Insights into 2020: Q&A with Storage Executives


As we enter a new decade, the amount and diversity of data is growing at an unprecedented pace. The storage industry ecosystem is working together to support this influx of data and emerging workloads with new paradigms in infrastructure, architectures and devices.

I sat down with several of our top executives to talk about what they expect to see in 2020. Here’s what Siva Sivaram, president of Technology & Strategy, Phil Bullinger, senior vice president and general manager of Western Digital’s Data Center business unit, and Yusuf Jamal, senior vice president of Western Digital’s Devices business unit had to say.

We know data is growing in our increasingly connected world, but what kind of data is driving growth in the IoT/IIoT?

Sivaram: In 2020, non-mobile edge applications—from medical, automotive, industry, smart cities, airports, and more—will continue growing rapidly. Due to this increase in connected devices driven by 5G and IoT/IIoT, machine-generated data will begin to surpass human-generated data as the fastest-growing data source. IIoT and natural streaming data (video, AI/ML datasets, etc.) will contribute to the largest share of growth, driving the need for new at-scale, TCO-optimized data-center architectures that help IT and business leaders efficiently store, manage, and monetize the value of their data.

You mention AI/ML…with the rise in artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML) specifically, what’s ahead to support these new workloads?

Sivaram: In 2020, we will see a proliferation of customized AI chips hitting the market, and as a result, almost every vertical will begin to tap into the power of AI/ML. 

Billions of dollars have been spent over the past few years to develop AI chips customized for specific workloads, such as facial recognition, natural language processing, network security, robotics, and automation. With RISC-V and other open-source technologies further lowering the barriers to purpose-built innovation, an influx of these customized AI semiconductor building blocks will be available in 2020, enabling systems designers to make AI/ML even more prolific across a variety of vertical industries, such as smart homes and cities, automotive, retail, healthcare, and telecommunications.

How can the industry manage IoT/IIoT security challenges from endpoints to edge to core?

Jamal: The rise of 5G and IoT is revolutionizing businesses and industries of all shapes and sizes, from oil and gas, agriculture, and manufacturing to autonomous vehicles and smart cities. With this comes billions of connected devices, monitors, and sensors all opening up vulnerabilities and security risks to sensitive data, systems, and architectures from endpoints to edge to core. Today’s highly diverse use cases and proprietary IoT security solutions simply cannot reach economies of scale. This will drive the industry to embrace open security standards in software and hardware, new innovations in RISC-V instruction set architectures (ISAs), and standards-based devices and platforms.

Solutions that are open, customizable, comprehensive, stronger, and easier to use and adopt will lead to, and help accelerate, new developments and innovations throughout the ecosystem. This will be a shared defense to protect the data the world depends on. No company is or will be large enough to drive these changes without engaging the ecosystem and harnessing its collective power in the industry.

As the industry works together on open standards, what new data-center architectures will emerge to manage the growing volume and variety of data?

Bullinger: In the Zettabyte-scale Age, data infrastructure needs to be re-architected to address the growing scale and complexity of workloads, applications, and AI/IoT datasets. These constructs will involve multiple tiers of workload-optimized storage as well as new approaches to system software. Zoned Storage, an open-source initiative, will help enable customers to take advantage of zone block management across both SMR [shingled magnetic recording] HDDs and ZNS [zoned namespaces] SSDs for sequentially written, read-centric workloads. In 2020, we’ll see a substantial amount of application and storage software investment in Zoned Storage to help drive more efficient storage tiers as data centers are redefined in the Zettabyte-scale Age.

As data centers meet the demands of the Zettabyte-scale Age, how will storage tiers evolve?

Bullinger: In 2020, tiering of data leveraging device, media, and fabric innovation will expand, not contract.

There will continue to be strong exabyte growth in read-centric applications in the data center, from AI, ML, and big-data analytics to a variety of business intelligence and accessible archive workloads.  These at-scale use cases are driving a diverse set of performance, capacity, and cost-efficiency demands on storage tiers, as enterprises deliver increasingly differentiated services on their data infrastructure. 

To meet these demands, data-center architecture will continue advancing toward a model where data-storage solutions will be consistently provisioned and accessed over fabrics, with the underlying storage platforms and devices delivering to a variety of SLAs [service level agreements], aligned with specific application needs. And while we certainly expect to expand the deployment of TLC and QLC flash in these at-scale, high-growth workloads for higher-performance use cases, the relentless demand for exabytes of cost-effective, scalable storage will continue to drive strong growth in capacity-enterprise HDD. 

What about fabrics and composable architectures? What will we see in data centers in 2020?

Bullinger: In 2020, fabrics and composable will form a symbiotic relationship.

Ethernet fabrics are becoming the “Universal Backplane” of the data center, unifying how storage is shared, composed, and managed at scale to meet the demands of increasingly varied applications and workloads. In 2020, we’ll see increasing adoption of composable, disaggregated storage solutions that efficiently scale over Ethernet fabrics and deliver the full performance potential of NVMe [Non-Voltage Memory Express] devices to diverse data-center applications. Composable storage will significantly increase the agility and flexibility in how enterprises provision and optimize their data infrastructure to meet dynamic application requirements.

Finally, as these new technologies, infrastructures, and workloads emerge, some have speculated the demise of the hard drive. What’s your take on the future of HDDs?                       

Jamal: While many have predicted the demise of HDDs for years, there’s simply no substitute for capacity-enterprise HDDs, which consistently meet growing data demands and deliver TCO value at scale for hyperscale data centers. Today, industry analyst firm IDC estimates that nearly 2/3 of the world’s installed storage capacity consists of HDDs. IDC also expects that by 2023, 103 ZB will be created per year with 12 ZB stored—approximately 60% of the stored data will be at the core/edge data center.

Driven by this insatiable growth of data—by humans and machines—this mainstay technology will see new data-placement technologies, higher areal densities, mechanical innovation, intelligent data storage, and new materials innovations that will enable new capacity points and TCO at scale for the foreseeable future.

Laurie Iwami is Senior Director, Outbound Marketing, at Western Digital.



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