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Top 10 storage stories highlight trends of 2021

The top 10 storage stories of 2021 highlight both large vendors and startups and demonstrate reader interest in performance, better pricing and new features.

As storage vendors leave 2021 behind, they also leave behind another year that featured fewer significant technological advances for more software upgrades, pricing changes and tweaks to tech.

Price, performance and features were storage trends that drew readers' interest in 2021. Advances were small, as no new class of storage media emerged that was faster and cheaper than existing devices. Arrays took evolutionary instead of revolutionary steps; features that were expected and needed were added. And in the midst of supply chain issues and rising inflation, vendors took steps to make prices more attractive to customers.

Here are the top 10 SearchStorage news stories of 2021, based on page views.

1. Intel breaks silence on Micron leaving 3D XPoint

In 2015, Intel and Micron jointly developed a type of storage class memory (SCM) to fill the gap between DRAM and flash storage: 3D XPoint memory. Intel went on to develop its own version of 3D XPoint, Optane, which it sold for various use cases, particularly around lower latency and higher endurance needs. Micron, too, developed its own version for similar use cases, QuantX. In 2018, the two companies parted ways, ending their 3D XPoint development agreement. But Micron continued manufacturing 3D XPoint memory for Intel.

Then, in July 2021, Micron made a clean break from Intel, selling its fabrication plant in Lehi, Utah, to Texas Instruments for $900 million. The company announced it was shifting gears from SCM to focus on Compute Express Link (CXL) products instead.

A month later, Intel responded that while the decision was surprising, the sale of the plant would not affect Optane production long term. Intel stressed that SCM and CXL work well together. Micron noted that SCM could work well with CXL, but continuing to pursue 3D XPoint didn't make economic sense.

2. Storage startups to watch

Startups aren't a driving market force, but they are a force for innovation. This storage trends story looked at six startups trying to push the envelope on speed, efficiency and disaster recovery. They are as follows:

  • Catalog uses DNA storage to bypass the storage limitations of traditional storage media by encoding data not as 0s and 1s, but as four bases, modeled after the four DNA nucleotides that are the backbone for the double helix. The vendor's long-term goal is DNA storage as a service.
  • Fungible uses its own Data Processing Unit (DPU) to compete with traditional x86 CPU architecture and create more composability.
  • Nebulon wants to ease storage provisioning and relieve processing bottlenecks with what it refers to as a Services Processing Unit (SPU), which is a PCIe add-in card, and an AI-assisted control plane for analytics in AWS and Google Cloud Platform.
  • Pliops wants to improve flash storage using its own processor, the Pliops Storage Processor (PSP). The PSP optimizes storage for databases, handling the tasks needed with much lower compute and power requirements.
  • Storj Labs offers customers decentralized cloud storage as a cheaper object storage model. Instead of using its own equipment, it enables companies to lease storage space from organizations and individuals with spare capacity and bandwidth.
  • Trilio was the only backup and recovery vendor to make the list. Its native container backup, TrilioVault, works with increasingly popular Kubernetes and enables the container orchestration platform to perform snapshots and disaster recovery much like traditional storage.

3. NetApp upgrades OnTap to 9.10.1

In October 2021, NetApp upgraded its OnTap storage operating system to version 9.10.1, bringing better ransomware protection, new capabilities and better performance through NVMe/TCP.

For ransomware, the vendor added automation to the fight. NetApp's algorithm detects anomalies and then triggers an automated immutable snapshot. The affected system can be quarantined with a snapshot as close to the initial attack as possible.

NetApp added more features around S3 for edge computing, with SnapMirror now being able to back up OnTap S3 object data to on-premises hardware.

NetApp also became the first major storage vendor to support NVMe over fabrics (NVMe-oF) using the TCP protocol, which brings faster performance using existing hardware and network connections.

4. The rise and fall of NAND prices

NAND prices increased in 2021 due to specific component shortages. That trend could end in the second half of 2022 and into 2023, when NAND prices will start to decline, according to Gartner.

