Data Storage Trends in 2020 and Beyond

From all-flash storage to cloud storage infrastructure, Spiceworks examines current adoption and future plans for data storage tech.

The data storage landscape continues to evolve to serve the needs of businesses across the globe. We’ve come a long way over the past decade, with advances ushering in capacity improvements in storage solutions such as hard drives and tape. Many businesses have also embraced highly-scalable, cloud storage solutions. Additionally, on-premises storage architectures have significantly improved to meet the growing needs of organizations.

For example, IT departments turn to SSDs to improve performance benchmarks in end-user devices, servers, and storage arrays. Additionally, new classes of storage solutions — NVMe, NVRAM, and persistent memory — are becoming important building blocks for IT departments wanting to realize greater storage performance.

To better understand these trends and how IT leaders are deploying storage solutions to meet business objectives, Spiceworks surveyed 548 IT professionals in North America and Europe to explore the current and future state of data storage in the workplace.

This report will provide insights into:

  1. Which storage technologies are being deployed by businesses?
  2. What are the key shifts shaping the storage market?
  3. What features and capabilities do businesses look for in data storage solutions?
  4. How will the usage of SSDs and all-flash storage arrays grow in the workplace?
  5. What are the examples of use cases for emerging data storage technologies?

The State of Data Storage in 2020

The popularity of cloud computing has been a significant factor influencing the storage landscape in recent years. Public cloud providers such as AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud have reshaped the storage market by offering highly-scalable architectures that are increasingly becoming an integral part of businesses’ overall storage strategies.

This trend has impacted how companies store and process information, with common enterprise applications such as CRM, collaboration tools, and email now being hosted on cloud platforms. In addition, broader IT trends including artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), and big data have resulted in a growing amount of both structured and unstructured data.

While many believe the future of storage is decidedly multi-cloud, businesses will continue to use local storage systems to accommodate many file-handling, backup, and archive strategies. Thankfully, storage vendors keep churning out products to meet local storage needs — and the competition is stiff.

The current storage hardware market is heavily segmented with vendors such as HPE, Dell EMC, and NetApp selling traditional storage arrays, in addition to all-flash options, hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI), and software-defined storage (SDS) solutions. In our report, we explore which storage brands, technologies, and standards organizations have adopted, and how familiar IT decision-makers are with emerging storage tech.

Report Highlights

Key Findings
  1. Adoption of cloud storage will rise: 39% of businesses use cloud-based storage infrastructure (i.e., on Azure or AWS), and an additional 20% plan to by 2022.
  2. As the price flash storage falls, high-performance solutions will become more attractive. 18% of businesses use all-flash storage arrays today and an additional 14% plan to within 2 years.
  3. Most businesses have standardized on SSDs (instead of HDDs) for desktops (56%) and laptops (68%). SSD adoption growth will continue into the future.
  4. Among organizations using or planning to use file-sharing services, 70% have adopted Microsoft OneDrive, and an additional 11% plan to within two years.
  5. Some cloud security concerns remain. Fewer than one-third of companies (31%) are as comfortable storing data in the cloud as they are on-premises.

1. Growth Opportunities

Organizations Increasingly Adopt Cloud Infrastructure and Flash Storage

While there won’t be much uptick in the use of legacy technologies such as tape, optical media, and lower-capacity hard drives, we expect growth in numerous areas. Cloud infrastructure is on the minds of many businesses, with usage expected to grow significantly over the next two years. On-premises, the future looks bright for flash storage, as companies of all sizes seem interested in upgrading to all-flash storage arrays and speedy persistent memory technologies.

  • Businesses expect double-digit growth in the next two years for many storage technologies. By 2022, an additional 20% of companies plan to use cloud storage infrastructure, and there will be significant gains for high-capacity hard disk drives (17%), all-flash storage (14%), and cloud file-sharing services (10%).
  • Use of persistent memory technologies — which can help bridge the performance gap between SSDs and Dynamic Random Access Memory (DRAM) — such as Intel Optane, is also expected to grow significantly over the next two years, with an additional 12% planning to use the technology by 2022.
  • While it might initially appear that there will only be modest growth in SSD adoption due to already-high usage rates, SSD adoption in servers will continue to grow quickly.

Of note, while we clearly expect growth in the all-flash array segment, previous Spiceworks research also sheds light on technologies that might compete with standalone storage arrays in the near future. we found that by the end of 2020, 46% of organizations plan to use hyper-converged infrastructure solutions, which combine storage, server, networking, and virtualization tech in a single, scalable package.

