Storage hardware is the backbone of the storage world.
Having reached a high state of maturity, it doesn’t get the coverage it once merited. Yet, it remains a vital element and one that generates billions in infrastructure costs on an annual basis.
Despite its maturity, though, the storage hardware market continues to evolve. Here are some of the top trends in the storage hardware market:
1. Overcoming storage bloat
Data storage started by being connected directly attached to the computer.
The introduction of shared storage, storage area networks (SANs) and network-attached storage (NAS), changed the game relative to efficiency, creating a network of storage devices that could be shared by many computers/servers, drastically improving storage efficiency. So why did the industry regress to direct-attached storage (DAS) and software-defined storage (SDS)?
DAS, after all, is not the most efficient storage architecture. It results in trapped capacity and unwanted copies of data.
“The most likely answer was the ever-increasing cost of shared storage solutions bloated with unnecessary features and proprietary storage stacks,” said Derek Dicker, CEO, Nyriad.
“Businesses and the industry were happy to add the cost and complexity of DAS/SDS, because it was still more economical than buying overpriced SAN/NAS solutions.”
In a sense, the NAS and SAN providers dominated the market to such an extent that some of their solutions became bloated. Inevitably, there was market pushback. The hyperscalers were the most vocal in this transition. They openly stated they would not buy expensive shared storage with unneeded features from large OEMs, Dicker said.
2. Vendor consolidation
Part of the reason for the pushback was the amount of consolidation that occurred, with storage startups and smaller competitors being gobbled up.
The result is a top-heavy storage hardware market consisting of a few huge players.
Three tape hardware vendors and three hard disk drive (HDD) and solid-state drive (SSD) vendors rule the roost, according to Steven Santamaria, CEO, Folio Photonics.
“Six vendors provide the storage for the bulk of the world’s archival data, which is about 80% of all data stored,” Santamaria said.
“The vast majority of it is not made in the U.S.A. We need new players and solutions in the archival space. Otherwise, we have a high risk of a vertical market failure.”
3. Shared storage revival
While the trends of vendor consolidation, pushback against storage hardware feature bloat, and the revival of DAS have reshaped the storage landscape, the last couple of years have witnessed yet more change.
Dicker with Nyriad said that the big hyperscalers have modified their architectures to pool storage resources separately from compute/memory, thus starting to move away from the DAS architecture they made popular.
COOs of large data centers realized that the refresh cycle of data storage was on a different cadence than compute processors and memory. They could gain back the efficiency lost with DAS by disaggregating. Significant progress has been made on the concept of a composable architecture. It allows the addition of pooling compute and memory along with storage.
“With the ecosystem advancements supporting shared resources, new solutions will set the standard for shared data storage architectures that combine the benefits and efficiencies of shared storage without the burden of expensive, proprietary software stacks,” Dicker said.
“The new shared storage will enable the open ecosystem, delivering only the essential storage management features and data protection, enabling the most efficient and economical storage solutions.”
4. Consolidation of customers
In parallel with vendor consolidation, there has been a distinct trend toward customer consolidation.
Half a dozen or so hyperscalers now purchase 60% of all data storage products manufactured.
This buying power has them creating storage features, architectures, and cloud services that are so attractively priced that it is hard for others to muscle in on the market. Santamaria added that these hyperscalers demand price decreases and road map acceleration from storage hardware vendors.
“This gets to the point where next generation products are at risk as margins and investment decrease,” said Santamaria with Folio Photonics.
Non-hyperscaler data centers and enterprises desiring on-prem storage are becoming undesirable in the industry, he said.
“And unfortunately, many of them cannot use hyperscalers due to internal compliance issues,” Santamaria said
5. TCO importance
The price of storage hardware used to be the focus in buying. These days, it is now total cost of ownership (TCO) and environmental credentials.
“There is increased focus on the power consumption and TCO of storage rather than the cost of storage acquisition,” said Santamaria with Folio Photonics.
“2025 projections are that 3% of global energy generated will go to power and cool data centers. Given storage is ~30% of power usage in data centers that is a staggering 1% of global power. And the projections only climb in the future.”
The industry is being required to address this and greatly reduce the power inefficiency of the underlying storage hardware.