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Enterprise data storage 2020 Products of the Year finalists

The field of entrants in our 19th annual Products of the Year contest has been reduced to 47 contenders vying for gold, silver and bronze status in five data storage categories.

Numerous IT trends, such as digital transformation and IT modernization, have hastened the adoption of faster, easier to manage and more flexible enterprise data storage products. While the new coronavirus pandemic has put many major IT projects on hold, other organizations have only accelerated the modernization of their infrastructures.

This year's cohort of storage Products of the Year finalists should be on the radar of decision-makers looking for better ways to implement, provision, manage and protect data in often-uncertain business environments. These 47 offerings in our 19th annual competition rose above the other entrants to garner the title of finalist.

The purpose of the Storage magazine and SearchStorage Products of the Year competition is to not just recognize the best in enterprise data storage products, but to provide a guide for IT professionals -- even the most seasoned ones -- overwhelmed by the constant barrage of product choices. By narrowing these choices to the very best in five categories, we hope to give readers a more manageable framework to evaluate those products that best fit their needs.

This year's awards include categories for backup and disaster recovery (DR) hardware, software and services; cloud storage; disk and disk subsystems; hyper-converged and composable infrastructures; and storage system and application software. Eligible products must have been introduced or significantly upgraded on or after Sept. 20, 2019 and before Sept. 21, 2020.

Our panel of judges, which includes industry analysts, consultants, TechTarget writers and editors, reviewed each of the entrants and scored each product based on innovation, performance, ease of integration, ease of use and manageability, functionality and value.

Congratulations to all our 2020 enterprise data storage Products of the Year finalists. While most won't win gold, silver or bronze, each entrant should be commended for making it this far. That is by no means an easy feat. We will unveil the medal winners next month on SearchStorage and in the February issue of Storage magazine.

Backup and disaster recovery hardware, software and services

Several themes stood out in this year's backup and DR category. The cloud remains a focal point, and it will be especially helpful for organizations forced to continue with remote work as a result of the new coronavirus pandemic. Automation and orchestration stood out as key pieces in multiple finalist entries, as simplicity and reliability are hallmarks of top data protection products.

While the coronavirus pandemic has put many major IT projects on hold, other organizations have only accelerated the modernization of their infrastructures.

In a new twist, Kubernetes-focused data protection products made their first appearance on the backup and recovery finalist list. Backup of containerized workloads is one of the hottest trends in data protection. It's no surprise large vendors recently acquired the two finalists specializing in Kubernetes backup.

The category includes data protection hardware, backup software integrated with hardware appliances, tape libraries and drives, backup media, disk backup targets and deduplication devices. It also covers backup and recovery software, cloud backup and recovery services, and on-premises backup and DR, snapshotting, replication and archiving products.

Here are the 11 finalists in the backup and DR hardware, software and services category.

Actifio 10c. Actifio Inc.'s cloud backup, DR and cloning software focuses on multi-cloud copy data management. Features in the update include one-click multi-cloud DR orchestration, flash performance from object storage and cloning of databases to containers.

Asigra Cloud Backup 14.2 with Deep MFA. An innovator in cloud backup, Asigra Inc. focused on the significant need for cybersecurity with this release. Deep multifactor authentication and immutable retention provide multiple layers of protection to prevent backup data deletions and malicious encryption.

Clumio. Clumio Inc.'s enterprise backup as a service supports private cloud, public cloud and SaaS on one platform, and the product includes operational recovery, data recovery and long-term data retention. This recent version added Microsoft 365, Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud and Amazon Relational Database Service protection.

Dell EMC PowerProtect DD Series appliances. Representing the next generation of Dell EMC Data Domain, this product provides up to 1.5 petabytes capacity in a single rack and higher flash-enabled IOPS. It includes the Dell EMC Cloud Tier for long-term retention to public, private or hybrid clouds.

IBM TS7700 Virtual Tape Library R5.0. Providing DR for IBM Z mainframe environments, this product features cloud-based DR for tape, object compression and encryption. It claims full support for any-scale data retention, backup and recovery.

Kasten K10 v2.5. Kasten Inc., recently acquired by Veeam Software, specializes in backup and DR of Kubernetes workloads. Version 2.5 enhances automation and reliability of application and data migration in Kubernetes. It also captures data and metadata for application backup and mobility.

Portworx PX-Backup. Portworx Inc., which was recently acquired by Pure Storage, enables backup and restore of Kubernetes applications. PX-Backup captures application data, configuration and Kubernetes objects as a single unit, as well as metadata about backups.

