Traditional fightback may be tough

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10 December 2015 | 0

In a September report from IDC on the purpose-built back-up appliance (PBBA) market, there were some jarring figures for EMC. The long-time storage industry leader — who still boasted 60.1% of the market in the second quarter of this year — faced news of negative year-on-year growth of 5.8%, a blow to the confidence of traditional storage solution advocates. They are far from the only company going through a rough patch though, with 2015 littered with enough similar tales to think it is a trend that will only continue.

HP experienced a dip in storage revenues according to August’s reveal of third quarter figures. IBM were not spared a slump either, while others flirted with sales or mergers to rid themselves of storage woes.

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High-end, monolithic storage systems have become cost-prohibitive for enterprises to continue using as their data volumes and variety continue to grow massively and rapidly, Archana Venkatraman, IDC

“Traditional storage as represented by large vendors face challenges,” Garth Landers, Gartner research director, told TechPro. Landers, whose role includes looking toward developments in managing aging data and back-up or recovery options, said that, “emerging alternatives will enable customers to store and maintain data, particularly unstructured data, at a less-expensive acquisition cost with ‘good enough’ availability, performance and manageability.”

Archana Venkatraman, a senior research analyst with IDC focusing on European storage research, strongly agreed that some traditional storage leaders may be struggling against the tide at present. “Despite unprecedented growth in data volumes, traditional storage giants are seeing their market shares erode in their high-end storage systems,” said Venkatraman.

This, she continued, is primarily because “high-end, monolithic storage systems have become cost-prohibitive for enterprises to continue using as their data volumes and variety continue to grow massively and rapidly.”

Paradigm shifts
Commenting on the slumps those in the traditional end of the storage market have experienced, David Kelly, director with PwC Technology Consulting said that, “there are a broad range of challenges ahead for the industry and that it is too simplistic to equate a growth in data volumes to a corresponding growth in the storage industry.”

In amongst the issues for traditionalists, said Landers, there is plenty of potential for growth too for “niche, innovative vendors”. While there may be many of those vendors who already have a foot in the market, the Gartner research director identified a few “paradigm shifts in technology architectures” that may just enable them to be even more successful in the near future.

First is the shift from spinning disks to flash, he said, which Landers felt is putting many of the incumbents on a defensive footing as those who are relatively new to the market are able to architect more flash-optimised systems with a “better fit” for virtualisation-related workloads.

Flash was one of the talking points of an October brief from Forrester Research titled ‘New Memory Innovations Will Power’. It made the point that “up until now, flash has mostly been deployed by I&O [input and output] pros as a disk replacement and has used storage form factors and storage interconnects to link the media to systems at block-level access.”

The report added that “Flash media — masquerading as disk — does not take full advantage of its random access performance superiority over spinning disk. This is precisely why new deployment models are emerging to use flash for both expanded persistent storage as well as an extension of system memory, augmenting dynamic random-access memory (DRAM) and other onboard storage.”

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Emerging alternatives will enable customers to store and maintain data, particularly unstructured data, at a less-expensive acquisition cost with good enough availability, performance and manageability, Garth Landers, Gartner

Going back to Landers, the second change mentioned was what he termed a “gradual shift from scale-up to scale-out systems, which enables IT to add capacity and performance at lower incremental costs with lower staff costs, as well as to expand systems over time versus making larger initial purchases.” He continued, “the rise of commodity components has enabled new suppliers to come to market faster than they previously could have.”

Strong enough
Landers said that while the incumbent storage vendors possess “high free cash flow and market capitalisation, strong sales and marketing organisations, and an installed base to mine to counter these emerging disruptive innovations,” Gartner believes that the newer and likely more agile “disruptive forces” in the market are strong enough to endure the barriers. Indeed, Gartner predicts that they may just eventually dislodge “weaker storage oligarchies, permanently altering profit pools and changing the face of the storage industry.”

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