Cloud storage growth is hurting NAS & SAN storage vendors

Strange Clouds by michaelroper (cc) (from Flickr)
Strange Clouds by michaelroper (cc) (from Flickr)

My friend Alex Teu (@alexteu), from Oxygen Cloud wrote a post today about how Cloud Storage is Eating the World Alive. Alex reports that all major NAS and SAN storage vendors lost revenue this year over the previous year ranging from a ~3% loss to over a 20% loss (Q1-2014 compared to Q1-2013, from IDC).

Although an interesting development, it’s hard to say that this is the end of enterprise storage as we know it.  I believe there are a number of factors that are impacting  enterprise storage revenues and Cloud storage adoption may be only one of them.

Other trends impacting NAS & SAN storage adoption

One thing that has emerged over the last decade or so is the advance of Flash storage. Some of this is used in storage controllers to speed up IO access and some is used in servers to speed up IO access. But any speedup of IO could potentially reduce the need for high-performing disk drives and could allow customers to use higher capacity/slower disk drives instead. This could definitely reduce the cost of storage systems. A little bit of flash goes  long way to speed up IO access.

The other thing is that disk capacity is trending upward, at exponential rates. Yesterday,s 2TB disk drive is todays 4TB disk drive and we are already seeing 6TB from Seagate, HGST and others. And this is also driving down the cost of NAS and SAN storage.

Nowadays you can configure 1PB of storage with just over 170 drives. Somewhere in there you might want a couple 100TB of Flash to speed up IO access to these slow disks but Flash is also coming down in ($/GB) price (see SanDISK’s recent consumer grade TLC drive at $0.44/GB). Also the move to MLC flash has increased the capacity of flash devices, leading to less SSDs/flash cache cards to store/speed up more data.

Finally, the other trend which seems to have emerged recently is the movement away from enterprise class storage to server storage. One can see this in VMware’s VSAN, HyperConverged systems such as Nutanix and Scale Computing, as well as a general trend in Windows Server applications (SQL Server, Exchange Server, etc.) to make better use of DAS storage. So some customers are moving their data to shared DAS storage today, whereas before this was more difficult to accomplish effectively and because of that they previously purchased networked storage.

What about cloud storage?

Yes, as Alex has noted, the price of cloud storage has declined precipitously over the last year or so. Alex’s cloud storage pricing graph is shows how the entry of Microsoft and Google has seemingly forced Amazon to match their price reductions. But the other thing of note is that they have all come down to about the same basic price of $0.024/GB/Month.

It’s interesting that Amazon delayed their first S3 serious price reductions by about 4 months after Azure and Google Cloud Storage dropped there’s and then within another month after that, they all were at price parity.

What’s cloud storage real growth?

I reported last August that Microsoft Azure and Amazon S3 were respectively storing 8 trillion and over 2 trillion objects (see my Is object storage outpacing structured and unstructured data growth). This year (April 2014) Microsoft mentioned at TechEd that Azure was storing 20 Trillion object and servicing 2 million request per second.

I could find no update to Amazon S3 numbers from last year but the 10x  2.5x growth in Azure’s object count in ~8 months and the roughly doubling of request/second (In my post I didn’t mention last year they were processing 900K requests/second) say something interesting is going on in cloud storage.

I suppose Google’s cloud storage service is too new to report serious results and maybe Amazon wants to keep their growth a secret. But considering Amazon’s recent matching of Azure’s and Google’s pricing, it probably means that their growth wasn’t what they expected.

The other interesting item from the Microsoft discussions on Azure, was that they were already hosting 1M SQL databases in Azure and that 57% of Fortune 500 customers are currently using Azure.

In the “olden days”, before cloud storage, all these SQL databases and Fortune 500 data sets would have more than likely resided on NAS or SAN storage of some kind. And possibly due to the traditional storage’s higher cost and greater complexity, some of this data would never have been spun up in the first place if they had to use traditional storage, but with cloud storage so cheap, rapidly configurable and easy to use all this new data was placed in the cloud.

So I must conclude from Microsofts growth numbers and their implication for the rest of the cloud storage industry that maybe Alex was right, more data is moving to the cloud and this is impacting traditional storage revenues.  With IDC’s (2013) data growth at ~43% per year, it would seem that Microsoft’s cloud storage is growing more rapidly than the worldwide data growth, ~14X faster!

On the other hand, if cloud storage was consuming most of the world’s data growth, it would seem to precipitate the collapse of traditional storage revenues, not just a ~3-20% decline. So maybe the most new cloud storage applications would never have been implemented before if they had to use traditional storage, which means that only some of this new data would ever have been stored on traditional storage in the first place, leading to a relatively smaller decline in revenue.

One question remains: is this a short term impact or more of a long running trend that will play out over the next decade or so? From my perspective, new applications spinning up on non-traditional storage is a long running threat to traditional NAS and SAN storage which will ultimately see traditional storage relegated to a niche. How big this niche will ultimately be and how well it can be defended needs to be the subject for another post?



SCI’s latest SPC-1&-1/E LRT results – chart of the month

(c) 2010 Silverton Consulting, Inc., All Rights Reserved
(c) 2010 Silverton Consulting, Inc., All Rights Reserved

It’s been a while since we reported on Storage Performance Council (SPC) Least Response Time (LRT) results (see Chart of the month: SPC LRT[TM]).  This is one of the charts we produce for our monthly dispatch on storage performance (quarterly report on SPC results).