Rubrik Polaris Sonar. The new data management application automates data classification and discovery for reporting on sensitive data, such as personally identifiable information. Predefined data policies and analyzers capable of detecting sensitive content help users to comply with various regulations.

Veeam Software Availability Suite v10. Veeam, with a focus on cloud data management, offers data protection, recovery, monitoring, ransomware protection and compliance with its flagship product. V10 of Veeam Availability Suite includes NAS backup, multi-VM instant recovery and immutable backups.

Veritas NetBackup 8.3. Veritas Technologies LLC's NetBackup protects data from edge to core to cloud. The Veritas Resiliency Platform provides automated and orchestrated DR, while CloudPoint integration automates cloud backups and immutable storage support protects against ransomware.

Zerto IT Resilience Platform 8.0. Based on a foundation of continuous data protection, the Zerto platform converges DR, data protection and mobility from on premises to the cloud. The update includes new support for Google Cloud and deeper integration with Microsoft Azure.

Cloud storage

As more organizations deploy cloud storage, industry leaders are responding by improving existing services to support modern enterprise needs. A handful of notable startups are aiming to disrupt this growing market with innovative new approaches and unique services aimed at emerging workloads.

To qualify for this category, products must run in the cloud and not be dependent on underlying on-premises hardware. This year's list of enterprise data storage Products of the Year finalists includes several established companies adding enhanced data protection capabilities to popular cloud storage services. There are also some intriguing newer products that aim to provide highly performant storage for demanding cloud-based workloads, such as AI and machine learning.

Most companies have already adopted some sort of cloud service, and now many are contemplating what it means to have a multi-cloud strategy. Customers demand the ability to move their data among different locations, providers or availability zones to support increasingly complex hybrid deployments. Our cloud storage finalists reflect this market dynamic, with several products designed to help organizations manage or migrate data across different cloud providers and hybrid infrastructures. 

Here are the nine cloud storage category finalists in the 2020 enterprise data storage Products of the Year competition.

Hammerspace v4.4. Hammerspace's global file system disaggregates metadata to allow data portability regardless of the underlying infrastructure or cloud provider. Recent feature updates enable better cloud-to-cloud mobility and improved capacity planning. The company also added an undelete option that enables users to recover deleted files without relying on snapshots.

HPE Cloud Volumes. An evolution of the 2017 Nimble Storage acquisition, Cloud Volumes can help unify cloud backup by enabling organizations to move data across clouds. It also supports a variety of storage platforms and data protection applications. The latest version of its on-demand cloud storage service enhances data protection.

IBM Spectrum Virtualize for Public Cloud v8.3.1. IBM Spectrum Virtualize migrates data between IBM and AWS clouds while allowing administrators to use a common management plane. The latest version introduced support for compression and deduplication on AWS, which can help lower total infrastructure costs.

LucidLink Filespaces v1.24. LucidLink Corp. Filespaces enables users to access data from the cloud like a local drive. It is a SaaS-based, cloud-native file system that works with both on-premises storage providers as well as AWS, Google Cloud and -- now -- Microsoft Azure.

Nasuni cloud file storage v8.8. Nasuni Corp.'s cloud file storage is a cloud alternative to enterprise file storage. Based on Nasuni's UniFS global file system with built-in cloud object storage, the platform delivers on-demand capacity, incorporating backup and DR with the ability to share files across locations.

Portworx Enterprise 2.6. Portworx is clearly aiming for organizations developing cloud-native applications with this container storage platform built from the ground up for Kubernetes. Version 2.6 added updates to support larger Kubernetes deployments, such as node capacity rebalancing, K3s support and proxy volumes.

Qumulo Shift for Amazon S3. The Qumulo Inc. Core file system has supported data movement to AWS for years, but the company recently added the ability to automatically handle data conversions in an open format and then copy that data directly to an Amazon S3 bucket. Qumulo Shift for Amazon S3 comes at no additional cost for Qumulo customers. It supports cloud migrations and enables IT teams to quickly take advantage of other Amazon cloud data services.

RStor Space. Aiming to disrupt cloud object storage as a PaaS, RStor Space enables customers to connect their data to compute services from other cloud providers without ingress and egress fees. RStor Inc. uses AI to help achieve fast, low-latency access to storage across distributed multi-cloud architectures through what the company calls data superpositioning -- a term borrowed from quantum mechanics to imply an object exists in more than one location simultaneously.

Wasabi Reserved Capacity Storage. As a startup, Wasabi Technologies Inc. disrupted the cloud storage market by eliminating egress fees common among other cloud providers. The company continues to develop ways for customers to save money on cloud storage with Wasabi Reserved Capacity Storage, a new cloud storage service that saves money by delivering a fixed, prepaid service period for storage capacity.