Additionally, we learned in the study that 40% of organizations use storage virtualization/software defined storage tech currently, and an additional 12% plan to do so by 2022. Also, the same study found that a quarter of businesses plan to use storage virtualization tech instead of buying physical storage arrays in the future.

2. SSDs and All-Flash Storage

Solid State Drives: The Now-Standard Storage Medium for Business PCs 

The past few years have been great for flash storage vendors and users alike, with falling prices and reliability improvements leading to increased SSD usage in the workplace. In addition to uptake in end-user devices such as laptops and PCs, going forward, SSDs will become a more standard feature in server rooms and data centers.

  • Already, 85% of businesses have adopted the use of SSDs, primarily in laptops and desktops.
  • Many organizations exclusively buy SSDs for use in new end-user devices instead of hard drives. A majority of organizations have already standardized on the use of SSDs in laptops (68%) and desktops (56%). Many more organizations use SSDs in some — but not all of these devices.
  • There’s still quite a bit of room for growth for SSD adoption in servers. While 36% of organizations have standardized on SSDs instead of HDD in servers, an additional 17% of businesses use some SSDs in servers now, and an additional 21% of companies plan to do start using SSDs in some servers within 2 years.

2.1 SSD Vendors: Samsung in the Lead

SSDs are gaining in popularity in corporate environments, thanks to attributes such as relatively speedy read/write speed rates, low power consumption, and durability. But which SSD vendors do businesses turn to most often? According to our data, among users of solid-state drives, Samsung leads in SSD adoption over numerous competitors.

  • Taking the top positions among SSD vendors are Samsung and Western Digital / Sandisk, with 63% and 60% adoption, respectively. Individually, 39% of businesses use SanDisk (a Western Digital brand), and 37% use Western Digital.
  • Competition is fierce in the SSD market, evidenced by a large number of players vying for market share and businesses not being particularly loyal to any one vendor. Among secondary players, Kingston’s 36% adoption rate narrowly edges out Intel (34%), Crucial (31%), and Seagate (27%).
  • Making up the bottom of the SSD adoption stack are Toshiba (16%) and Corsair (11%), followed by Micron (9%), PNY (8%), and OCZ (4%).

2.2 Rise of Flash-Based Storage Arrays

All-flash arrays are suitable for running mission-critical applications where performance is key. For example, server virtualization and Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) use cases can benefit greatly from this speedy storage technology, and all-flash is also useful for accelerating database and analytics workloads.

Adoption of all-flash storage arrays will grow rapidly: 18% of businesses use them today and an additional 14% plan to by 2022.

With many leading storage vendors offering products in the space, the all-flash storage market is relatively mature. Most vendors now offer a wide variety of all-flash storage options, using those leveraging Serial ATA (SATA), Serial-Attached SCSI (SAS), and NVMe interfaces.

While solid-state SATA and SAS drives are cost-effective and quite popular, NVMe drives offer high-end performance to meet the most demanding workloads. And as prices drop in the future, we expect more businesses to start using NVMe technology.

Among the businesses using or planning to use all-flash storage arrays:

  • The use of slower SATA SSDs in all-flash arrays, currently at a 66% adoption rate, is most common, but only moderate growth is expected going forward.
  • Use of faster SAS-based SSDs in all-flash storage arrays, currently at a 51% adoption rate, is expected to grow by an additional 22% in two years, at which point users will be on par with SATA-based arrays.
  • Use of even faster NVMe in all-flash storage arrays will gain the most ground in the future, with adoption growing by an additional 26% within two years, up from 32% current usage.

3. Persistent Memory

Bridging the Gaps 

With adoption expected to grow by 12% over the next two years (from 16% today), many businesses will turn to persistent-memory-based solutions to realize greater storage performance. While NAND-based SSDs have become a mainstay for organizations looking to accelerate applications, they might not be suitable for extremely demanding workloads.

That’s where non-volatile DIMM technology — a hybrid of memory and storage technologies —  can provide significant performance gains over SSDs at a more affordable price compared to in-memory DRAM solutions. In other cases, some organizations will use NVDIMM as a cache in conjunction with spinning hard disks to accelerate performance, helping to bridge the performance gap between HDDs and SSDs.

4. Business Data Storage Needs

Businesses of all sizes are dealing with the need to store an increasing amount of data. And as the size of a company grows, it typically needs to store more information.

Data storage needs by company size:

  • 79% of small businesses store less than 50TB
  • 78% of mid-sized businesses store less than 100TB
  • 63% of enterprises store more than 100TB

Looking forward, the majority of businesses anticipate storage needs to increase within the next two years for both local shared storage (57%) and cloud storage (60%).

