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Storage Newsletter: 2023 Retrospective on Storage

In a comprehensive review of 2023 in the storage industry, key developments include the increasing density of HDDs, SSDs, and flash cards; significant pricing variations in both HDDs and SSDs; advancements in connectivity technologies such as NVMe, TCP, PCIe Gen 5, and CXL; the rise of an all-flash data center; and a notable shift towards storage as-a-service with major players like Dell, HPE, NetApp, Pure Storage, Hitachi Vantara, Huawei, IBM, Zadara, and Graid Technology entering the space. Read more here.

By Philippe Nicolas | January 10, 2024 at 2:01 pm /

2023 is now over and here we summarize some key events, news and facts we estimate reflecting what happened during the last 12 months in the primary and secondary storage landscape and more globally in the storage industry.

Starting with components, HDDs, SSDs and flash cards became more and more dense. Seagate announced the Exos X24 HDD with the 24TB CMR and 28TB SMR drives. Western Digital did the same with 2 new Ultrastar HDDs with similar capacities for CMR and SMR. And Toshiba unveiled a 22TB CMR drive. HDDs grew in capacity but one of the advantages they had in the past vs. SSDs and flash disappeared. Solidigm has unveiled a 61.44TB SSD during FMS 2023. New layers record has been passed with several vendors really active like Samsung, Kioxia, WDC, SK Hynix and Micron.

Pricing evolved a lot and we can find 12TB HDD for just above $200 or 20TB for more than $300, and SSDs for less than $200 for 2TB NVMe M.2, less than $800 for 8TB NVMe M.2 and less than $1,000 for enterprise NVMe SSD 7.68TB when we checked MSRPs. Pure Storage continued to iterate its DirectFlash Module approach with new capacities: 48TB, 75TB and soon 150 and around 2025 with 300TB.

Speaking about WDC, we have to mention that the company has announced its project to split the company into 2 distinct entities, one classic one dedicated to HDDs and a new one centered around flash technology.

On the connectivity side, NVMe, its transport TCP and FC companions, PCIe Gen 5 and CXL have demonstrated their value and CXL its promises with positions taken by several players such as Broadcom with acquisition, but also Astera Labs, IntelliProp, Lightelligence, Montage, Panmnesia, Samsung and UnifabriX. DPU lost some momentum even if SmartNIC was adopted by various vendors for specific usages.

All these devices, components, subsystems and connectivity have made possible an all flash data center.

Tape continued to be deployed for deep archive and the industry relies on LTO-9 and lower end models. Hyperscaler tape libraries had great success from Quantum and IBM and we expect Spectra Logic to announce something around the summer. We even heard that some hyperscalers have started some thoughts and design efforts for their own tape libraries.

DNA storage had ups and downs as some companies seemed to reduce their investment like Twist Bioscience and others have accelerated but we’re still far from seeing real products. In the meantime, we discovered Cerabyte, and its team has made significant progress with a real prototype we had the privilege to see in Germany a few weeks ago. We’ll learn more in a few weeks.

Some companies have confirmed their shift to pure software to be deployed almost everywhere and others surprisingly chose to offer some appliance flavor, thus limiting potentially their footprint and adoption rate. SDS still is alive even if differentiators disappeared time after time.

Files are everywhere and, from what we saw, industry standard file sharing protocols are here to stay. NFS and SMB have been well promoted and their RDMA extension delivered great results, especially for AI environments. Parallel file storage, pNFS included, was also very visible with many players and several of them entering into the enterprise and commercial segment. A special note here about Huawei, ThinkParQ and Weka who have been very visible in the HPC IO500 list and beyond. Tuxera, with its high performance SMB stack and RDMA support, increased its visibility as it is used by Croit, StorONE, IBM Storage Scale or Weka to name a few. The Linux Foundation launched the DAOS Foundation to sustain the development of the DAOS storage software.

Global file services and namespaces also got mentioned and pushed from various vendors, no surprise as we preached this for several years now.

Convergence of file and object storage was even more obvious in 2023 with more products exposing the same content with the industry standard file sharing protocol on one side and S3 API on the other. S3 ate the object storage category and nobody spoke about flat namespace … or other key properties as S3 can be deployed on top of almost anything and users don’t really care. It was visible on many segments and use cases addressed by several players delivering small configurations which is a bit of a surprise when we remember the genesis and goals of object storage addressing scalability limitations of NAS and file servers but it was 10 years ago. S3 for high performance, capacity or just agility, has resonated pushing primary and secondary storage use cases. This is the case for DDN with their new object storage software named Infinia, Cloudian, MinIO or Quantum Myriad.

Beyond classic S3, S3 to tape is a reality being like a sort of VTL 2.0 with approximately 10 active vendors in that domain. We can list Fujifilm Recording Media, Grau Data, Nodeum, PoINT Software and Systems, QStar, Quantum, Spectra Logic, Versity and XenData. StrongLink, formerly StrongBox Data Solutions, which ceased operations before the summer.

