The trademarks of big data – volume, variety and velocity – have become industry buzzwords as analytics deployments have begun to lift off and lend insight to companies housing vast warehouses of information. While the concepts are traditionally used to describe the challenges associated with managing data in growing volumes, they may also serve as key value propositions for cloud storage companies. In a guest post for ReadWrite Enterprise, Ed Lee, lead architect for virtualized storage vendor Tintri, noted that there is already a significant amount of attention given to storage capacity and performance. These attributes address volume and velocity, but what about the variety of information entering into the digital ecosystem?

“Those big metal boxes of enterprise storage, called arrays, were originally designed in the 1980s – before MC Hammer rocked parachute pants,” Lee wrote. “Today’s input/output storage requirements are heavier and far more random than storage designers could have predicted 30 years ago. And with new technology comes new problems. IT systems that once hummed, ‘Can’t Touch This,’ became hung up by traffic jams. With the highly random I/O of modern virtualization, flash trumps even the best spinning disks.”

Flash memory is the technology behind high-performing solid-state drives, and has become an essential component of storage architecture. However, Lee warned that it is not a cure-all for the data challenges faced by modern businesses. It excels in the area of performance, but maximizing investment is about more than performance. Particularly as cost becomes an issue, businesses will likely find they need to incorporate SSDs and hard disk drives as part of a unified technology strategy. Lee suggested this will give rise to demand in storage management and data governance systems, which would allow for greater visibility over digital assets and determine the most appropriate mixture of hardware.

Flash in the storage ecosystem
Flash memory may not be a panacea, but it still plays a critical role in the enterprise storage ecosystem. In addition, cost may become less of an issue in coming years, as NetApp’s Paul Feresten recently noted in a Forbes post. Advancements in the technology have allowed businesses to replace some of their hard disks with SSDs that offer higher speeds without overextending IT budgets. However, there are limitations in flash that make HDD technology an equally essential part of a storage strategy. For example, flash allows for a limited number of write/erase cycles, which makes seemingly affordable options result in unexpected costs. Feresten did point out that the most advanced SSD technology is on-par with the reliability of HDDs. As a result, cloud storage companies are adopting increasingly hybridized approaches to benefit from both high performance and capacity.

“So, if you’re wondering where data storage technology is heading in your business, look no further than your smartphone, tablet or laptop,” Feresten wrote. “As flash technology continues to improve in maturity, cost and reliability, it’s likely to take on an even bigger presence in your company.”

Research from iHS iSuppli supports Feresten’s ideas, with SSD shipments expected to double from 2012 to the end of 2013. By 2016, vendors are expected to have shipped more than 201.4 million SSD units, resulting in 63 percent CAGR for the market. However, researchers noted that these projections include both SSDs and composite storage solutions that blend solid-state and hard disk technology. Researchers predict continued growth in the HDD market as well, including an estimated 6 percent increase in 2012.

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