Disk and disk subsystems

Fast, dense storage is trending in the disk and disk subsystems market. NVMe support is table stakes, storage class memory (SCM) provides low latency and enhanced performance, and quad-level cell (QLC) NAND flash is driving movement toward denser storage.

Entries include disk and disk subsystems based on flash storage, HDDs or a hybrid mix. The category covers Fibre Channel and iSCSI SAN arrays, NAS, multiprotocol systems, converged infrastructure products, disk controllers and caching appliances. The software management and storage features included in these arrays must be integrated with the storage media and shouldn't be software that can run on any appliance.

Many of the products in this category extend beyond the data center to manage data in the cloud or at the edge. Overall management capabilities are key features, along with high levels of availability, multi-cloud compatibility, container support, and data backup and protection.

Several finalists make use of machine learning and deep learning to provide self-optimization features that reduce system complexity and the management burden on IT organizations to run these systems. One all-QLC flash array is a contender, while another mixes QLC flash and Intel Optane drives in a single system.

Here are the 12 disk and disk subsystems category finalists in the 2020 enterprise data storage Products of the Year competition.

Dell EMC PowerScale. Focusing on unstructured data, Dell EMC PowerScale offers scalable NAS storage that extends beyond the data center to manage file and object data at the edge and on cloud platforms. It supports NVMe and the S3 standard. It offers inline data reduction, integrates with management and container orchestration frameworks, and includes the new DataIQ software. PowerScale uses the OneFS OS to provide intelligent storage that delivers up to 15.8 million IOPS per cluster.

Dell EMC PowerStore. With PowerStore, Dell EMC provides a midrange infrastructure platform that offers end-to-end NVMe and SCM support. Native VMware integration provides a scale-up, scale-out architecture for block, file and VMware vSphere Virtual Volumes (vVols) data. The infrastructure is also programmable, supports automation and offers built-in machine learning and intelligence features. PowerStore integrates with Dell EMC's AppsON feature to improve application mobility and deployment flexibility.

HPE Primera 600 Storage. This tier-0 enterprise storage platform is built on an NVMe-optimized array architecture that uses parallel processing to deliver ultra-low latency, while providing an all-active framework to achieve 100% availability. It includes an embedded AI engine that performs real-time self-optimization, support for vVols and Kubernetes, and employs an API-first strategy that enables dynamic provisioning and enterprise data services. The platform's autonomous operations capability is commendable, helping to reduce the complexity and time burden on IT.

Hitachi Vantara Virtual Storage Platform (VSP) 5000 Series. Using a patented node scale-out architecture, VSP offers a scalable NVMe storage system that employs massive parallelism -- along with Hitachi Accelerated Fabric and the Storage Virtualization Operating System RF -- to enhance performance and high availability. The platform supports HDDs, SAS flash, NVMe flash and SCM, and includes smart data reduction, quadruple redundancy and dynamic tiering. The Hitachi Ops Center offers impressive management to help simplify IT operations.

IBM FlashSystem. FlashSystem is hybrid and all-flash enterprise-grade storage that supports NVMe flash and SCM SSDs to deliver 18 million IOPS and 70 microseconds (μs) latency. It includes data services that can be extended to more than 500 heterogeneous storage systems. The product supports easy tiering for SCM drives, three-site replication for hybrid and multi-cloud deployments, and Storage Insights for automated issue resolution. IBM integrated Spectrum Virtualize in the array to work with external virtualized storage systems, an innovative approach that simplifies storage management and data movement.

IBM DS8950F Model 996. Targeting mainframe environments, the DS8950F Model 996 is high-performing all-flash storage that offers pervasive encryption, Fibre Channel endpoint security, resiliency against cyber attacks and incident response times of two to four seconds. The system also offers 18 μs latency, seven nines availability, transparent cloud tiering, multi-cloud compatibility, container support and the ability to retain up to 500 immutable point-in-time copies per volume. IBM's Safeguarded Copy feature provides ransomware protection.

Infinidat InfiniBox F6000. An enterprise storage array that delivers multi-petabyte scalability and enhanced performance, the InfiniBox F6000 uses Neural Cache, a set of deep learning algorithms that determine which data to prefetch into DRAM and SSD cache. The array supports NVMe/TCP, multisite replication with ultra-low recovery point objective, InfiniVerse monitoring and predictive analytics, and integration with leading IT platforms. It provides REST APIs and SDKs for integration with other tools.

