While the mantra ‘Go digital or die’ might seem a little bit harsh, there’s no doubt that many traditional businesses and, indeed, business sectors, are under increasing threat from their pure-play digital competitors. One of the major reasons for this is technology. While many traditional businesses are busy trying to adapt to the modern, digital age, for most, if not all, it’s a question of hanging on to their existing, on-premise legacy infrastructure at the same time as embracing the possibilities of colocation, cloud and managed services. A not unreasonable approach one might argue. However, when compared to those digital companies who don’t have to sweat their data centre and IT assets, indeed, don’t have to own any such assets, then the playing field is far from level. Business technology seems to be developing at a faster rate than ever previously witnessed and, at the very least, every organisation needs to understand what is now possible, whether or not they choose to take advantage of these possibilities. When it comes to the data centre, depending on one’s perspective, the on-premise model is under threat from or, at the very least, needs to work alongside, colocation facilities, as well as the Cloud. A modern, so-called digital, data centre, is a prerequisite for any organisation claiming to be serious about digital transformation. That’s because such a facility needs to be able to house the very latest storage, networking and compute building blocks that underpin this era of massive change and disruption. Talk of businesses being available 24x7x365 used to be something of an industry platitude. Everyone talked about it, but no one really believed that continuous availability was achievable and, even if it was, such availability came at too high a price. Now, no matter where, when or how they try to interact with your business, your customers expect to have a high quality, uninterrupted experience. Anything less, and they’ll be off to a competitor. I’ll not get involved in the age-old argument as to which is the most important IT building block, but it’s safe to say that data storage and storage networks are a crucial part of providing the optimised customer experience – hidden away in a data centre though they may be. So, just what do you need to understand about modern storage technology as you (almost certainly) look to develop and optimised, customer-centric, hybrid data centre and IT infrastructure model? The following is a list of what’s going on in the world of storage, and will hopefully help you to plan for the future: 1. Solid State Disks (SSDs) continue to replace Hard Disk Drives (HDDs), as there is an increasing amount of high performance computing and big data workloads. For the data centre, this means there are potential power and cooling savings to be made, and a possible reduction in racks from those required for HDDs to the equivalent SSDs. The reality is that much higher density storage comes about – many more SSDs can fit into the rack(s) that previously housed HDDs. The end result? Almost certainly, more power and cooling is actually required in the data centre, with liquid cooling gaining much interest. Flash storage in the data centre is only going to become denser as it becomes cheaper to acquire 2. Hyperconverged systems (where storage and servers are combined in one unit) are becoming increasingly popular, as they are, theoretically at least, much easier to install, faster to deploy and much easier to maintain. 3. Hybrid storage environments look set to proliferate. That’s to say, a combination of on-premise, colocation and cloud and/or a managed service. This provides the flexibility to ensure that the right storage is deployed for the right task or application. Hence, decisions need to be made about what storage is required, where it should be placed and accessed. 4. Edge storage applications will increase significantly. The edge is not going to replace centralised or regionalised data centres, but add another option to the overall data centre ecosystem. Indeed, depending on the type of business, it’s possible that quite a complex, multi-layered data centre model will need to be developed. However, edge data centres look set to ‘explode’ and these will require fast, real time storage components to ensure that the storage network is not a bottleneck when it comes to Internet of Things (IoT) and many other edge applications. 5. The estimates vary, but all agree that there is going to be (or continue to be) a massive growth in data, and this all needs to be stored somewhere. So, data centre storage capacity will need to expand significantly over time. How to do this (in-house, colocation, cloud, managed service) is an important decision, best undertaken using the emerging AIOps tools, which provide detailed understanding and insight into data centre and IT infrastructure operations. 6. AI (as in AIOps mentioned above) will have an increasingly important role to play in terms of storage management. Human beings will no longer be able to make decisions fast enough when it comes to monitoring, measuring, analysing and improving/optimising complex IT infrastructure – including storage – and there will be an increasing reliance on AI tools to manage and optimise complex data centre/IT environments. 7. Non-Volatile-Memory-Express (NVMe) and Over Fabrics (NVME-oF) is an emerging storage protocol that promises to reduce latency in the data centre even further. In simple terms, NVME-oF allows the sharing of high performance, costly storage across many more servers, accelerating data transfers between server hosts and target storage. 8. Multi-cloud data management. Not dissimilar to point 3 above, this new breed of software is required to help users move, manage and use the data they have stored across multiple cloud (and on-premise/colo) environments. 9. Composable infrastructure. This appears to be a new name (and possibly a newer iteration) for software-defined infrastructure. Compute, storage and networks are abstracted from their physical locations and are managed by a software layer. The ultimate objective is to create a pool of IT resources which can be dynamically provisioned to create optimised infrastructure for any specific application. 10. Faster storage requires faster networks. A fairly obvious point, but one which is surprisingly often overlooked. There’s no point in upgrading your storage performance unless your networks are able to provide comparable feeds and speeds! 11. Storage Class Memory (SCM). A technology that is said to blur the lines between RAM and solid state storage, SCM is a type of NAND flash that offers the promise of read/write technology which is up to ten times faster than NAND itself and is also more durable. We’re talking feeds and speeds again. 12. Helium-filled HDDs. Despite all the claims being made for flash storage, HDDs aren’t going to disappear any time soon. Helium-filled HDDs offer somewhere between 30-40% power savings when compared to traditional HDDs. This is because of the lower friction of the helium gas, which is lighter than the air found in HDDs. This same characteristic also offers the potential of higher speeds and storage densities. 13. Intelligent storage. There is a growing emphasis on managing data, rather than simply storage. This comes back to the idea that data centre and IT infrastructure does not exist in isolation but to serve customer and business facing applications. The more one understands about where, when, how and why data is stored in a particular location, the easier it is to ensure that it in the optimal location at any given moment. For those who remember it, information lifecycle management (ILM) was a precursor of intelligent storage – lacking much of the technology which now provides the intelligence. 14. Blockchain storage. Primarily, blockchain be used to track the movement and storage of data within an organisation. However, there’s also some talk around the potential of blockchain storage networks – whereby companies with spare storage capacity can lease nodes to a blockchain-controlled storage service. In the same way that individuals are encouraged to lease out their homes and even cars to others, blockchain could be the catalyst for creating a new storage leasing market.