If the VIX = Stock Market Volatility Index, then I declare that FIX = Flash (Industry Volatility) Index. And judging by the latest flurry of activity, the FIX is very much in. Expect much more noise and activity in the Enterprise Flash Market throughout 2012 as business leaders in our industry digest the scope of the NAND Flash disruption. Hint – it won’t be over this year and when we’re done a few years from now we won’t recognize the current Enterprise Storage hierarchy.
When I served as Vice-Chair of SNIA’s Solid-State Storage Initiative almost 4 years ago, our cross-vendor team of storage specialists realized the disruption upon us would last at least a decade. The early focus was on SSD’s and related FTL firmware, but rapidly evolved to new form factors like PCI, new densities incorporating MLC and sustainable performance specifications.
As the industry rapidly evolved, DRAM Storage Arrays quickly gave way to NAND Flash-based successors and two distinctive camps ultimately emerged: (Updated lists below May 18th thanks to my commenters!)
(BTW – These are not meant to be exhaustive lists above, just Flash-focused companies that I’m aware of. Feel free to comment below with others I haven’t listed but should investigate)
In fact, these two camps are indicative of where we at NetApp believe the storage industry as a whole is going. We predict the emergence of a:
NetApp’s Virtual Storage Tier architecture was born out of our unique position in the middle ground between these two camps. Leveraging Data ONTAP’s well-established lead in primary storage efficiency, NetApp has been able to drastically reduce the effective cost of NAND Flash-accelerated storage via deduplicated and thinly-cloned FlashCache blocks delivering high performance FAS Arrays to our customers. After tens of thousands of deployments, NetApp boasts the highest Flash attach rates in the industry.
But we’ve long ago recognized the Flash disruption doesn’t stop at the array. Application performance demands will continue to pull Flash up the storage stack and into the server. Over time, even storage semantics themselves will give way to persistent (non-volatile) memory semantics enabling simpler and faster high performance, real-time applications. But Storage Class Memory [PDF] and NetApp’s future as a memory vendor will have to wait for another blog
In the meantime, Big Data capacity trends and Enterprise-level data management, availability, protection and efficiency requirements will further entrench non-Flash spinning disk (and resurgent tape) media into a scalable Capacity Layer which will serve as the foundation of this new storage stack, managing an organization’s “single source of truth”, regardless of performance.
EMC will doubtless cast their acquisition of XtremIO as a bold move ushering in yet another new tier of storage (0.5?) and primary storage option amongst a crowded portfolio. However there is widespread speculation EMC felt the pressure to bolster that fragmented portfolio against NetApp’s highly anticipated Goldilocks Scale-Out Virtual Storage Tier.
As I alluded in my introduction above, when the Flash disruption is complete over the next few years (before the Storage Class Memory reverberation is expected) the once lucrative Tier1 Frame Array market will be literally disintegrated. ESCON/FICON attached arrays will continue to leech off the relatively moribund mainframe market. Fault tolerant data persistence functionality will move from Tier1 Frame Arrays up the stack all the way to the application layer. As we’ve already established, performance capability will move to the server / host layer, leaving data management, protection and efficiency to a shared storage architecture. A Capacity-optimized layer will dominate here, leaving precious little room for archaic Tier1 Frame Arrays.
Given all the existing and anticipated Flash-based Storage Industry disruption, it’s somewhat shortsighted to map these upcoming new Solid-State Storage layers and form factors into existing categories derived from the HDD era. Despite any shiny new razzle-dazzle, don’t expect the storage arrays of the future to be purchased for performance or availability characteristics. And don’t expect high performance solid-state storage (Flash or otherwise) to provide cost-effective end-end data management, protection or efficiency capabilities. (Object / Archive Storage anyone?) Being pulled apart from both the Performance and Capacity ends, the era of the all-encompassing Tier1 Storage Frame Array is rapidly sunsetting.
Only comprehensive Unified and Extensible Storage architectures like NetApp’s VST provide a future-ready framework for planning, building and running an infrastructure flexible enough to cost-effectively incorporate new storage media technical trends in a consistent, predictable and sustainable manner.