Since our last blog post on this subject there have been 6 new entries in LRT Top 10 (#3-6 &, 9-10).  As can be seen here which combines SPC-1 and 1/E results, response times vary considerably.  7 of these top 10 LRT results come from subsystems which either have all SSDs (#1-4, 7 & 9) or have a large NAND cache (#5).    The newest members on this chart were the NetApp 3270A and the Xiotech Emprise 5000-300GB disk drives which were published recently.

The NetApp FAS3270A, a mid-range subsystem with 1TB of NAND cache (512MB in each controller) seemed to do pretty well here with all SSD systems doing better than it and a pair of all SSD systems doing worse than it.  Coming in under 1msec LRT is no small feat.  We are certain the NAND cache helped NetApp achieve their superior responsiveness.

What the Xiotech Emprise 5000-300GB storage subsystem is doing here is another question.  They have always done well on an IOPs/drive basis (see SPC-1&-1/E results IOPs/Drive – chart of the month) but being top ten in LRT had not been their forte, previously.  How one coaxes a 1.47 msec LRT out of a 20 drive system that costs only ~$41K, 12X lower than the median price(~$509K) of the other subsystems here is a mystery.  Of course, they were using RAID 1 but so were half of the subsystems on this chart.

It’s nice that some turnover in this top 10 LRT.  I still contend that response time is an important performance metric for many storage workloads (see my IO throughput vs. response time and why it matters post) and improvement over time validates my thesis.  Also I received many comments discussing the merits of database latencies for ESRP v3 (Exchange 2010) results, (see my Microsoft Exchange Perfomance ESRP v3.0 results – chart of the month post).  You can judge the results of that lengthy discussion for yourselves.

The full performance dispatch will be up on our website in a couple of weeks but if you are interested in seeing it sooner just sign up for our free monthly newsletter (see upper right) or subscribe by email and we will send you the current issue with download instructions for this and other reports.

As always, we welcome any constructive suggestions on how to improve our storage performance analysis.


SPECsfs2008 CIFS ORT performance – chart of the month

(c) 2010 Silverton Consulting Inc., All Rights Reserved
(c) 2010 Silverton Consulting Inc., All Rights Reserved

The above chart on SPECsfs(R) 2008 results was discussed in our latest performance dispatch that went out to SCI’s newsletter subscribers last month.  We have described Apple’s great CIFS ORT performance in previous newsletters but here I would like to talk about NetApp’s CIFS ORT results.

NetApp had three new CIFS submissions published this past quarter, all using the FAS3140 system but with varying drive counts/types and Flash Cache installed.  Recall that Flash Cache used to be known as PAM-II and is an onboard system card which holds 256GB of NAND memory used as an extension of system cache.  This differs substantially from using NAND in a SSD as a separate tier of storage as many other vendors currently do.  The newly benchmarked NetApp systems included:

  • FAS3140 (FCAL disks with Flash Cache) – used 56-15Krpm FC disk drives with 512GB of Flash Cache (2-cards)
  • FAS3140 (SATA disks with Flash Cache) – used 96-7.2Krpm SATA disk drives with 512GB of Flash Cache
  • FAS3140 (FCAL disks) – used 242-15Krpm FC disk drives and had no Flash Cache whatsoever

If I had to guess the point of this exercise was to show that one can offset fast performing hard disk drives by using FlashCache and significantly less (~1/4) fast disk drives or by using Flash Cache and somewhat more SATA drives.  In another chart from our newsletter one could see that all three systems resulted in very similar CIFS throughput results (CIFS Ops/Sec.), but in CIFS ORT (see above), the differences between the 3 systems are much more pronounced.

Why does Flash help CIFS ORT?

As one can see, the best CIFS ORT performance of the three came from the FAS3140 with FCAL disks and Flash Cache which managed a response time of ~1.25 msec.  The next best performer was the FAS3140 with SATA disks and Flash Cache with a CIFS ORT of just under ~1.48 msec.  The relatively worst performer of the bunch was the FAS3140 with only FCAL disks which came in at ~1.84 msec. CIFS ORT.  So why the different ORT performance?

Mostly the better performance is due to the increased cache available in the Flash Cache systems.  If one were to look at the SPECsfs 2008 workload one would find that less than 30% is read and write data activity and the rest is what one might call meta-data requests (query path info @21.5%, query file info @12.9%, create = close @9.7%, etc.).  While read data may not be very cache friendly, most of the meta-data and all the write activity are cache friendly.  Meta-data activity is more cache friendly primarily because it’s relatively small in size and any write data goes to cache before being destaged to disk.  As such, this more cache friendly workload generates on average, better response times when one has larger amounts of cache.

For proof one need look no further than the relative ORT performance of the FAS3140 with SATA and Flash vs. the FAS3140 with just FCAL disks.  The Flash Cache/SATA drive system had ~25% better ORT results than the FCAL only system even with significantly slower and much fewer disk drives.

The full SPECsfs 2008 performance report will go up on SCI’s website later this month in our dispatches directory.  However, if you are interested in receiving this report now and future copies when published, just subscribe by email to our free newsletter and we will email the report to you now.