Is your storage ready for the future?

Research study looks at the challenge of building a storage infrastructure to meet the rapidly changing needs of business

In a recent research study, we looked at the challenge of building a storage infrastructure to meet the rapidly changing needs of business, and stand the test of time. The results highlight the variety of storage technologies in use today and provide an insight into the solutions likely to be used in the datacentre architectures of tomorrow.

The trend towards shared storage pools is now well established and this is backed up by the research, with seven out of 10 respondents saying they have implemented storage sharing to a significant degree, and almost three-quarters expecting this to increase over the next two years. 

Shared storage helps provide flexibility as well as improving resilience, security and service levels while still keeping costs under control. That said, storage dedicated to supporting individual workloads will continue to be used where needed for specific characteristics, often performance- or security-related. About half of the survey respondents expect the use of dedicated platforms to grow in the future (Figure 1, below).

Storage infrastructure, both shared and dedicated, is likely to include a wide variety of technologies. Many of these are of the ‘tried and trusted’ variety that have established their credentials in computer rooms and datacentres. But a number of newer approaches also enjoy appreciable use (Figure 2, below).

It is no surprise to see extensive use made of solutions such as NAS, SAN and storage directly attached to servers. It is also worth noting that, despite publicity to the contrary, tape is anything but dead and is currently in use by more than two-thirds of respondents.

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The research highlights that beyond traditional solutions, significant use is already made of more recent storage technology developments. In particular, flash/solid state solutions are used to some degree by most respondents, especially to tackle performance challenges in analytics, desktop virtualisation and low-latency transactions. Automated storage tiering is also enjoying relatively widespread use to help keep service levels high and storage costs under control.

We also see some adoption of storage virtualisation solutions, scale-out storage and self-managing appliances. Although the absolute numbers shown in the figures must be treated carefully because an online survey often over-represents early adopters, it is evident that modern solutions are in mainstream use. And the trend towards ever-broader adoption of advanced storage solutions over the next three years is clearly highlighted (Figure 3, below).

One advanced storage technology not yet mentioned is software defined storage (SDS). The survey shows that almost precisely half of our respondents see the potential of SDS-type solutions, while the other half either haven’t thought about it enough to make a judgement or believe it isn’t yet ready for use. This bifurcation of opinion could reflect the fact that almost any storage solution brought to market at the moment appears to be marketed as SDS, regardless of its characteristics.

When we split the survey sample into three groups, ‘aggressive adopters’ (those making extensive use of three or more of the advanced solutions in figures 2 and 3), ‘selective adopters’ (those making extensive use of one or two advanced solutions) and non-adopters, the analysis revealed some interesting results (Figure 4, below).

In particular, there is a very clear correlation between those using advanced solutions and self-assessed indicators of efficiency, effectiveness and future readiness. The results show that ‘aggressive adopters’ are more confident that their storage environments are easy to operate, cost-effective and meet today’s business needs very well. But perhaps just as importantly, they are also better set up to meet changing demands as their businesses move forward.

Although no one advanced storage technology meets all possible business needs, it is clear that combining modern technologies with the best of existing storage solutions is the way to go. The challenge is to find the time to work out which solutions will work best for your organisation and then secure the budget and resources to evolve your storage infrastructure. It’s no longer a case of doing only like-for-like replacements of kit at the end of life.

Tony Lock (pictured) is programme director at analyst group Freeform Dynamics

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