The essence of technological analysis lies not the technology itself - endlessly fascinating though it may be - but in the transitions and intersections each technology confronts in the market. How these play out gives valuable information about the shape of the real market, not the abstracted version our pattern-mad brains create to navigate a world of incomplete information.
The key storm fronts for 2012 in the world of storage are in some sense a continuation of the bigger, faster, cheaper mantra of high-tech for the last 50 years. But the devil is in the details.
Disk drive market shifts
Momentum - and its less savory brother - sloth, has kept the disk drive front and center for most storage buyers, but the flood-created shortages and price hikes could change that. Vendors are focusing production on their high margin disks, which are the ones that server buyers look at, but consumer SSDs could get a healthy boost from a cheap drive shortage.
FireWire lost the volume war against USB, but Thunderbolt - the poor man's Infiniband - is much more than a fast interconnect. A raft of new Thunderbolt products will be shown at CES and the 2nd gen Thunderbolt chips are due in April, along with wider adoption by PC vendors.
Thunderbolt's consumer uptake will tell us just how I/O crazy consumers are. Will Thunderbolt take off or go the way of Infiniband into niche markets?
Since we don't produce enough flash to replace disk capacity - nor could we afford it if we did - systems that combine disks with flash and DRAM are bound to be big. Hybrid storage ranges from Seagate's XT drives to adding SSDs to current arrays to high-end systems from Kaminario, Avere, Nimble, Pure and Violin.
Tumbling prices for flash keep moving the economic frontiers versus disks. And the advances of ReRAM - the likeliest replacement for flash in the decade ahead - keep flash vendors on their toes.
Consumerization of hyper-scale technology
Nascent trend or analyst fantasy? The key to Internet-scale infrastructure is the use of low-cost, high-volume systems with smart software to create systems of unparalleled scale and resilience.
Since low-cost and high-volume also applies to consumer goods I expect to see more movement towards bringing some of those technologies to consumers and small businesses. Distributed, management-free, highly-redundant and cheap storage for the rest of us: the post-PC era writ large.
Virtualization is ultimately a feature, not a market, and it will be embedded into operating systems the way virtual memory - a hot ticket in the 70's - is today. Today's version is much more complex and will take longer to integrate - especially if Microsoft keeps chasing Apple instead of sticking to its knitting - but I expect movement - acquisitions - this year towards the goal.
The Storage Bits take
Of course I'll be at CES in a couple of weeks and who knows, maybe I'll see something to add to the list. Which is part of the fun of this industry.
To you and yours, a happy and harmonious 2012.
Comments welcome, of course. I've done work for some of the vendors mentioned above.