While data storage has always been a necessary building block for technology, it's rarely garnered as much attention as it has in the past two years. The reason: Corporate and retail consumers are being forced to store greater amounts of data and they need to make that data more useful -- and accessible.
"Storage is going to become something everyone wants to know about," said Steve Wojtowecz, vice president of Storage Software Development at IBM. He pointed to the popularity of digital entertainment -- both music and movies -- the digitizing of human genome information, and growing storage needs in the healthcare industry. All will focus attention on the need for more and faster-performing storage.
The question people will find themselves asking, according to Wojtowecz, is: "How can I access all of these things or how can I store more or how can I leverage it to do more?"
IBM is developing application-specific storage, which it hopes will reside everywhere, from servers to laptops to smartphones. For example, firmware on a laptop would direct videos to be stored on NAND flash and email to be stored on spinning disk in order to optimize performance.
"Today, you can certainly buy [solid-state drives] and spinning disk in one device," he said. "Now you'll see manufacturers start to package offerings for the online gamer, or airplane music listener or power user at work to do email."
Another example, IBM's Watson, is already in beta tests with hospitals looking to search electronic medical records and perform data analytics to offer diagnoses and treatment advise to physicians in seconds.
Data analytics running on storage arrays are another way storage will be tailored to specific application needs. Tools such as Apache Hadoop will allow companies to mine data for customer relationship information so that they can more precisely target marketing and advertising efforts.
"I think Hadoop is doing a good job of data mining," Wojtowecz said. "It's like if someone said to you, here's a shovel to dig a hole or here's a backhoe, I think in the future we'll have bigger backhoes like Hadoop."
2012 is the year of SSD
Another storage star this year will be NAND flash. From data centers, where solid state drives (SSDs) sit alongside SAS and SATA hard drives, to NAND flash-based handheld devices, flash memory is proliferating in both corporate and consumer industries.
According to new data from research firm IDC, worldwide solid-state storage industry revenue hit $5 billion in 2011, up 105% from the $2.4 billion mark in 2010. IDC expects the market will expand further in 2012 and beyond.
"2011 was a record year for the worldwide SSD market, with revenue more than doubling year over year due to strong SSD shipment growth in the enterprise and client segments," said Jeff Janukowicz, an IDC research director. "The increasing use of flash in enterprise solutions, explosive growth of mobile client devices, and lower SSD pricing is creating a perfect storm for increased SSD shipments and revenue over our forecast."
IDC expects worldwide SSD shipments to increase at a compounded annual growth rate of 51.5% from 2010 to 2015.
All-flash arrays catch up to disk
Vendors such as Nimbus Data Systems and Violin Memory are also challenging traditional primary disk drive storage array vendors with all-flash arrays, claiming they can just about match disk on a price-capacity point and blow them away on performance and total cost of ownership.
Late last year, eBay announced it had purchased a 100TB flash array to replace SAN and NAS storage it had been using in its Quality Assurance Division. "One rack [of SSD storage] is equal to eight or nine racks of something else," said Michael Craft, eBay's manager of QA Systems Administration.