Pure Storage FlashArray//C. With FlashArray//C, Pure Storage Inc. is finding new ways to use QLC, which should make flash more accessible to a broader range of organizations and workloads. This all-QLC flash storage array uses NVMe to deliver latency rates from 150 μs to 1 millisecond, six nines availability, 5:1 data reduction, policy-based replication, snapshot support and encryption. The Pure1 OS offers molecular-level control over flash drives, uses firmware to manage write amplification, provides a complete set of REST APIs and supports Pure1 storage management.

Quantum F1000 NVMe storage appliance. A 1U NVMe storage server designed for unstructured and video data, the F1000 is optimized with up to 10 GBps single-client streaming performance. Quantum Corp. integrated the F1000 with its StorNext File System, enabling quick integration into existing storage. The F1000 targets those in need of super-dense, single controller and high-performance storage -- a need that has previously gone unnoticed.

Qumulo P-368T all-NVMe file storage platform. This storage system provides the low latency of NVMe in the data center, and the ability to move data to the cloud for processing and analytics when needed. Qumulo has expanded the storage system's API capabilities to increase platform automation. It has also integrated real-time analytics on capacity use, throughput and IOPS to help manage unstructured storage capacities and reduce the burden on IT organizations.

StorOne S1:All-Flash Array.next. This all-flash array mixes QLC flash and Intel Optane drives into a single system that comes with the S1:Enterprise Storage Platform software. It provides automatic failover through an active/active configuration, with support for millions of snapshots and synchronous and asynchronous replication to multiple locations. The storage system doesn't write data to cache, but instead writes it directly to the physical Optane tier in conjunction with the QLC Aware Tiering feature.

Vast Data LightSpeed. The LightSpeed platform provides an innovative storage architecture for next-generation AI infrastructure, combining Vast Data Inc.'s disaggregated, web-scale architecture with state-of-the-art hardware. Users can increase computing power with twice the AI throughput compared with previous generations. Vast Data's Disaggregated Shared Everything architecture ensures I/O requests are serviced in real time, eliminating AI processor bottlenecks. With support for Nvidia GPUDirect Storage, Vast Data is solving infrastructure challenges for analytics and intelligence workloads.

Hyper-converged and composable infrastructures

The converged data center market is by no means stagnant. It has evolved to meet the needs of a changing enterprise and new workloads. This is reflected in this year's hyper-converged and composable infrastructures category finalists.

It all started with converged infrastructure over a decade ago, which arose in response to the growing cost, complexity and work it took to integrate, optimize and manage traditional, heterogeneous IT infrastructure. Convergence prequalified the components in turnkey appliances to work together, ease management and lower the chances of compatibility issues.

Hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) took matters a step further by tightly packaging compute, storage and network resources with a software-defined hypervisor layer to further ease deployment and management. Vendors bundle these components into individual appliances called nodes that are highly scalable. Simply plug another node into an HCI to add more compute, storage and networking.

Standard hyper-convergence is not without its issues. Users can't add one resource -- say, storage -- without adding more compute and networking. As a result, the industry developed two additional types of converged data centers, both designed around the concept of disaggregation.

Composable disaggregated infrastructure combines aspects of converged and hyper-converged infrastructures. This tends to be a rack-based platform, like converged, that disaggregates resources, like hyper-converged. Composability, unlike converged or hyper-converged, uses infrastructure-as-code techniques to enable users to programmatically and dynamically create virtual servers on the fly -- from pools of resources, such as compute, storage, memory and network -- to meet the needs of specific workloads and then pull those resources back into the pools from which they came just as quickly.

Disaggregated hyper-converged infrastructure, known as dHCI or hyper-converged 2.0, is similar to standard HCI in many ways, except it comes with the ability to scale resources like storage and compute separately.

Hyper-converged software or hardware that integrates storage, compute and virtualization into an individual system using a shared set of management tools qualified in this category. Composable systems that collect individual physical resources into virtual pools for sharing as services were also a fit, along with products that fall between these two models.

Here are the five hyper-converged and composable infrastructures category finalists.

DataOn K2N-224. It sometimes seems that VMware and KVM-based products rule the HCI market, but Microsoft has a compelling offering with its Azure Stack HCI. DataOn builds on Azure Stack HCI to deliver comprehensive offerings that span from the edge to the data center to the cloud. The DataOn K2N-224 combines speed, capacity and density (two nodes in a single 1U package, 192 TB per node) with a fully integrated Azure Stack experience.

Dell EMC VxRail E Series with Intel Optane persistent memory. The VxRail E Series takes the powerful capabilities of VMware's vSAN 7 and delivers it into an edge-friendly, affordable and performant form factor. It goes beyond simply using Optane SSDs for speed by integrating persistent memory (PMem) to take advantage of the complete capabilities of Intel's Optane technology. It uses Optane in App Direct mode, which expands the physical DRAM memory and delivers better performance than the more common and compatible Memory Mode.

