Top 10 Predictions: How Will All-Flash Storage Look in 5 Years?

Tuesday Sep 12th 2017 by Drew Robb
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Most storage experts see nothing but blue skies ahead for all-flash storage.

The David Bowie song “Five Years” saw nothing but death and despair five years down the line. Fortunately, the pronouncements of various storage experts about where all-flash storage will be in five years are far less gloomy.

In many cases, the predictions are downright giddy.

1. Booming Market

There is no doubt that all-flash is receiving market buy-in. So much so, that hybrid array sales are faltering and arrays made solely with hard disk drives (HDDs) are all but disappearing. Gartner analyst Valdis Filks believes that solid-state arrays (SSAs) will improve in performance by a factor of 10, and double in density and cost-effectiveness within the next year. This is destined to change the dynamics of the storage market. And from there, he sees many years of further expansion.

“By 2021, 50 percent of data centers will use SSAs for high-performance computing and big data workloads, up from less than 10 percent today,” said Filks.

2. Hard Disks and Hybrid Arrays Begone

Frank Reichart, head of storage marketing at Fujitsu, expects the next couple of years will see today’s SAS-connected SSD architectures develop into mainstream storage systems, increasingly replacing hybrid arrays. Further, price erosion will probably reach a level to allow the complete substitution of SAS hard disks, reducing the usage of hybrid systems to usage areas that focus on the lowest costs per capacity and which do not have high-performance requirements.

3. Rapid Innovation

SSAs are emerging as the general preference to hybrid arrays and as a clear replacement for aging disk arrays. Vendors are innovating with various form factors and technologies such as PCIe, NMVe and 3D XPoint.

“Due to NVMe and 3D XPoint becoming available within SSAs, the performance of SSAs will increase tenfold in the next year,” said Filks.

NVMe is a much-needed update to data transport mechanisms created in an era when Internet users were happy with 28k dial-up connections, This brings the communication channels around storage closer to the velocity of modern processors and flash architectures. Early NVMe products have demonstrated up to six times greater random and sequential read/write performance.

4. New Industry Standard

NVMe also excites Jeff Boudreau, president, Dell EMC Storage Division. He notes that although we are still in the early days of real NVMe usage in storage, it will become the industry standard in five years.

“This means NVMe will be incorporated all the way from the fabric through the entire storage array stack (front end, internal, backend — including software optimizations,” said Boudreau.

5. Storage Class Memory

Storage class memory (SCM) is a general term that may include specific vendor offerings such as 3D XPoint, ZSSD and others. It is also referenced sometimes as persistent memory (PMEM). 3D XPoint, for example, is said to enable data being written in smaller sizes and to facilitate faster and more efficient read/write processes. This memory technology promises to be 10 times denser and up to 1000 times faster than conventional flash.

Jeff Baxter, chief evangelist for ONTAP at NetApp, agrees that the new possibilities offered by SCM and NVMe are disrupting the market and fueling innovation. NetApp has been developing NVMe-over-Fabrics technology over existing 32 GB FC SAN infrastructure from Brocade directly to NetApp AFF all-flash arrays running the NetApp ONTAP data management system. It has also introduced SCM technology as a cache directly within an AFF storage controller, providing three times the IOPS with the same release of ONTAP, same controller and same workload.

6. New Mainstream

These technological breakthroughs are the news of today. But in a few years, they will enter the mainstream. Users can expect to pay more for products containing SCM and other technologies for a while. Eventually, however, they will become the norm.

“At the same time, new architectures based on PCIe and NVMe are emerging for special usage areas that require maximum performance and entail premium prices,” said Reichart. “They will take over today’s all-flash technologies when they can compete on price. These will be based on server designs with intelligent storage software on top, and less on dedicated storage controller design.”

7. New Applications

Just as multi-core processing has driven a whole new class of applications, these new solid state tools will drive another wave of application development that may be hard to conceive of at the moment.

When Rob Commins, vice president of marketing at Tegile looks into the crystal ball, he sees one large shared memory pool as opposed to a shared storage pool.

“This shift will drive a whole new class of applications that will change the way that enterprises and individuals interact with technology, allowing companies to analyze their databases instantly and make decisions in real-time, as opposed to a monthly and quarterly basis,” he said.

8. Flash in Secondary Storage

Eric Herzog, vice president of worldwide storage channels, IBM, concurs with other experts that we can expect NVMe and 3D XPoint to become increasingly more prevalent. He also called attention to recent discussions and presentations centered around RRAM as yet another wave of high performance, non-volatile storage media.

At the same time, he foresees flash moving down the food chain. Whereas disk or even tape is regarded as the best home for secondary storage currently, Herzog thinks flash will gradually take over large chunks of these markets.

“Over the next several years. you will see flash move to secondary storage as well,” he said.

9. Price Premium Myth

Perhaps there will be a price premium for the very latest flash technologies like SCM. But otherwise, the idea that all-flash arrays are more expensive than high-performance hard drive based systems is a myth, according to Herzog. On cost per GB, he thinks they are on par. Once you factor in the extensive abilities for data reduction, they can be less expensive per GB.

“From a cloud, virtualized, or data center environment, the ROI and TCO advantage of all-flash arrays for all primary storage workloads is substantial,” said Herzog. “All-flash arrays will substantially save on OPEX and CAPEX: floor space savings, rack space savings, power and cooling savings, server farm savings, software licensing savings and operational manpower savings.”

10. Software Spur

All these new features, media and technologies will have to be supported by more able software and applications. This will spur further development in the software and analytics fields. Boudreau pointed to machine learning as a key enabler.

“We can expect advancements in the software that enables customers to automate storage arrays to optimize the performance and efficiency,” said Boudreau. “Specifically, machine learning in primary storage will be incorporated to take advantage of the efficiency and performance benefits of these new media types.”

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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