Earlier in 2021, industry experts cautioned against stockpiling flash as prices had leveled off and would soon start to decline.

5. Dell expands as-a-service options with Apex

Consumption-based and as-a-service models have taken off in the last few years. In 2021, Dell threw its hat in the ring with its launch of the Apex portfolio, which competes with HPE GreenLake as well as other public cloud options.

Dell said customers could deploy Apex in 14 days and expand their Apex footprint in five days. Apex Data Storage Services supports block and file storage with three performance tiers. Dell offers combined compute, storage and networking instances with Apex Cloud Services for $47 per instance. Apex Flex on Demand gives customers access to server, storage and hyper-converged infrastructure as needed.

6. Nvidia GPUDirect Storage driver exits beta

Last year, Nvidia finalized its Magnum IO GPUDirect Storage software, which sends data directly from the GPU to storage, freeing up CPUs for processing-intensive applications.

Along with GPUDirect Storage's exit from beta testing to version 1.0, Nvidia unveiled product integrations with WekaIO, DataDirect Networks and Vast Data, adding that more were in the works.

As pointed out by Moor Insights & Strategy analyst Steve McDowell, Nvidia GPUDirect is designed for specific use cases and specific equipment -- high-performance arrays, such as a NetApp EF600 or a Dell EMC PowerScale -- with the focus on research and deep learning environments.

7. Dell EMC updates PowerStore while lowering costs

In 2020, Dell EMC introduced its new storage array series with Dell EMC PowerStore. Jointly engineered by Dell and EMC, supporting NVMe storage and leaning heavily on VMware, the PowerStore is aimed at storage for SMBs.

In 2021, the vendor launched an entry-level version of PowerStore. PowerStore 500 came with several of the bells and whistles of the higher-end models, such as Optane SSD support, all-NVMe and a container-based architecture. But it did not support the AppsOn feature, so users won't be able to run VMs or applications directly on the appliance.

The PowerStore line saw a performance bump through software updates, with improvements of up to 25% for mixed read/write workloads and up to 65% speed increase for writes, Dell claimed. The update also brought NVMe over Fibre Channel to customers.

8. Dell EMC updates PowerScale

Formerly Dell Isilon, Dell EMC PowerScale is the vendor's scale-out NAS platform. In 2021, a new model joined the PowerScale portfolio, the F900, with all-NVMe and up to 368.6 TB per 2U node. The F900 uses the OneFS 9.2 operating system with performance claims of up to 6 GBps per node, as well as up to 30% faster sequential reads compared with its predecessor. According to the vendor, upgrading to the latest OneFS could potentially bring performance upgrades to the entire PowerScale line.

The F900 is the first PowerScale platform to support Nvidia GPUDirect Storage, a product that also appeared in this top 10 stories list.

9. Seagate Lyve Cloud provides predictable storage costs

Seagate's storage as a service (STaaS) offering for customers that need S3-compatible object storage was a top read in 2021. Seagate Lyve Cloud is just for storing data and does not go toe-to-toe with the major public cloud vendors, which also provide data services.

There are no ingress or egress fees with Lyve Cloud, and costs are based on capacity, which provides transparent pricing.

Seagate's primary products are HDDs, including those that go up to 20 TB in a 3.5-inch form factor. However, as needs evolve, Seagate may have to evolve Lyve Cloud as well by adding features and data management, according to Andrew Smith, research manager at IDC.

10. QLC turned up the heat on HDDs in 2021

One of the predictions listed in this popular 2021 storage trends story focused on the future of quad-level cell (QLC) NAND technology. Indeed, with additional fabrication facilities going into full production, the cost of flash is declining, making QLC an even more attractive option, according to Randy Kerns, a senior strategist and analyst at Evaluator Group who was interviewed for the story.

While QLC came with some baggage, namely less endurance and slower write speeds, most vendors are figuring out workarounds that will enable them to pass on the lower costs of QLC to customers. Putting other technology, like SCM, in front of QLC will also make a larger impact on performance and adoption.

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