The digital storage world changes as the times do. How data is stored and where we use it isn’t exactly the same as it was 10 years ago, let alone even a few years ago. For trends in 2022 multiple things are in play from technological advances to our data storage needs as well as general market forces. Here’s 4 storage tech trends to watch this year.
All the storage tech out there is mainly a result of one key driving force: the amount of data that needs storing! It keeps going up and up as our daily need to access and use big data records in business and rich media like photos and video in entertainment and our connected internet lives continues to explode. Whatever ways the underlying technologies in both disk drives and flash memory are advancing the number of actual devices and their storage capacities needs to continue meeting demand.
Shipped drives numbered over 250 million in 2021 and even with a small decline in HDD shipments this year, improved ability to store higher capacities that means we’re talking more exabytes of shipped capacity (1000 EB is 1 Zettabyte). In 2020, 1.08ZB of capacity was shipped. In 2021, projections were up 32% to 1.43ZB. That means drive capacity is on track for upwards of 6ZB by 2026!1
HDDs and SSDs have been rivals for a number of years in a constantly changing usage and cost landscape. HDDs have experienced a boost in sales due to the sudden increase in work-from-home and remote environments during pandemic times the last 2 years. However, SSDs which have consistently struggled to achieve price parity have been coming down gradually and are becoming more and more popular on consumer devices. They will continue to replace HDDs as the go-to device for performance and quick access.
That means data center use and higher capacities is the growth area for HDDs. Various techniques are being implemented by the main manufacturers to assist with magnetic recording. Lasers, microwaves and various energy-based mechanisms have been edging their way into the drives used for mass-storage. Seagate expects 30TB drives to be possible by next year. Physically, the space in hard disks can only fit so many read-write heads but the possibility of dual-actuators means twice the data rate out of every operation. This will help keep drives on their feet in the face of more and more data.
SSDs continue to cement their position as the main storage device for actively used data due to unmatched performance and lowering costs. The main technology in use is NAND flash memory (which turns 35 this year) and most developments in the area focus on increasing capacities. This is achieved by adding more layers of chips or making things smaller than the very small scale they already are. A number of firms like Micron, WDC and Kioxia have announced plans for layer increases. Another technology, NVMe has become the dominant interface for solid-state devices. This enables fast throughput and things like storage networking which will allow exploration of computational storage (using storage to actually help with the processing of big data). Other electronics advances that incorporate smaller transistors and memory cells are making their way into devices which leads to different advantages including higher capacities and lower prices.
Flash memory and SSDs have permeated all enterprise and data center storage but also play a key role in consumer devices from PCs to cell phones. The variances in technologies used all comes down to what advantages are required in each space. Different sectors require different levels of performance and storage such as datacenters needing fast access, while cell phones require more storage but not at the risk of battery consumption. Either way as the architectures change and evolve flash memory continues to find ways to follow.
How we work and learn in pandemic times has directed the storage focus to remote environments and data access. This means cloud connectivity and storage have ramped up the last two years and will continue to. Improving data centers to accommodate remote work through speed and storage capacities also means investments in data center efficiency will be important. The scale of data centers is enormous now and the demand on them equally large. The ability to use flash memory technologies like NVMe to enable quality networked storage may pass from traditional SSDs to HDDs also in datacenter use. With big data living in cloud locations and workers needing to be able to do analysis and process large things will required computation abilities via artificial intelligence (AI) in storage systems. And all this data being accessed and worked with remotely needs to be secure. Rapid response mechanisms to recover from inevitable ransomware and cyberattacks means storage locations not only need protection but maybe ability to exist and move between distant clouds and closer, more private sites.