Future gazing: what’s in store for storage?

It’s a busy time at A3 Communications, fresh from the success of our third Technology Live! demo day, and we’re already working hard on the next edition that this time will take place in Paris in September. But that’s not the only event we run: we also host IT Question Time (ITQT), which offers top journalists, bloggers and analysts the chance to grill some of the storage industry’s key vendors. In our final post on the latest ITQT we look at the future of storage, and whether OpenStack and cloud really are going to reshape the storage landscape…

Our panel of experts included:
•    Databarracks solutions architect, Mark Thomas
•    SolidFire senior director, Martin Cooper
•    Virtual Instruments then EMEA director of services and presales, Nicholas Dimotakis and EMEA marketing director Chris James.

Ask any vendor to predict how technology will develop, what the next big trends are going to be, and they’ll be pretty non-committal. It’s not surprising that our experts were a little cautious when they started to talk about the future of storage: no one wants to be remembered for getting it wrong. Remember those hoverboards we all thought we’d have by now? Or how Clifford Stoll said the internet was never going to catch on?

So we start at the beginning – when mainframes ruled.  “You knew what was going on,” Virtual Instruments’ EMEA marketing director Chris James explains. But technology moves on, he continues: “You then add servers and switches to the datacentre, that adds a layer of complexity. Then you start to virtualise that, which adds another layer. And finally you add cloud to the mix, which leads to even more complexity.”

Although it’s true that cloud can make an IT infrastructure more complicated, it can make deployment much quicker. And according to SolidFire’s Martin Cooper, that’s just one way cloud computing stands out above other technologies.

“If you’re the guy who wants five VMs quickly, there’s no quicker way of getting them than going to a cloud service provider,” he says. “Just look at the statistics – in 2011 three percent of VMs were in the cloud, now it’s 20 percent of VMs in the cloud and that’s where the majority of new services are going. If I’m doing this service again, then I’m going not going to datacentre.”

Many cloud offerings originate from OpenStack, the free and open-source cloud platform that started in 2010. It’s already making plenty of waves within the enterprise space. “Is OpenStack going to conquer the world?” asks Tony Lock.

Cooper comments: “A lot of vendors are bringing out products look at what Mirantis and Red Hat are doing.” Mirantis positions itself as an OpenStack company: providing software, services, training and support for OpenStack deployment at scale, Red Hat is similar, and they’re not the only ones.

Blogger and consultant Chris Evans points out that so many different vendors following their own path leads to confusion. “What OpenStack needs is a benevolent dictator, something like the Linux kernel has. At the moment, people are developing things that don’t need to be developed,” he says.

Lock builds on this idea, asking whether the Linux distro infrastructure would be the right model for OpenStack. Why would that be a good idea? “HP wants to build their own version of OpenStack, IBM is doing it – they want to lock people into their own platform,” he says.

HPE is an interesting case. The cloud market has been transformed and the big players are suffering. The emergence of a new breed of smaller, more dynamic cloud providers has hit established companies, like HPE, that simply don’t have the ability to appeal to the market in the same way. “HPE spent a good deal of money on something that hasn’t worked. It took the jump to compete with other vendors,” points out Lock.

And that’s not HPE’s only hurdle. In fact, the company has found that its competition is even closer to home: Virtual Instruments’ Nicholas Dimotakis says this shift means HPE is competing with other parts of HPE.

Blogger Enrico Signoretti points to another sticking point: Amazon. He explains that although some specialised big data providers are doing very well, it’s hard for other providers to compete with the online giant. This is partly down to Amazon’s superfast turnaround, releasing new services every month.

So perhaps specialisation is the key? Indeed, says Cooper, “I have a specialist provider who does well selling to finance companies in Jersey, Guernsey and Cayman Islands.” Evans agrees: “There will be reasons for customers to move away from Amazon. As we’ve seen, there will be service providers who will provide niche services.”

The IT industry is well-known for its jargon and as the session comes to a close, the panel tackles the latest buzzwords head-on.

Lock notes that much of the latest jargon revolves around the concept of the software-defined datacentre.  “Do we say that software-defined datacentres are the same as private clouds?” he asks.

Evans says we have to be careful how we define terms. “There is a differentiation between the likes of Netezza with is a software version of a hardware product that you can buy and the platforms – SolidFire is one – where they’ve abstracted enough software from the physical layer to port it onto different platforms,” he says.

The panel agrees, however, that Lock had done well to get software-defined and cloud in the same sentence. If he’d added big data, he’d have mentioned every buzzphrase going.  Maybe that can wait for the next panel session!

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