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RSS Predictions: 2013 - The Year Enterprise Storage becomes more, not less Confusing

VMblog Predictions

Virtualization and Cloud executives share their predictions for 2013.  Read them in this series exclusive.

Contributed article by Andrew Warfield, CTO of

2013: The Year Enterprise Storage becomes more, not less Confusing

Virtualization customers: put your wallets back in your pockets and get ready for one hell of a fight.

Enterprise storage in 2013 is going to be a raucous, bare knuckle, furniture-throwing bar brawl.  The bouncers have locked the doors, and you are stuck in here with the rest of us.  Keep your heads down.  I'll tell you how this happened, and what you need to know to survive.

Violent Change

Storage-related technologies have been changing like crazy over the past half decade.  Take  flash for example.  There have been flash startups, and flash acquisitions.  Your current storage vendor is even using flash -- they're telling you to put it in your servers to help them scale up their silos.  Flash is awesome -- or is it?  Durability? Write amplification? High latencies during garbage collection? 

Consider this: nothing that has happened with flash up until this year matters.  Flash has been a science experiment until now: On one hand, vendors are putting crappy SSDs on slow SATA or SAS busses into their "hybrid" arrays.  This is flash pretending that it can spin.  Flash doesn't spin.  Hybrid array vendors spin.  On the other hand, you have expensive, proprietary, high-end flash in arrays that incorporate home-brewed FPGAs to make them go fast.  This isn't storage, it is a Fisker.  Does your storage admin know what to do when a Fisker overheats?

Flash is silicon.  Silicon vendors have finally decided that they understand flash enough to build some seriously good, high performance storage memory.  Look at the Intel 910: It's a 800GB PCIe card that does nearly 200K IOPs.  It has a 5 yr durability guarantee.  It costs $4K.  Look at Fusion IO:  they are making insanely fast PCIe flash and are in a race with Intel over price/performance.  2013 is the year that people start building storage hardware from these off-the-shelf, commodity high-performance flash devices.  This is the kind of problem that NetApp and EMC tackled with spinning disks in the 90s.  But they can't just put new wine in old bottles; these flash devices are so fast that the software architectures that these big incumbents invented in the nineties don't work any more.  These devices are so fast that they have turned all the other components in your storage system -- CPU, memory, and network -- into significant performance bottlenecks.  Storage companies are going to need to really think about system architecture if they want to expose the available performance from high-performance flash. 

Flash is only a single example of sudden technology change that fundamentally upsets storage in 2013: servers are sprouting on-board 10Gb NICs, 10Gb switching has become affordable and is giving Fibre Channel and Infiniband an existential crisis, and large-scale cloud providers have demonstrated that they know how to build software that gets the performance and durability that you want from enterprise storage, at scale, without an expensive, packaged array.  In short: technology is really messing with the definition of enterprise storage right now. 

And speaking of definitions:

Marketing eats Software Defined Storage

In case you've been under a rock for the past few months, here's some interesting news:  VMware (well, EMC) bought Nicira, a Stanford offshoot networking startup, for 1.2 billion dollars.  Nicira popularized the term software-defined networking.  This is a great term, and it's going to be remembered as one of the most horrible linguistic abuses of colloquial English since "The Cloud".  It follows though, that whoever can figure out what the heck "software-defined storage" means must also be worth 1.2 billion dollars, right?

Here's the bad news for you, dear reader -- and watch out for flying cans of PBR as you read this part -- nobody is catching on to the irony of "software defined storage" yet.  Storage has been software defined for about as long as we've had enterprise arrays.  We've been software-defining RAID sets into aggregates, software-defining aggregates into logical volumes, software defining sparseness and deduplication.  VMware's original use of VMFS successfully disenfranchised array vendors by software-defining large portions of array functionality and getting the hypervisor to handle things like provisioning, snapshots, and performance isolation on the end host.  This is what Nicira does for networks!

Many storage vendors are missing this point as they scramble to rebrand themselves as being software defined, and since storage has involved such a significant software component for so long, maybe we shouldn't blame them for being so confused.  Let's not lose sight of the important problem here: despite the layers of virtualization and abstraction in modern storage stacks, storage is still a huge pain in the ***.  It's needlessly complicated, terrifyingly expensive, and horribly inflexible.  These are the real, operational problems that need fixing.  With flash and disks and cloud-based backups, storage building blocks are becoming as varied as the mix of application workloads that people run on them.  The software definition of storage needs to be about managing composition and connectivity in a way that adapts to the application at hand.

You're going to hear a lot of vendors talking about "new and innovative" SDS solutions in 2013. Make sure you ask yourself how they are actually making your life easier.  Make sure you ask your vendor how their "software defined" product is better than the version they were selling before they rebranded it.

Keep a cool head.

So here's the thing: 2013 is probably going to be the most exciting year for storage innovation that we have seen in two or three decades.  The demands on storage today are bigger, and more varied than they have ever been before.  Technology isn't just shifting, it has already fundamentally shifted.  The incumbents are scared -- they are scrambling to make sense of what this dustup means to a business that's been about formulaic slow and steady growth for a long time.

Here's what you should do in 2013: Wait, watch, and learn.  This is a crowded room with a lot of stakeholders.  Everybody is going to tell you different things over the next year, and the opportunities for you to drive storage requirements into vendors, so that their products are made to match your needs are better than they have ever been.  Technology changes like high-performance commodity flash aren't incremental additions to existing storage stacks -- they need big changes to work well.  "Software Defined" needs to be more than an exercise in branding, it needs to be about making storage something you don't worry about any more.  These two dimensions mean a change in both the composition of storage products and the customer demands that are placed on them.  You deserve big things from storage, so expect them.

2013 is going to be an exciting year for storage, but in the short term, things are going to get messy.  Keep your wits about you, and you're going to come out on top.


About the Author

Andrew Warfield is the CTO of -- an AH-backed startup that is building incredibly high-performance, simple to deploy, and wildly flexible storage systems that are going to change the way you think about your data.  He's unapologetically throwing punches as hard as anyone in this room.  Stick around, when this is all settled, he'd love to buy you a drink.

Published Tuesday, December 11, 2012 6:27 AM by David Marshall
2013: The Year Enterprise Storage becomes more, not less Confusing « Storage CH Blog - (Author's Link) - December 18, 2012 4:03 AM - Virtualization Technology News and Information for Everyone - (Author's Link) - January 15, 2013 7:00 AM

First, I'd like to personally thank everyone for being a valued member and reader of VMblog! Once again, with the help of each of you, VMblog has been able to remain one of the oldest and most successful virtualization and cloud news sites on the Web

The SAN Technologist » Blog Archive » Point, Shoot, Solution! - (Author's Link) - January 21, 2013 6:01 AM
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