Cold storage is hot as some players still promote the MAID, other spin down drives or energy saving models like Disk Archive beyond some past famous examples like Copan, Nexsan, NEC and Fujitsu in the domain. We saw a new actor in town, Leil Storage, with an innovative energy efficient approach based on SMR HDDs.

In 2023, Nutanix, Weka and MinIO spent time to dispute software license agreements around S3 compliant object storage software.

On the block side, nothing really new, just confirmation, as said above, with NVMe everywhere, network transport service. Flexible Data Placement, a NVMe 2.0 feature, was highly seen. Disaggregated architecture and composability are more common as well. Shared nothing known for decades continue to be a model but also shared everything as fast networks allow this.

The U3 – Universal, Unified and Ubiquitous – storage model we introduced at least 10 years ago continues to be illustrated by many vendors. It confirms that consolidation of storage to global platforms, plus consolidation of usages, multi-access methods and multi-tenants are real things asked by users who recognize benefits and value of the U3 model.

We also noticed some dispersed storage initiatives that continue to pop up at different places on the planet.

We said that, for quite a long time, AI and storage have 2 dimensions: AI for or in storage and storage for AI. Almost all new solutions and product iterations claimed to belong to one of these 2 groups. Several recent providers of GPU as a service such as CoreWeave, Lambda Labs or Vultr leverage parallel file system and NFS-based storage with DDN and Vast Data to connect to their GPU farms. In France, there is a similar initiative with Scaleway who adopted a Nvidia SuperPOD coupled with DDN storage.

On the cloud side, AWS announced S3 Express One Zone to offer fast object storage, backup but also new file storage developments with EFS or different FSx flavors. Qumulo took advantage of the AWS event to announce their availability on the cloud giant environment. Azure also announced various improved and new services such as Azure Managed Lustre. GCP developed new services as well with object lock retention, anywhere cache or cloud storage fuse for GKE.

Storage as-a-ervice confirms its take off with new service iterations and players who chose to jump into it. We found Dell with APEX, HPE with GreenLake, NetApp with Keystone, Pure Storage with Evergreen//One, and Hitachi Vantara, Huawei, IBM, Zadara or Nyriad to name a few.

SaaS Backup gained maturity with leaders like HYCU who clearly set the pace with their SDK and capabilities to validate any SaaS application under the R-Cloud perimeter. We saw others trying to deliver comprehensive solutions but the vast number of SaaS flavors confirm a horizontal play.

Speaking about data protection, it invites us to mention that erasure coding was everywhere and will continue, for sure. There were various implementations, across disks, chassis and sites working at different levels and even some powered by GPU like Nyriad or Graid Technology. Everything around immutability, object lock, WORM, air gap … really took off as cyber threats continued to skyrocket.

Beyond some new products or services, we already mentioned, others appeared like QStar with Global ArchiveSpace, Volumez with its cloud block storage service, Versity with their S3 gateway, XenData E-Series, Pure Storage with the //E family, Huawei with new Pacific Series, CTera Fusion, Tiger Bridge for Surveillance, or Phison with the X2 PCIe Gen 5 SSD.

Kubernetes storage didn’t really take off even if some players have taken serious positions like DataCore, Linbit, RedHat, MinIO, Portworx, Rakuten or SUSE, but vendors have to be ready when it will.

In terms of M&A, we count approximately 15 operations and, among them, we wish to list of course one of the biggest one in the industry with Broadcom VMware acquisition confirmation for $61 billion. The connectivity giant also acquired, an emerging CXL player, but we need to mention also DataCore with 2 acquisitions, Object Matrix and WIN, Nexsan taken over by Serene Investment to avoid a plunge to the abyss, BMC picked Model9, Akamai swallowed Ondat for a symbolic fee. At the same time, a big deal didn’t happen during the summer, MaxLinear has terminated the pending acquisition of Silicon Motion for an estimated value of $3.8 billion.

Effect of the business climate and associated with some mergers, some companies have made some layoffs like Cisco, Dell, NetApp, Qumulo.

On the investment and VC side, we count several rounds and extreme ones with low rounds and very big ones. We choose to list the French company Inspeere with €600,000, Cloudian with $60 million, Hammerspace with $56.7 million, Komprise with $37 million, UltiHash for $2.5 million, Volumez with $20 million or Vast Data for $118 million.

SVB got bankrupted and has seriously impacted the bay area even outside. The US administration has protected this financial institution and thus limit the propagation.

In the IPO domain, we didn’t see anything illustrating a delicate climate and even companies like Cohesity and Rubrik didn’t jump into the game, at least not yet.

And a last word with a sad news, for all of us who attended SNW in the past, more recently SDC, collaborated or played a role within SNIA, Mark Carlson passed away suddenly before the summer.

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