  • Businesses expecting local shared storage needs to grow within two years:
    • 59% of SMBs (1-999 employees)
    • 47% of enterprises (1000+ employees)
  • Businesses expecting cloud storage needs to grow within two years:
    • 58% of SMBs (1-999 employees)
    • 73% of enterprises (1000+ employees)

However, there is one exception to this growth. Most businesses (52%) expect end-user device storage needs to stay the same, and more than a quarter expect needs to decrease. One big reason for this shift is the prevalence of cloud file-sharing services. According to our data, 39% of IT decision-makers said that local end-user storage is less of a concern due to the availability of platforms such as DropBox and OneDrive.

5. Business Cloud Storage Trends

Despite lingering security concerns — only 31% of organizations are as comfortable storing data in the cloud storage as they are on-premises — businesses of all sizes will increasingly store more data in the cloud. And while file-sharing services are currently used by the majority of businesses (59%), our research indicates cloud storage infrastructure is where the most growth will take place within the next two years.

39% of businesses use cloud-based storage infrastructure (i.e., on Azure, AWS, Google Cloud), and an additional 20% plan to by 2022.

5.1 Cloud Storage Infrastructure Adoption: Microsoft Azure Surpasses Amazon

Among businesses using or planning to use cloud infrastructure, Azure is the most commonly used service, followed by Amazon AWS Storage, then Google Cloud Storage.

  • Microsoft Azure Storage has edged out historical cloud leader Amazon AWS, clocking a current adoption rate of 44%. An additional 20% of businesses plan to start using Microsoft’s cloud storage platform within 2 years.
  • Amazon AWS, which kick-started the cloud computing trend in 2006 by offering scalable, on-demand storage, has a 32% business adoption rate currently, with an additional 15% of organizations planning to adopt AWS storage within 2 years.
  • A late entrant to the cloud party, Google Cloud Storage (GCS) launched in 2010, with Coldline and Nearline storage tier classes debuting within the last 5 years. Currently, GCS is nipping at the heels of AWS and Azure with a 19% adoption rate, with an additional 9% of businesses planning to use Google’s storage platform within 2 years.

What can explain the rapid rise of Microsoft Azure? In the study, Azure was rated by IT decision-makers as the cloud service that’s most compatible with existing services — which was one of the top consideration factors IT decision-makers weigh when evaluating a cloud service. And in our most recent research, 79% percent of respondents said their business primarily runs both Windows client and server operating systems, many of which were designed with Microsoft Azure integration in mind.

5.2 Cloud Storage Classes and Use Cases

Cloud infrastructure players such as Amazon, Microsoft, and Google offer various storage classes suitable for storing different tiers of data: Frequently accessed, infrequently accessed, and rarely-accessed archival data. Cloud storage providers offer these data tiers to allow businesses to effectively store information while fitting various needs and budget requirements. For example, an organization might pay more for the ability to very quickly access hot data (frequently accessed with very low latency), while moving less-important data to a cheaper but higher-latency storage tier.

Use cases for frequently accessed (hot) cloud storage tiers might include website hosting, content distribution, data analytics, or gaming applications. Examples include the Azure Blob storage hot tier, Amazon S3 Standard, and Google Standard storage.

An infrequently accessed (cool) storage tier is designed for older data that might not be used frequently but needs to be available quickly, perhaps in a backup/disaster recovery scenario. Examples include the Azure Blob storage cool tier, Amazon S3 Infrequent Access (IA), and Google Nearline storage.

A rarely-accessed (archival) storage tier offers low-cost storage for information that needs to be kept for many years — often for legal or compliance reasons, as is the case with medical records. Examples include the Azure Blob storage archive tier, Amazon Glacier and their even-slower Glacier Deep, and Google Coldline storage.

  • Among businesses using cloud storage infrastructure, with a 30% adoption rate, Microsoft Azure’s hot storage tier is the most popular frequently accessed cloud storage offering, followed closely by Amazon S3 Standard (27%), and Google Cloud Standard (20%).
  • For infrequently accessed (cool) data, Microsoft’s Azure Blob cool tier is most popular, with 21% adoption among businesses using cloud storage, followed by Amazon S3 Standard IA (16%), and Google Nearline (6%).
  • Amazon Glacier / Glacier Deep is the preferred archival storage solution with a 20% adoption rate among businesses using cloud storage, beating Azure Archive Blob (18%) and Google Coldline (5%).
  • Perhaps because of Google’s relatively-late introduction of slower cloud storage tiers, Google Cloud Storage Nearline and Coldline offerings aren’t nearly as popular as competitors’ offerings, or it’s own frequently accessed (hot) cloud storage offering.

