Storage and the Top 10 Technology Trends: Selling Denim to Prospectors

Panning for GoldRecently, at Cisco Live, Dave Evans, the company’s chief futurist and chief technologist for the Internet Business Solutions Group (IBSG), presented his list of the top 10 technology trends, the ones most likely to change the world over the next ten years or so. Looking at them, I was suddenly very happy to be on the data storage side of things, for the same reason that it was better to be a sutler than a prospector during the California Gold Rush. Take a look:

1. There are now more things than people connected to the Internet, and the next version of the Internet Protocol (IPV6) will only accelerate this trend
2. We’re now creating over a zettabyte of data every year, and the pace will accelerate
3. The cloud
4. Increasing network speeds
5. Social computing
6. Solar energy
7. 3D printing (downloading physical objects)
8. Virtual humans (robots and avatars)
9. Ever more sophisticated medical technology

10. Human augmentation with machines (e.g., artificial retinas)

Just about every one of those trends feeds back into trend number two by generating enormous amounts of data that have to be stored somewhere. (And the solar energy will be needed to power all those spindles!)

The magnitude of the demand for storage is a bit hard to wrap one’s mind around. The article linked above also linked to a blog post by Paul McNamara reporting on the fifth annual IDC Digital Universe study. In the study, IDC pegs the amount of data to be created this year at 1.8 zettabytes, and tries in a variety of ways to make that number something more than the number 18 followed by 21 zeroes. My favorite is: enough 32 GB Apple iPads to build a mountain 25 times higher than Fuji.

So even if data storage isn’t as glamorous as Vint Cerf’s IPV6-controlled wine cellar, it’s also true that denims weren’t as glamorous as gold in 1850 California. Yet the discoverer of the largest gold nugget ever found in California (195 pounds!) is remembered only by his last name, and the man who first prospected where it was found died in poverty, while Levi Strauss became a household word. There are certainly fortunes being made today selling the storage hardware, software, and services needed to support all the trendy pioneers.

For me, however, the real kicker was a bit down the page a bit in that post about the IDC survey: that over the next decade the number of files or containers containing that information will grow by a factor of 75, while the number of IT staff available to manage them will grow by a factor of only 1.5. The same, of course, goes for the storage devices holding all that data, although the increasing storage density of new technologies coming down the road will help.

So, because storage virtualization is fundamental to managing large amounts of storage, I can’t help thinking that the proprietary “big iron” approach to storage virtualization is doomed. As so many companies are finding, storage devices tend to multiply like rabbits, but vendors who lock up their storage virtualization capabilities in the controllers of their SAN or storage array boxes offer little help in managing anything but their own products. IT pros can’t afford to multiply storage management consoles as their storage infrastructure explodes, and they don’t like paying the extra cost of vendor lock-in.

That’s why hardware-independent storage virtualization software is gaining traction. Done right, it gives IT the ability to:

Manage any and all devices as a single, easily-provisioned pool of storage, with thin provisioning for maximum storage utilization.
Use automated recovery, mirroring and replication to ensure a high-availability, resilient storage infrastructure.
Leverage today’s fast CPUs and memory technologies to boost the performance of existing storage devices.

Use automated storage tiering to optimize storage economics by using premium storage assets like Solid State Disks for performance applications and lower-cost SATA drives for less demanding data.

By making storage space, in effect, a utility, such software enables IT to turn their attention to other, more pressing problems, and the tech pioneers to continue their search for the next big nugget.

Anybody need a nice pair of denims?

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

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