Extending The Storage Disruption Cycle

“There comes a time when a storage company needs to define itself by what it does for customers and not by the machinery it uses to do so.”

Chris Mellor, “How to tell if your biz will do a Kodak”, The Register

The Register’s Chris Mellor penned a great article the other day reflecting on the continuous cycles of innovation and disruption that have come to characterize the storage media industry. He uses Kodak to paint the picture of an incumbent getting capsized by a media transition. He goes on to cite other examples across tape and optical media where incumbents failed to manage the transition to the next generation media.

As the storage industry has transitioned through different media types there have always been opportunistic stopgap innovations that have bridged the gap from one generation to the next. Virtual Tape Library (VTL) technology is a great example of an innovation serving as a transitional bridge between the tape and disk eras. Once applications were written with the capability to natively interface with disk, deduplication and compression drove down solution costs quickly making it an effective bulk storage medium.  Once financially viable, the flood gates were opened and tape was relegated as a deep archive. Similarly, today we are seeing flash-based caching and tiering technologies forming a similar transitional bridge while the $/GB economics of flash fully converge with, and eventually eclipse, disk.

So with history as a guide for how this plays out, why will the disk to flash media transition be any different than the ones before it? Well, I suspect this cloud thing might have something to do with it.

In the enterprise IT sector, systems always seem to consume features over time. At its core, the cloud is a massive infrastructure system that when used properly is an extension of existing IT. However, cloud infrastructures will increasingly chip away at the incumbent IT footprint by rapidly incorporating new innovations into its architecture. These enabling innovations allow cloud providers to continually expand their portfolio of cloud services. Over time the IT use cases applicable to this medium naturally expand as applications and interfaces catch up, performance improves and the economic value proposition can no longer be ignored.

So what does this mean? From our perspective, the cloud adds a third leg to the innovation sequence we have witnessed in the past. New component level technologies will continue to enable new architectures. But where it gets interesting is when these new architectures drive the performance and economics to enable new cloud services.

In storage, the media innovations that Mellor refers to, and their related price/performance value proposition, are a powerful enabling force behind new storage architectures. Applied to traditional IT cost centers these architectures are interesting, when applied to profit-driven cloud services they are game changing. Amazon’s recently announced DynamoDB service is an early instantiation of this extended innovation sequence where component level technologies (SSD), enable new architectures that drive new services. Fortunately for the end-customers, the economics of flash are only getting better from here. Now is it up to the storage industry to innovate on top of this medium, delivering next generation systems that can extend the reach of cloud hosted services to an even wider range of application workloads.

-Dave Cahill, Director of Strategic Alliances

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