The explosion of data under management – in addition to the need for faster performance and cost efficiencies – is driving most enterprises to consider new storage technologies.

In a recent survey of IT managers in the 451 Alliance community, 87% of the companies reported capacity increases over the last year, with 34% experiencing capacity growth of more than 25%. The average increase was 21%. A mere 2% of the companies reported a decrease in the volume of data under management.

Looking forward, the challenge gets steeper: 42% of the companies expect capacity increases of more than 25% over the next 12 months, with the average increase being 23%.

At the same time, there is intense pressure to improve performance and achieve cost efficiencies in storage infrastructure estates.

All these trends are driving adoption of relatively new storage technologies to address the new demands.

The 451 Alliance survey focused on adoption plans for five storage technologies:

  1. All-flash arrays, including NVMe systems
  2. Storage-class memory (also called persistent memory)
  3. Software-defined storage
  4. Hyperconverged infrastructure
  5. Public cloud storage services

Report Highlights


All-Flash Arrays (AFAs). The NVMe protocol is taking over the AFA market: 57% of AFA users are already leveraging the emerging protocol to boost flash performance.

Software-Defined Storage (SDS). About a quarter of the 451 Alliance companies are using SDS running on commodity hardware to achieve cost efficiency.

Public Cloud Storage Services. More than half (55%) of the companies rely on public cloud providers for a wide variety of storage services, and another 19% plan to tap into public cloud resources within the next year.


All-Flash Arrays


Almost half of the 451 Alliance companies have deployed all-flash arrays, and another 12% plan to do so within the next 12 months. However, one-third of the companies – almost all of which are smaller firms – do not plan to adopt all-flash arrays within the next two years, typically due to the high cost of these solutions and/or because they simply don’t need the speed.

Adoption of All-Flash Arrays

Within the all-flash array space, the hottest technology is the non-volatile memory express (NVMe) protocol, designed specifically for flash and storage-class memory and which, in some cases, replaces the SAS protocol (see next section of this report).

By the end of this year, all of the major storage vendors will likely have replaced their SAS-based flash arrays with NVMe-based arrays. And the marriage of flash with NVMe (and the NVMoF networked variant) has also given rise to ‘second-wave flash’ startups such as Apeiron Data, Attala, E8 Storage (recently acquired by Amazon), Excelero, EXTEN, Pavilion Data Systems and Vexata.

Among the 451 Alliance enterprises using all-flash arrays, 57% are using NVMe versions (e.g., Dell’s PowerMax, Pure Storage’s FlashArray//X, etc.). Another 21% plan to adopt NVMe flash arrays within the next year.

Initial target applications include analytics, machine learning, genomics, video processing, financial trading and high-speed transactional processing. Target customers include the hyperscale cloud service providers, web-scale operators and large enterprises.


Storage-Class Memory


Storage-class memory (also referred to as persistent memory), bridges the cost-performance gap between flash and DRAM and is one of the newest technologies positioned to address ultra-high-performance requirements. Currently, Intel’s Optane is the prime example of this emerging technology.

Among the 451 Alliance companies, 23% have deployed storage-class memory, and another 12% plan to implement it within the next 12 months (although those percentages may be overstated due to confusion over definitions of the term).

However, more than half (57%) of the companies have no plans to adopt storage-class memory within the next two years.

Adoption of Storage-Class Memory

Software-Defined Storage


Definitions of software-defined storage (SDS) vary, but in the context of this report, the term refers to storage systems that can be bought as software and installed on the customers’ choice of commodity hardware. Key features include a scale-out architecture, automation and policy-based management.

About a quarter of 451 Alliance companies are taking advantage of the potential cost efficiencies of SDS running on commodity hardware, while about half of the companies do not have the technology in their two-year plans.

Adoption of Software-Defined Storage

Improved scalability is the primary reason enterprises cite for adopting SDS, but there are a variety of other drivers, including (in decreasing order):

  • SDS is part of a software-defined datacenter strategy
  • Lower acquisition costs compared to traditional storage appliances
  • Integration with cloud APIs (e.g., AWS S3, OpenStack, etc.)
  • Simplified management
  • Tighter integration with applications
  • Open source software
  • Vendor lock-in avoidance

However, users have concerns about SDS, including (in decreasing order):

  • Maintenance and support
  • Reliability
  • Security
  • Interoperability
  • Cost

Hyperconverged Infrastructure


Increased adoption of hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) has been fueled in part by advances such as:

  • The ability to independently scale compute and storage capacity
  • Increased integration of flash storage and NVMe in HCI platforms
  • Bundled functionality, such as data deduplication/compression, data protection, disaster recovery, snapshots and WAN optimization

Among 451 Alliance participants, 38% have adopted HCI, but an equal percentage have no plans to deploy the technology within the next two years.

Adoption of Hyperconverged Infrastructure

According to users, the primary benefit of HCI is simplified infrastructure management and maintenance – thanks to automation – as well as faster provisioning and easier scalability.

For 451 Alliance companies VMware, Dell and Nutanix lead the list of ‘in use’ HCI vendors, but all the major server/storage/networking vendors have entered the market, as well as more than a half-dozen startups. Reflecting the wide range of HCI vendors, a broad range of deployment options are available to customers, including:

  • Stand-alone appliances
  • Software-only implementations
  • Reference architectures
  • Cloud-based as-a-service deployments

Public Cloud Storage Services


As with virtually all IT services, public cloud providers are emerging as sources of storage capacity and services. More than half (55%) of 451 Alliance companies use public cloud storage services, and another 19% plan to tap into these resources within the next 12 months.

Adoption of Public Cloud Storage

Companies turn to public cloud providers for a variety of storage services, including (in decreasing order):

  • Primary storage (e.g., AWS EBS)
  • File sync and share (e.g., Dropbox, Box)
  • Backup/recovery
  • Disaster recovery
  • Archiving (e.g., AWS Glacier)
  • Storage colocation (e.g., NetApp Private Cloud for AWS)
  • Hybrid cloud storage via gateways (e.g., Microsoft StorSimple, Panzura)
  • NAS (e.g., AWS EFS)

Despite public cloud providers’ recent moves to improve their NAS functionality, only 13% of the 451 Alliance companies currently use public cloud NAS services, although that is expected to grow to 21% within the next two years.


Vendor Landscape Shifting


Historically, the Big Five storage vendors have been Dell EMC, HPE, NetApp, IBM and Hitachi. However, a look at the top 10 storage vendors in use at 451 Alliance companies today reveals stark shifts in the vendor landscape.

The leading ‘in use’ vendors (in decreasing order) are:

  • Dell EMC
  • AWS
  • Microsoft
  • HPE
  • NetApp
  • IBM
  • Google
  • Oracle
  • Cisco
  • Pure Storage

When asked to name their primary vendor for storage, Dell EMC topped the top-five list by a factor of more than 2:1, followed by Microsoft, AWS, HPE Enterprise and NetApp. The increasing prominence of public cloud providers in the top echelon of vendors is a harbinger of things to come in the storage arena.