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8 Ways Data Center Storage Will Change in 2018

The storage industry was on a roller coaster in 2017, with the decline of traditional SAN gear offset by enterprise interest in hyperconverged infrastructure, software-only solutions, and solid-state drives. We have seen enterprises shift from hard disks to solid-state as the boost in performance with SSDs transforms data center storage.

2018 will build on these trends and also add some new items to the storage roadmap. SSD is still evolving rapidly on four fronts:  core technology, performance, capacity and price. NVMe has already boosted flash IOPS and GB per second into the stratosphere and we stand on the brink of mainstream adoption of NVMe over Ethernet, with broad implications for how storage systems are configured going forward.

Vendors are shipping 32TB SSDs, leaving the largest HDD far behind at 16TB. With 3D die technology hitting its stride, we should see 50TB and 100TB drives in 2018, especially if 4-bit storage cells hit their goals. Much of the supply shortage in flash die is behind us, and prices should begin to drop again, though demand may grow faster than expected and slow the price drop.

Outside of the drives themselves, RAID arrays are in trouble. With an inherent performance bottleneck in the controller design, handling more than a few SSDs is a real challenge. Meanwhile, small storage appliances, which are essentially inexpensive commercial off-the-shelf servers, meet the need of object stores and hyperconverged nodes. This migration is fueled by startups like Excelero, which connect drives directly to the cluster fabric at RDMA speeds using NVMe over Ethernet.

A look at recent results reflects the industry’s shift to COTS. With the exception of NetApp, traditional storage vendors are experiencing single-digit revenue growth, while original design manufacturers, which supply huge volumes of COTS to cloud providers, are collectively seeing growth of 44%. Behind that growth is the increasing availability of unbundled storage software. The combination of cheap storage platforms and low-cost software is rapidly commoditizing the storage market. This trend will accelerate in 2018 as software-defined storage (SDS) begins to shape the market.

SDS is a broad concept, but inherently unbundles control and service software from hardware platforms. The concept has been very successful in networking and in cloud servers, so extending it to storage is not only logical, but required. We’ll see more SDS solutions and competition in 2018 than we’ve had in any year of the last decade.

NVMe will continue to replace SAS and SATA as the interface for enterprise drives. Over and above the savings in CPU overhead that it brings, NVMe supports new form-factor drives. We can expect 32TB+ SSDs in a 2.5 inch size in 2018, as well as servers using M.2 storage variants.

This has massive implications. Intel has showcased an M.2 “ruler” blade drive with 33+ TB capacities that can be mounted in a 1U server with 32 slots. That gives us a 1 Petabyte, ultra-fast 1U storage solution. Other vendors are talking up similar densities, signaling an important trend. Storage boxes will get smaller, hold huge capacities, and, due to SSD speed, outperform acres of HDD arrays. You’ll be able to go to the CIO and say, “I  really can shrink the data center!”

There’s more, though! High-performance SSDs enable deduplication and compression of data as an invisible background job. The services doing this use the excess bandwidth of the storage drives. For most commercial use cases, the effective capacity is multiplied 5X or more compared with raw capacity. Overall, compression reduces the number of small appliances needed, making SSD storage much cheaper overall than hard drives.

Let’s delve into the details of all these storage trends we can expect to see in the data center this year.

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6 Ways SSDs Are Cheaper Than Hard Drives

With all the hype and counter-hype on the issue of solid-state drives versus hard-disk drives, it’s a good idea to step back and look at the whole pricing picture. This is a confluence of the relative cost per TB of flash die versus HDD assemblies, the impact of SSD performance on server count for a given workload, and the differential in markups by OEM vendors to their end users.

The capacity of flash die has been increasing at an explosive rate over the last year. The “simple” concept of stacking flash cells in the third dimension, coupled with the stacking of these 3D die on top of each other to make a “super-die” has grown capacity by as much as 256 times per flash chip. To put this in perspective, HDD capacity took over 20 years to achieve what SSDs have done in a single year.

I believe SSDs beats HDDs in most use cases today based on total cost of ownership. I’m not just talking power savings, which are typically $10 or $12 per year. SSDs are blindingly fast and that makes jobs run fast, too. The result is you need fewer servers and in many cases these savings offset the additional costs of SSDs.

TCO calculation and the cost comparison between SSD and HDD is complicated by model class and drive markup approaches by vendors. Traditionally, we distinguished enterprise drives with dual-port SAS interfaces from nearline drives with SATA. This distinction has fallen apart in SSDs. Many storage appliances don’t need enterprise dual-port drives, while NVMe is replacing SAS and soon SATA as the SSD interface. For many applications, low-cost SSDs are adequate for the job, which changes buying patterns.

Typical OEM vendor markup ratios are as much as 14X for SSDs, making them even more expensive than raw cost would suggest compared with HDDs that typically see 10X markups or less. COTS systems are starting to drive these markups down, while buying from drive makers directly (if you are a major cloud service provider) or from master distributors (for mere mortals) opens the door to much lower SSD prices.

There are underlying trends in IT that factor into the cost of storage. First, we are rapidly migrating away from the traditional mainstay of storage, the RAID array, to more compact storage appliances that have much more software content, and, with fewer SSD drives, are able to deliver much more data. Second, the new storage appliances use the high bandwidth of SSDs or flash to compress stored data as a background job. HDDs are too slow to do this. The result is much more storage for the same price.

Let’s look more closely at these factors that make SSDs more economical in the long run.

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7 Ways to Secure Cloud Storage

Figuring out a good path to security in your cloud configurations can be quite a challenge. This is complicated by the different types of cloud we deploy – public or hybrid – and the class of data and computing we assign to those cloud segments. Generally, one can create a comprehensive and compliant cloud security solution, but the devil is in the details and a nuanced approach to different use cases is almost always required.

Let’s first dispel a few myths. The cloud is a very safe place for data, despite FUD from those who might want you to stay in-house. The large cloud providers (CSPs) maintain a tight ship, simply because they’d lose customers otherwise. Even so, we can assume their millions of tenants include some that are malevolent, whether hackers, government spies or commercial thieves.

At the same time, don’t make the common assumption that CSP-encrypted storage is safe. If the CSP uses drive-based encryption, don’t count on it. Security researchers in 2015 uncovered flaws in a particular hard drive product line that rendered the automatic encryption useless. This is lazy man’s encryption! Do it right and encrypt in the server with your own key set.

Part of the data security story is that data must maintain its integrity under attack. It isn’t sufficient to have one copy of data; just think what would happen if the only three replicas of a set of files in your S3 pool are all “updated” by malware. If you don’t provide a protection mechanism for this, you are likely doomed!

We are so happy with the flexibility of all the storage services available to us that we give scant consideration to what happens to, for example, instance storage when we delete the instance. Does it get erased? Or is it just re-issued? And if erasure is used on an SSD, how can we get over the internal block reassignment mechanism that just moves deleted blocks to the free pool? A tenant using the right software tool can read these blocks. Your CSP may have an elegant solution, but good governance requires you to ask them and understand the adequacy of the answer.

Governance is a still-evolving facet of the cloud. There are solutions for data you store, complete with automated analysis and event reporting, but the rise of SaaS and all the associated flavors of as-a-Service leaves the question of where your data is, and if it is in compliance with your high standards.

The ultimate challenge for cloud storage security is the human factor. Evil admins exist or are created within organizations and a robust and secure system needs to accept that fact and protect against it with access controls, multi-factor authentication, and a process that identifies any place that a single disgruntled employee can destroy valued data. Be paranoid; it’s a case of when, not if!

Let’s dig deeper into the security challenges of cloud storage and ways you can protect data stored in the cloud.

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