All-flash arrays (AFA) are a few of the bright spots in the declining market for enterprise data storage hardware.
An AFA can offer comparatively blistering storage performance versus traditional storage arrays stuffed with spinning hard drives. This often translates into more responsive business applications, faster transactions and less of a wait for data analytics and a variety of other workloads to complete.
In light of these benefits, it's no surprise that enterprises are increasingly investing in AFA, despite the price premium.
During the first quarter of 2017, sales of AFA jumped 48 percent on a year-on-year basis, according to the latest figures from market research firm Dell'Oro Group. In total, the category generated a little over $1.3 billion for data storage vendors.
"All-flash array is the only segment growing in the external storage market space," said Jimmy Yu, Dell'Oro Group vice president, in a statement. "While the total market for external storage has contracted for the past two years, and will likely decline again this year, all flash storage system sales are reaching all new highs. We predict all-flash array revenue to grow approximately 40 percent in 2017 to reach nearly $7 billion while disk and hybrid storage system revenues decline about 14 percent."
Although slow to offer all-flash storage systems at first, a number of acquisitions and a concerted effort by Dell EMC to introduce new solid-state arrays has catapulted the IT giant to the top of the segment with a 29 percent share of revenues last quarter. Second-place NetApp took home 21 percent of AFA sales, a six percent year-over-year improvement.
Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), which completed the acquisition of flash storage provider Nimble Storage in April, takes third place with 17 percent, followed by Pure Storage at 12 percent. IBM rounds out the top five with seven percent.
While the improving economics of all-flash arrays seem to favor these vendors, the segment is poised to really take off when producers of 3D NAND chips master the technology. Jim Handy, general manager of semiconductor research group Objective Analysis, recently told Enterprise Storage Forum's Drew Robb that he expects a manufacturing breakthrough in the next year that will enable flash providers to crank out high-capacity 3D NAND chips, further lowering AFA prices.
Gartner predicts that half of all data centers will only use AFA for primary storage by 2020. The IT analyst firm also expects AFA revenue to reach $9.67 by the same year.
Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Enterprise Storage Forum. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.