Scale Computing HE150 appliance. The HE150 appliance brings the HCI paradigm to incredibly low-end power-efficient devices, enabling the Scale Computing hyper-convergence offering to run on devices as small as Intel's four-by-four inch Next Unit of Computing mini-computer. Hyper-convergence is a natural model for edge computing, and the efficiency of Scale Computing's HE150 enables IT architects to deploy the HCI model into spaces where the vendor's competitors simply can't go for IoT and remote manufacturing or logistics locations.

SmartX Halo P series appliance. Another Optane PMem product configured for high-end workloads like financial transactions and machine learning development, the SmartX Inc. Halo P series appliance's main differentiations are speed and time to market. Introducing an appliance with an HCI storage stack optimized for Optane App Direct, SmartX said, enables the OS to take full advantage of the byte-addressable feature of persistent memory to redesign the journal and effectively solve the write-amplification problem.

VMware vSAN 7.0. VMware could easily rest on its laurels, but instead continues to rapidly innovate, staying at the forefront of enterprise application architecture. VSAN 7.0 demonstrates this with new features, such as tightly integrated cloud-native and container storage (support for Kubernetes persistent volume), HCI mesh to enable disaggregated clusters to intelligently use each other's resources and enhanced file services.

Storage system and application software

A common thread among some of the finalists in this category is that they address an issue many organizations struggle with -- unstructured data. A few are even mindful of the burden unstructured data presents today and offer management tools to lighten the load.

Along with facilitating data management and migration, some vendors have capitalized on a growing interest in AI and machine learning integration. AI can be a useful tool for storage, and the technology is becoming more prevalent by the year. Enabling AI workflows meets a need in the storage system market.

Systems that integrate different forms of storage, such as file, object and block, also made the cut this year. There's no single storage method that fits all, so systems that account for this stood out.

Products eligible to enter this category included storage resource management software, third-party analytics, performance monitoring, configuration management, provisioning and data reduction offerings. Storage-related software products that are not dependent on a specific storage array or device could also compete.

Here are the 10 finalists in the enterprise data storage system and application software category.

Cloudian HyperIQ. With HyperIQ, Cloudian Inc. offers cross-platform storage management from a single interface. Intelligent monitoring, predictive maintenance and behavior analytics make it an intelligent and proactive storage system.

Cohesity SmartFiles. This software-defined entry from Cohesity Inc. tackles the issue of unstructured data across on-premises, hybrid and cloud environments. SmartFiles offers integrated applications and cybersecurity, as well as capacity efficiency.

Data Dynamics Insight AnalytiX 1.1. To deal with managing and moving unstructured data, Insight AnalytiX 1.1 identifies where sensitive data should be stored and how to keep it secure. The Data Dynamics Inc. offering has full search capacity and uses metadata to help classify and move files.

DataCore Software vFilO. This product uses machine learning to move data easily to NAS devices, and secondary or cloud storage. VFilO granular file management enables users to more easily recover deleted files without having to go through a full restore.

Diamanti Spektra 3.0. This edition of Spektra includes new features built specifically for enterprise and managed service provider hybrid cloud use cases. Unlike other Kubernetes platforms, Spektra doesn't rely on third-party tools and enables users to deploy applications and manage data from one control plane.

Fujifilm Object Archive. Developed to enable long-term data retention, Fujifilm Recording Media U.S.A. Inc.'s Object Archive is an on-premises system that has cold data archiving and hybrid cloud storage without the egress fees. It can run on any x86 server and use tape libraries from multiple vendors.

iXsystems TrueNAS Core. Formerly FreeNAS, TrueNAS Core is open source and free to use once installed on a server. Version 12.0 of the product has not only improved performance, but has multi-layer security and uses block, file and object storage.

Komprise Intelligent Data Management for Multicloud. Previously Komprise Intelligent Data Management, this entry reduces cloud costs with newly added analytics. It analyzes data across cloud, on-premises and object storage, and uses intelligent archiving.

StrongBox Data Solutions StrongLink 2.3. This second-generation entry improves on earlier iterations of StrongLink with a new scale-out architecture and policy-based file movement between primary storage and any other storage medium without the need for an intermediary disk cache.

WekaIO WekaFS v3.8. The new software release of the Weka file system brings in AI, extended hybrid cloud deployment capabilities and hybrid cloud data management. This shared parallel file system runs natively on the cloud and enables high-performance computing.

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