Why big companies are moving into flash

Why big companies are moving into flash

Rapid growth and the hope of more to come see major companies setting up shop in the flash storage market.

It was one of the first start-ups to offer enterprise storage, but in recent years Violin had encountered some problems. In April, though, having filed for bankruptcy, it was bought by the George Soros backed investment fund, Quantum Partners.

Violin’s story illustrates two things: that some of the small companies which were first into this space are now struggling, but the sector represents a major target for larger players.

Earlier in the year, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) purchased the hyper-converged company SimpliViti for $650million before following that up with a $1.2bn acquisition for all flash and hybrid array Nimble Storage. Back in 2016 Dell purchased EMC for an enormous $67bn. It proves that, what was once a niche market fuelled by some pioneer start-ups, has now become a place for major corporate players. So why are they buying and, just as importantly, why are the likes of Nimble selling up?

Rapid growth

The answer to both questions is ‘growth’. Enterprise flash storage has exhibited rapid growth over the last few years with potential for more to come. A survey for 451 Research shows that more than half of all organisations questioned have implemented flash while many have plans to do so. Reports suggest the flash storage market will grow by 15.87% CAGR between 2016 and 2020. The global market stood at $28bn in 2015 and is expected to reach $58bn by 2020.

The market has huge potential which has attracted big names such as Amazon, HPE, Hitachi and many others. However, for the upstart enterprises that pioneered this space, growth and the entrance of bigger players, are problems.

Nimble had been experiencing ongoing losses despite a steady rise in revenue as they looked to fund rapid infrastructure growth. They also faced increasing competition as the all-flash market matured. The HPE purchase gives it access to its channels and back office, enabling it to boost sales while cutting costs.

Both parties, therefore, benefit. Major firms bring scale and get technology and innovation in return making them well-placed to capitalise on what they hope will be a highly lucrative opportunity, but will it prove to be as rich as they hope? Is the hype worth it?

The evidence suggests all the ingredients are in place for a number of reasons: the demands of the modern business world call for faster storage solutions like flash, and the technology is coming of age.

Next-generation

Flash is a great storage technology for the modern age of cognitive computing. In which organisations of all sizes are overwhelmed with data from multiple sources such as mobiles, social media, tablets, sensors and much more. Conventional storage systems are set up for structured data and can’t cope with this deluge. Faster and more agile solid-state solutions enable businesses to harvest and analyse this data, making it readily available for use.

Great things have been predicted for flash for some time, but only now are they coming to fruition. The benefits over traditional disk storage have always been clear – they are faster, more reliable, offer higher performance and greater flexibility. However, they have always come at a cost. Purchasing an enterprise flash storage solution is seen by many companies as a risk, especially for a new and relatively unproven technology.

Now, though, the cost is coming down, while performance is on the up. So, while the performance differential between flash and legacy memory technologies is growing, the cost gap is narrowing. The longer life, lower footprint and reduced maintenance requirements of solid-state arrays also make flash a much better value proposition. Bolton College in the UK, for example, recently replaced its disk storage for its databases with an all flash array – a move which, it says, will reduce storage requirements by 57%.

Awareness is also growing as businesses see it’s potential. An industry such as insurance, for example, is extremely data-hungry. It can use flash storage to capture and analyse data from multiple sources – such as sensors, or social media – to perform a much more detailed risk analysis of their clients. This leads to increasingly accurate and personalised insurance products. Until now, though, flash has made relatively few inroads as businesses remained uncertain about its benefits and pitfalls.

All the signs, then, point to positive growth over the next few years. Modern businesses need more sophisticated storage systems. The technology is becoming better and more affordable. And businesses are becoming more aware. The future looks bright.