudian, Scality and SwiftStack on premise. He argues that because “the majority of new storage platforms are API-based, customers seek channel partners that are proficient in next-generation storage technology”.

Martin Brown, director WEUR at Rubrik, argues that cloud has redefined ‘storage’ and moved it beyond legacy capabilities, but businesses have needed a solution that could securely support and automate the movement of data across all cloud ecosystems to make the most of the new cloud world. As a consequence, cloud data management technologies “are becoming an essential part of business operations for user organisations and a huge opportunity for channel partners”.

He claims that cloud data management “can transform stored data into a value creating function. Whereas legacy systems were similar to a vault, with everything of value secured and locked away inside, now everything in the vault has a productive purpose and is copied somewhere else, making it instantly accessible and recoverable should something like ransomware break the lock”.

Michael Amselem, VP for international sales at Ctera, claims to have seen “strong reseller demand for cloud storage-as-a-service offerings, such as secure content collaboration and data protection solutions”. Organisations of all sizes are seeking to provide users with a range of file services tools that make them more productive and more secure in their daily work. “This results in high-margin opportunities for VARs, MSPs and distributors to deliver comprehensive storage, file sharing and backup solutions, and to ride the wave of digital transformation as businesses re-architect their IT strategies and migrate business functions to the cloud,” he says.

Read more on Enterprise Storage Management