5.3  Business Use of Cloud File-Sharing Services:  Microsoft OneDrive Most Popular

Cloud file-sharing services provide businesses with storage solutions that enable easy document sharing and collaboration. But which offerings are most common in the workplace? Among businesses currently using or planning to use cloud file-sharing services, Microsoft’s OneDrive has surpassed all rivals.

  • Among businesses using or planning to use cloud file-sharing services, Microsoft OneDrive enjoys 70% adoption, followed by Dropbox (46%), and Google Drive (40%).
  • Among businesses using or planning to use cloud file-sharing services, secondary players include Apple iCloud at 20% adoption, Citrix ShareFile (10%), and Box (10%).

The prevalence of Microsoft’s file-sharing service is very likely tied to the success of Office 365, which integrates OneDrive and is used by 67% of organizations, according to our data. In contrast, we found Google’s G Suite is used by 18% of businesses represented in our study.

Among organizations using or planning to use file-sharing services, 70% have adopted Microsoft OneDrive, and double-digit growth is expected within the next two years.

6. Storage Array Usage in the Workplace

Between hard disk only, hybrid, and all-flash storage appliances, 81% of businesses use some form of storage array (e.g., SAN, NAS) today. But how do decision-makers choose which type of device to go with, or which brand to pick? We asked survey respondents to rank key factors that influence their buying decisions.

  • Reliability is the attribute that matters most to IT decision-makers when evaluating a storage array purchase, with 80% of respondents considering it a critical factor. Additionally, 62% of respondents believe compatibility with existing infrastructure is critical.
  • Over one-third of IT, decision-makers believe the value for money (38%), security and encryption functionality (38%), excellent vendor support (36%), and high performance (33%) are critical consideration factors when making storage buying decisions.
  • More than half of decision-makers believe it’s not important for a potential storage vendor to have a brand reputation as an industry leader, which may suggest IT departments are open to purchasing hardware from more upstart vendors.
  • Despite the buzz around data storage automation and artificial intelligence, approximately three-quarters of respondents believe AI functionality is not an important consideration factor when evaluating storage hardware.

6.1  Storage Array Vendors: Dell EMC Dominates Storage Market

According to our research, Dell EMC is the most popular storage array brand among organizations. Our data suggests the 2015 merger between Dell and EMC is paying off, with the combined company enjoying a high business adoption rate and superior user satisfaction ratings. But no company in the storage industry can rest on its laurels, with many players vying for a share in the crowded storage array market.

  • Currently, Dell EMC storage arrays lead with 42% business adoption, followed by low-priced, often an under-the-radar competitor, Synology (35%).
  • Rounding out the top 3, storage veteran HPE enjoys a 30% business adoption rate. HPE leads the pack in future consideration, with 23% of businesses open to using their storage arrays going forward, which suggests they might close the gap with Dell in the coming years.
  • Many other vendors enjoy high future consideration rates, IBM (20%), Dell EMC (18%), NetApp (17%) and Synology (17%).
  • Notably, with all-flash storage usage expected to grow significantly, despite relatively low adoption currently, Pure Storage is on the radar of many organizations with a 15% consideration rate.

Additionally, our data indicate that many organizations use products from multiple storage array brands. On average, our data shows enterprises use storage arrays from 2.2 vendors, compared to 1.6 for SMBs.

7. Customer Satisfaction for Select Storage Vendors

To dive deeper into why businesses pick one brand over another, we asked various IT decision-makers to compare three prominent vendors across key consideration factors. On the whole, Dell EMC and HPE score very similarly, with high customer satisfaction ratings on key factors such as consistent reliability/stability, compatibility with existing infrastructure, scalability, and high performance.

  • HPE and Dell EMC are virtually tied in customer satisfaction rankings, with both earning very high marks across many important or critical purchase consideration factors.
  • Dell EMC very narrowly edged out HPE on high performance, security, and encryption, vendor support and value for money.
  • HPE earned top marks for consistent stability/reliability, being simple to manage, scalability, and compatibility with existing infrastructure.
  • NetApp, while posting impressive adoption figures that challenge leaders HPE and Dell EMC, failed to earn top customer satisfaction marks in any category.

7.1  Storage Array Components

We know how IT decision-makers feel about several storage array brands, but how much importance do these business influencers place on the make of internal storage components? For example, a storage appliance manufactured by Dell EMC might be powered by an Intel Xeon processor and utilize SSDs made by Samsung. We asked survey respondents to weigh in on how much they care about which components are used by storage array vendors.

