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Top 10 Technologies That Remain the Backbone of Storage

These days, everything has to be green, cloud enabling and virtualized. It will be interesting to look back in a few years to see how closely the hype matched reality. So let’s deal with less heady stuff and focus on the actual rather than the promised.

Here are 10 technologies that represent the backbone of the storage universe, although they may already be “old hat”, or declared dead by analysts and marketers alike:

1. Fibre Channel

While iSCSI and Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) are being thoroughly hyped, FC continues to serve the bulk of storage environments.

“FC is a proven entity and is also appearing in new deployments with 8Gbps FC, not to mention faster speeds on the roadmap,” said Greg Schulz, an analyst with the Server and StorageIO Group.

2. Disk drives

Two years ago, said Schulz, some analysts forecasted that disk drives would be replaced by SSDs in two years. Yet, disk drives are alive and well given their price, performance, capacity and availability characteristics. Granted, FC disk drives will give way to fast 15.5K SAS as well as large capacity SAS and SATA drives. SSDs will also continue to find new opportunities. But it is safe to say that the disk drive will be with us for at least another decade or so.

3. RAID

RAID is everywhere found in software, operating systems, on appliances as well as in storage systems from enterprise to SMB, SOHO and consumer products. Clearly, then, it works, it’s transparent and continues to evolve. Schulz dismisses fears about it disappearance or its inability to cope with larger and larger drives. If you recall ten years ago when “massive” 9GB, 18GB and 36GB drives began to appear, concerns popped up about long rebuild times. However, RAID solved those challenges and now must face up to a new set. As a further point, new RAID algorithms are even finding their way into the latest flash memory arrays such as those of Violin Memory.

4. Snapshots

Snapshots had little more than 15 minutes of fame in the early part of the decade and then largely disappeared from the limelight. Yet they are used in so many applications.

“Long taken for granted by some, and not well understood by others, snapshots are a great tool that will be leveraged for more enterprise block and file applications and even in smaller environments to enable virtual backups,” said Schulz.

5. Tape

Tape is very much like the “paperless society.” I wrote a whole series of articles on the paperless society in the late nineties with vendors saying how paper was going to disappear. Yet here we are using more paper than ever. Similarly, tape has been pronounced dead for decades, but there is more data being stored on tape than at any time in history. As it takes fewer tapes and tape drives to store a given amount of data, tape revenues are not a pretty picture. But tape persists and will continue to do so for some time to come.

“Ironically, disk is helping to keep tape around by buffering backups so that they can be streamed to tapes and drives more efficiently,” said Schulz.

6. Performance capacity planning

Not only is this technology alive, it is going through something of a renaissance. While virtualization was supposed to dispense with the need for it, capacity planning has found a new role by straddling technology domains (i.e. converged server, storage, and I/O networking hardware as well as facilities and software licenses in virtual and physical environments.) Companies such as TeamQuest, for instance, have found a way to analyze and model performance and capacity that spans most forms of software and hardware virtualization.

7. Security and encryption

We take it for granted and worry every time a tape is reported lost – which is why tape vendors have rolled out encryption in recent years. But the same thing applies to disk drives, SSD flash devices and laptops. They represent big opportunities for growth for unsexy security technologies such as encryption.

8. Standalone servers

Yes, more and more servers are being consolidated and yes, VMs make it possible to house dozens of virtual servers in one box. Yet the standalone server won’t disappear. In some cases, the workload will be such that nothing will be allowed to interfere with standalone servers regardless of the allure of virtualization. But in other cases, some companies will stick to one server for one application due to preference, stubbornness or maybe for the sake of simplicity. Virtualization, after all, introduces a whole new layer of management complexity that is off-putting to some.

9. Mainframes

Invented during the Jurassic Era, they not only outlived the dinosaur, they are making a comeback and have evolved in design, form factor and engineering. IBM still makes a BIG chunk of its revenue from the mainframe and many financial companies refuse to move off this platform for heavy-duty transactional systems.

10. Backup/restore

A dozen latests and greatests have come and gone yet backup remains and everybody does it.

“Even with all of the new technologies that are part of buzzword bingo, backups and restores are still done leveraging either direct to tape, disk-to-disk-to-tape using VTLs with deduplication, replication and snapshots among other approaches,” said Schulz. “Thus, backup/restore is still the backbone of data protection.”

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