Trends in storage that will impact IT in 2016 and beyond

If 2015 was the year of the storm, bringing significant disruption and change to the data storage industry, 2016 will be about stabilising and adapting to the new environment.

The 2015 tempest brought with it faster-than-expected adoption of cloud, convergence, flash and software-driven storage. Yet Fibre Channel remains the most commonly used technology in enterprise-level storage environments and only this year are we likely to see to what extent emerging technologies will penetrate the data storage market.

Cloudy with a chance of rain

The past year saw a level of cloud adoption that was higher than most industry experts anticipated. While few companies have transitioned all of their data to the cloud, most now have some sort of cloud strategy that involves a bi-modal or hybrid approach. But many have been reluctant to fully commit to the cloud as security concerns remain and cloud providers do not tend to offer adequate service level agreements (SLAs).

In 2016, this is likely to change as the companies behind service platforms like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure begin to implement increasingly robust offerings with more concrete SLAs to provide users with the confidence to place their critical workloads into a cloud environment.

We can also expect to see several emerging technologies focused on monitoring various aspects of the cloud to assure SLAs are met, and therefore we are likely to see a number of start-ups enter the market that are focused on providing management services. We will also likely see more and more value added resellers and systems integrators expand their offerings with similar capabilities and expertise. Over the coming 12 months, as more large companies start to migrate their production workloads into the cloud, we can consequently expect to see some rethinking around cloud strategy once trust in the reliability of the cloud sets in.

Enterprises may be tempted to transition all their data to the cloud due to its convenience and cost effectiveness. However, they will need to carefully monitor their data environments to ensure they are able to guarantee availability and performance in the cloud. It may be the case that the cloud is not adequately prepared to meet the complex demands of larger businesses. And, despite the introduction of more stringent SLAs by cloud providers, it is likely that over the coming year we will see several major incidents resulting in downtime or data loss - with significant impact to businesses’ bottom lines.

Flash storage becomes integral

For some time now there has been a great deal of hype around flash storage, and more recently, software-defined storage, both of which are viewed by business leaders as viable alternatives to legacy disk-based storage. Therefore, regardless of what makes best sense for the business, enterprise IT will receive pressure from company decision-makers to adopt and build dedicated flash storage environments. The pressure on silod IT teams that are expected to deliver better performance and capacity in the face of falling budgets will increase.

Also the ‘flash will fix everything’ approach is likely to lead to disappointment among the less tech-savvy senior leadership teams. They generally have less understanding of how it will integrate into, and perform within the organisation’s bespoke infrastructure.

The growth of convergence

Converged solutions are a more nascent category of technology than flash or the cloud and, as such, they are likely to mature over the next year. It’s hard to discuss convergence without mentioning the momentous changes to the traditional data storage giants in 2015.

It is this trend that brings into play some of the motives behind the Dell-EMC acquisition. The combination of Dell and EMC storage components will be a major point of emphasis for HPE and its storage portfolio in the near future as the competitive landscape shifts. This development leaves IBM on the fringe, which having separated its software suite from its hardware portfolio, will pursue a strategy centred upon software-defined storage solutions.

The shape of the industry in 2016

This year, we will see further big changes in the storage landscape. EMC’s stranglehold on the industry is likely to loosen and we will see HPE, which is very focused on establishing its footprint, take up a larger share of the market. As a result of the shake-up involving several major acquisitions in 2015 we are also going to see an opportunity for increased diversification of vendor adoption within the enterprise space arise. No longer will companies opt for 100 per cent of their solutions to be from EMC, for example. Instead, they are likely to seek out more efficient, highly performant or cost-effective configurations.

What continues to drive change within the industry is the sheer growth of data. This will not slow down, so monolithic storage technologies will not last. The challenge is how to build an IT infrastructure that can adequately meet the demands of today’s business environment: fast analytics, adequate tiering, regulatory compliance, and the ability to access data from anywhere at any time. Building an overarching IT strategy is therefore more challenging than ever before. So too is having the ability to extract optimal value from IT infrastructures while emboldening them to handle agile development, perpetual reconfiguration, and infinitely-increasing data growth.

This year, IT professionals will need to address data and workload classification to overcome this challenge; it is a daunting task, which goes hand in hand with viability, but we are likely to see the further development of complex automated tiering technologies which can place the right workloads in the right place at the right time.

The 2015 storm may be easing out but the interesting part is only about just beginning. Who will fill the opportunities that will arise as a result of the shake-ups within the incumbent big three? Which technologies will best answer the numerous data storage challenges that large end users face? Will enterprises adopt the cloud before the technology is adequately prepared to cope with their demands?

While much of this remains to be seen, we can be sure that the traditional innovators and established companies are going to be focused on stabilisation and growth.

John Gentry, Vice President of Marketing and Alliances, Virtual Instruments

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