The Future Of Data Center Storage

The Shifting Storage

Mix One thing is for certain: demand for data storage will keep growing in the coming years, notwithstanding the impact of COVID-19. Analyst firm IDC calculates a 16.6% increase globally in stored data between 2019 and 2020, and an ongoing upward trajectory through 2025. Within that growth scenario, HDD will remain the dominant storage technology, with approximately 54% of data stored on spinning disks by 2024, per IDC’s projections. While that represents a drop of 11% from its 2019 share, the rebalancing occurs in the context of a steadily expanding pie. Within the mix, nearline HDD holds fast as the data storage capacity solution of choice—not surprising perhaps as the balance of data storage spills over to the cloud data center, per IDC. Tape is growing in share from 14% (2018) to 18% (2024) over the same period, as is SSD.

Converging Form Factors And Storage Protocols

Rather like tape, HDD is here for the long haul. However, the interface protocols supporting it—SATA and SAS—are proving increasingly limiting for flash-based technologies, particularly for workloads in hyperscale data centers where flexibility is key. Pressure is building on HDD makers to think in “flash-friendly” ways when designing higher-cap hard drives.

AI And Software-Defined Storage

This ongoing convergence of form factors and interface protocols in larger data centers ultimately leads to standards that are device agnostic. This, in turn, enables the greater application of software to the data center stack.

Data Center Storage: Key Trends

To recap, the future of data center storage breaks out into several clear areas:

  • The continued growth of data storage capacities, with HDD remaining the dominant technology while flash grows in prominence and tape deployment similarly expands. (Over a longer horizon, there are technologies in development that may eventually loosen tape’s stranglehold on archival, many of which center around the potential of DNA for long-term storage.)
  • The increasing adoption of flash-friendly form factors that recognize the significant performance benefits that flash offers over HDD.
  • A possible move to retrofit the NVMe protocol to SAS and SATA HDD. This will constitute a 180-degree turnaround from the previous decade, where the emphasis was on rigging solid state drives for HDD interfaces.
  • The ability of data center software to comprehensively access all the possible storage under its watch. This unified view will increasingly extend across the range, from enterprise and hyperscale data centers to edge and ROBO (remote office / branch office) locations.