Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: The Evolution of Enterprise Storage

Breaking new ground: 10 key improvements in enterprise storage

From hybrid hard drives to cheaper SSDs to more efficient systems management software, enterprise storage is seeing some dramatic improvements.

This year, major improvements in density and performance continue to be made across the board in storage media, complemented with advancements in storage management software and data center prioritization of storage skills. Here are 10 trends that are leading the way.

1: Higher density hard drives

Hard drives (HDDs) will continue to be the storage staples in enterprises, so being able to purchase ones with greater densities is attractive. The good news is that helium-filled hard drives, which offer more density in the same form factor, are already on the market. So is shingled magnetic recording (SMR) technology, which increases the capacity of hard drives and is available at lower price points. In the next few years, these higher density hard drive technologies will likely be joined by heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR), which uses a laser to heat a small point on magnetic media and can write data with smaller particle sizes.

2: Hybrid hard drives

Hybrid hard drives blend HDD capacity and solid state drive (SSD) speeds on a single hybrid hard drive, with the most frequently accessed data on the drive being stored in a small allotment of SSD high-speed memory. These hybrid hard drives provide cost savings as well as speed because they eliminate a large investment in SSD and still provide a limited amount of rapid access.

3: Cheaper solid-state drives

Both Toshiba and Intel have come out with new 3D NAND technology, in which memory chips are stacked in layers to pack in more data, with other manufacturers following suit. The ability to pack in more data means companies will see cheaper SSD with higher capacities.

4: Higher density tape storage

Earlier this year, Fujifilm announced that in conjunction with IBM, a new record in magnetic particulate tape data areal density (i.e., the amount of data that can be packed onto a storage medium) had been achieved. It was able to demonstrate that 123 billion bits per square inch could be put on magnetic particulate tape, which is about 88 times the storage capacity of today's IBM LTO Ultrium 6 tape. The breakthrough is significant because tape is far from dead in data centers. Tape's staying power has been its low cost, its 'green' carbon footprint (when compared to hard drives), and its suitability for data archiving and retention.

5: Cold storage

Few enterprises are comfortable these days with throwing out old or inactive data, because they never know whether some new analytics questions might want to probe it. Consequently, more and more data is being stored -- even if its foreseeable use is negligible. This is where cold storage comes in.

The storage media used for cold storage are dirt-cheap tape drives and/or commodity hard drives. These media are slow, but high-capacity and durable. They are ideal for storing data that is seldom or never used. Only recently have organizations begun to think about this 'attic' approach to storing away inactive data (in lieu of throwing it out). Some companies are beginning to use cold storage internally, but an evolving business trend is storing cold data in the cloud, since the data is low-value and non-sensitive.

6: Improvements in tiered storage

EMC, IBM, Hitachi Data Systems, and many other vendors now package tiered storage software with their storage offerings. These tiered storage tools assist IT staff by automating a set of business rules that IT defines for managing storage. The tiered storage software then carries out these rules to reduce overall storage costs and to efficiently address storage capacity needs. It does this by determining which data should be stored where, based upon the rules it has received from IT.

7: Containerized storage

Containerized storage enables applications, data, and the relevant subsystems they operate in to be completely enclosed in a single storage 'container' area. This allows storage managers to more efficiently manage and optimize storage for specific applications. With the rise of DevOps, which combines the resources of both application and general systems operations like storage into a holistic development and application deployment effort, containerized storage that can wrap itself around both the application and the supporting systems infrastructure it operates in is a strong complementary technology.

8: Storage professional certifications

For decades, storage professionals have not enjoyed the same respect and promotional opportunities in IT organizations as their counterparts in other IT disciplines -- like applications, systems, and networking -- have received. This is slowly beginning to change. The past few years have seen a spate of new storage certification programs emerge, and the importance of storage skills mastery is beginning to assume equal footing with the mastery of other IT disciplines, like databases and networks.

9: Continued improvements in systems management software

IT vendors in the systems management software (SMS) space continue to work toward ubiquitous software that can manage heterogeneous solutions from a diversity of vendors. Nowhere is this ability more important than in storage. The average enterprise has at least four or five different storage solutions in its data center.

10: Virtual storage

Virtual server implementation has been at a breakneck pace over the past decade, but virtual storage has certainly lagged. Look for this to change. Virtual storage offers ease of deployment and the potential to build in automation that can deprovision storage when an associated virtual machine is deprovisioned. Virtual sprawl is a major concern in data centers today. The ability to get on top of the problem by deprovisioning virtual servers and their associated virtual storage can go a long way toward solving the dilemma.

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