As it turns out, nearly half of IT decision-makers weigh both — the storage manufacturer brand and the makers of internal parts — equally. By comparison, 23% of respondents more closely scrutinize internal components than the brand they buy the storage array from. Only 21% of respondents believe the storage vendor brand outweighs who manufactures the internal components.

8. IT Vendor Challenges

8.1  Storage Products Often Viewed as Commodities

Especially for components, many IT decision-makers believe there’s not much difference between storage products apart from price. But nearly half that higher-dollar storage products such as storage array hardware are commodities as well.

Percentages of IT decision-makers who view storage technologies as commodities:

  • 61% – Hard disks (HDD)
  • 57% – Solid-state drives (SSD)
  • 53% – Removable media
  • 49% – Cloud storage (e.g., file-sharing services, cloud storage infrastructure)
  • 45% – Storage arrays

This phenomenon is even more pronounced in larger organizations, where budgets are typically bigger, resulting in less price sensitivity. For example, IT decision-makers working in enterprises are more likely to view hard drives, SSDs, and cloud-based storage as commodities than their counterparts managing IT for smaller organizations.

8.2  Shifting Brand Loyalties

Additionally, IT buyers aren’t necessarily loyal to one storage brand. On average, companies are open to buying storage hardware from a range of vendors.

  • On average, current business adopters of SSDs use drives from 3.5 manufacturers and would consider buying products from an additional 5.2 brands, suggesting a great willingness to jump between vendors.
  • On average, current adopters of storage arrays use products from 1.7 manufacturers and would consider an additional 3.8 brands, indicating organizations will keep their options open for future SAN and NAS purchases.
  • Additionally, on average, businesses use hard drives made by 2.8 hard drive vendors and would consider an additional 2.8 vendors.

8.3  Lack of Familiarity With Emerging Storage Technologies

Sellers of newer technologies — which might feature emerging standards — face awareness challenges where potential customers don’t know about the latest solutions or their benefits. For example, IT decision-makers currently have a low awareness of newer hard drive and tape technologies such as heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR), microwave-assisted magnetic recording (MAMR), and LTO Type M.

But there is hope. IT decision-makers are at least somewhat familiar with some still-new-but-more-established technologies such as NVMe, NVRAM, Persistent memory / NVDIMM, and the various SSD cell standards. However, few IT decision-makers consider themselves well-versed in most emerging technologies.

  • Among newer storage technologies, NVMe captured the highest mind share among IT professionals, with 78% citing familiarity with standard (33% very familiar vs. 45% somewhat familiar). NVRAM wasn’t far behind, with 71% familiarity (23% very familiar vs. 48% somewhat familiar).
  • While 70% of respondents are at least somewhat familiar with the various types of SSDs on the market (e.g., SLC, PLC, TLC, QLC, and MLC), only 30% are very familiar with them, indicating additional education could be beneficial.
  • While overall awareness of persistent memory stands at 64%, only 13% of respondents were very familiar with the technology.
  • Fewer than one-third of the IT professionals are familiar with HAMR and MAMR technologies, which will power the next generation of high-density spinning hard drives.

Conclusion

Opportunities for Storage Vendors 

With a large chunk of IT budgets going towards storage and backup and the majority of businesses expecting cloud and server-room storage needs to grow, there are opportunities for storage vendors to earn their share of annual storage spend.

With adoption plans of newer technologies ramping up, brands have the chance to capture market share in emerging areas. As storage tech advances and businesses shift towards cloud storage, IT vendors can expect double-digit, two-year adoption growth for technologies such as high-capacity hard disk drives, persistent memory, all-flash storage arrays, cloud storage infrastructure, and file-sharing services.

To capitalize on opportunities, storage manufacturers and service providers should emphasize how their offerings fit customer’s wants and needs. When developing messaging to be used for marketing storage products, vendors should keep in mind that IT buyers believe that stability/reliability and compatibility are table stakes.

In a crowded market many views as commoditized, vendors can stand out from the crowd by focusing on key consideration factors such as high performance, scalability, excellent vendor support, and security functionality. Vendors might also differentiate by offering unique selling propositions for price-sensitive buyers, perhaps experimenting with flexible payment models for price-sen such as the hardware-as-a-service model.

Also, if IT vendors want to avoid falling into a commodity trap, they should put more effort into increasing awareness of their products, the underlying technologies behind them, and the benefits they provide. These efforts can include making it easy to find information about their portfolio of technologies by investing in high-quality content and distributing it in a way that makes it easy for interested buyers to find.

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