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NVM Express is going to work very well in laptops and other devices. For example, my travel laptop uses an Intel Atom processor and a SSD. Intel could use NVM Express and would not have to use SATA for the communication on the chip, saving the space for something else on the chip that was not communication to storage, maybe external communication, for example.
The point is that on the low end NVM Express might have a significant impact on the market and change storage connectivity, which has not changed much in over two decades. The storage vendors are not taking the changes by the CPU vendors without their own consolidation. WD purchase a number of SSD companies over the last few years, and I think it has much to do with the changes in the interfaces that are coming over the next few years.
Seagate is taking a different tact I think, with object disk drives, which is addressing a completely different part of the market than consumer storage. Object disk drives are for the cloud market, not the consumer market, and this is a completely different strategy than what WD is doing. Two out of the three major disk drive makers (and it should be noted that Toshiba is a very small player compared to WD and Seagate) are making a move to enter new markets in completely different ways.
With SATA lagging behind SAS communication performance (SATA at 6 Gbit/sec and SAS now at 12 Gbit/sec), and with SATA not able to keep up (next generation SATA will be 8 Gbit/sec), this means that a new interface is likely going to have to emerge at the low end. Or SAS, which is considered an enterprise interface, is going to have to move down market. I honestly do not see either happening quickly.
So What Does it Mean for Data Storage?
If we want to continue to thrive in our industry we better get ready for some significant changes coming down from the market to our computer rooms. I think we are going to see the following changes:
1. We are going to see a move for low power processors for desktop applications. This is going to happen with all processor types, from ARM to Intel. And for all we know we might see another processor type emerge, and it would not surprise me if it came from China.
2. The low power processor will likely have non-volatile storage connected directly off of some type of bus and will not use SATA or SAS protocol.At least for Intel this will be NVM Express but for ARM and others it will be something different and it is unclear, at least publicly as of now, what that will be.
3. Storage controllers as we know them are going to change. Back in the mid-2000s I was a strong proponent of T10 Object Storage Device (OSD), but this technology never made it through the recession and there are no T10 OSD disk products in the market. During the same time period the REST interface has taken off like wild fire and is being used from the desktop to the enterprise. Long term I think that REST will become the dominant force in the market and block-based storage (file system based) and file-based (NAS) storage is going to be replaced. The only exception might be for block-based storage, some very specific environment that needs the direct access and high performance that can only be done via the POSIX interface of OPEN/READ/WRITE.
The way this all plays out is that, I think by the end of the decade the CPU vendors take over the motherboard and the communications sector, putting pressure on Cisco and the other networking and storage communications vendors. And the storage controller vendors are going to be pressured from below by the disk drive vendors.
All of this is going to make for some interesting fights in our industry over the next 5 years and we should be preparing for some large changes. But all of this could change based on who make the right moves and who makes some wrong moves. Stay tuned.
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