Storage in 2017: Big improvements are on the way

If 2016 wasn't tumultuous enough for you - the world's largest storage company sold itself to Dell - you ain't seen nothin' yet. The pace of change in the storage industry is accelerating - and that's good for us.

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2017 - the sky's the limit!

Robin Harris

The pace of storage change continues to accelerate, and its impact on us continues to grow. Digital storage is central to a digital civilization, and as we grow more digital, we grow more dependent on improvements in storage. Here's what to expect in 2017.

AI

AI will make stored data - and therefore storage- more valuable. When you can take - as we can today - a grainy surveillance video or a blurred face and read a license plate number of determine someone's identity using AI, the value of stored data rises, for good or ill.

As the AI revolution gathers force, expect that researchers will discover even more ways to use machine intelligence to generate value from stored data. In our democracy, I hope, citizens will have some say in the ways AI is used by intelligence agencies and corporations.

NVRAM

We'll see the first NVRAM (non-volatile RAM) in notebooks. This is the year that we'll see the first mainstream NVRAM products from Intel and, I hope, others. Intel's NVRAM SSDs won't be a thousand times faster, but they will be faster, more durable, and, yes, more expensive than NAND flash based SSDs.

But more importantly, we'll see the first notebooks with NVRAM used in conjunction with standard RAM to expand main memory, or, as the industry puts it, as storage class memory (SCM). This is an old idea - remember IBM's System 38? - given new relevance by NVRAM's speed, cost, and density. It's the higher density that will pave the way for servers and notebooks with hundreds of gigabytes and even terabytes of main memory.

Active archives.

Active archives will continue to gain performance and popularity in enterprise IT, as CIOs find they're much cheaper and faster than cloud services. IaaS vendor ClearSky Data has already demonstrated that with smart caching, object storage can be as fast as NAS boxes. The greater data integrity, lower OpEx, and simpler operation of object storage systems then seal the deal.

NAS won't go away, as the setup costs for object storage remain higher, but the withering of RAID-based NAS will begin in 2017.

Cloud

Cloud services will get much more competitive as Microsoft, Google, and IBM continue to work their unique advantages to chip away at Amazon's early lead. Amazon's early dominance of IaaS suggested a continuing lead over all comers, but unlike IBM in the 1960s, Amazon Web Services faces a trio of large, profitable, and uniquely advantaged competitors. Google's brainpower, Microsoft's desktop and research footprint, and IBM's enterprise stronghold are advantages that AWS's early lead won't be able to overcome.

That's good news for the rest of us, as cloud services continue to grow and improve. Weep not for AWS, as the market is growing fast enough for all of them to prosper - for now.

Super fast PCIe/NVMe

PCIe/NVMe SSDs will be almost universal on pro notebooks be year end. Apple's new PCIe/NVMe MacBook Pros may have their troubles, but storage performance isn't one of them, and the rest of the industry is jumping on the bandwagon.

With read and write performance well over 2 gigabytes per second, PCIe/NVMe storage leaves SATA SSDs in the dust. That, in turn, boosts the notebook's virtual memory system, giving you a much snappier tool.

The Storage Bits take

Sadly, 2017 won't be wonderful for everyone in the industry. I'm expecting more layoffs from storage companies that have slow to adapt to the accelerating changes in technology and competition.

But for those of us who rely upon and/or manage storage, big improvements keep coming. Now, if the rest of the world could improve as well. . . .

Courteous comments welcome, of course. Happy New Year!

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