The Data Center Storage Evolution

By Floyd GoodrichMay 17, 2017

With the advent of disruptive technologies in the last few years, we’re seeing the data center environment transforming dramatically, giving rise to some interesting trends. How the storage technology has changed over the years, especially the way we deploy and manage storage in the data centers, is one of the key shifts the industry has witnessed. And it’s nothing short of fascinating when we look back at the evolution of storage — from magnetic tapes as a primary storage solution to spinning media, and now, next generation solid-state storage.

Looking back, it’s interesting to see how the storage technology over the past several decades has evolved and adapted to complex computing needs. Just like the computing landscape has moved forward from centralized mainframe and distributed client/server to centralized virtualization and distributed cloud compute, storage and memory technologies have also stepped forward and moved along the same lines between direct-attached media and distributed SAN implementations.

Also, the software technology and hardware configurations have transformed over the time as far as memory and storage are concerned. With the introduction of cutting-edge innovations in storage technology, there has been a radical change in the storage architectures as well as the way we make use of storage and deploy devices.

For instance, the spinning media disk drive was created in the early days of non-volatile data storage, and with it, storage interfaces like parallel and serial were developed to transfer data physically between the CPU and drive. Each of these storage interfaces was associated with one or more protocols to manage the data movement efficiently. The progression from spinning media to solid state storage is fairly recent but the adoption of this new technology is widespread in diverse operational fields across industry verticals. 

While there has been an emergence of various protocols since the early days of non-volatile memory, the two most dominant protocols were SATA/SAS (AHCI) and SCSI, exclusively designed for data access with spinning media. When storage media transitioned from spinning disks to the more advanced solid state drives (SSDs), two of these legacy protocols were put into use with the SSDs primarily as a compatibility play. It allowed the faster, new-generation solid-state drives to flawlessly integrate into the existing systems.

The persistent challenge, however, was that these interfaces and protocols were way too slow. Even though the performance of SATA and SAS increased over time, the protocols didn’t change much, limiting us from unleashing the full potential of SSD storage. 

Thanks to the cutting-edge innovations such as those brought by Micron – an industry-leader in memory and storage solutions — these legacy interfaces and protocols were finally tweaked to catch up with the rapid developments happening in the memory and storage space. There was PCIe to start with, which has been successfully integrated into computers as the principal general purpose IO bus for more than a decade. Despite the fact that PCIe provided an ideal interface to transfer data at “CPU speeds”, its early deployments still used the sluggish legacy SCSI protocol.

It is only in the last couple of years revolutionary technologies like NVM Express (NVMe) saw the light of the day, permitting us to harness the full advantages of the SSD storage media. NVMe was designed for highly-parallel IO, enabling the SSD architecture to implement more IO threads as compared to any other protocols before.

Being an international supplier of premium quality non-volatile storage products, Micron is taking a keen interest in the latest industry trends, particularly how the data centers of future will look like. The technology company firmly believes that transition to solid-state storage is almost inevitable to enable speed, performance, and reliability in data center ecosystems.

Micron’s high-performance NVMe products are accelerating the adoption of NVMe SSDs, as data centers are increasingly shifting to the new-age storage media in order to improve performance, lower the cost of ownership, and to stay ahead of the competition. 

Continuous innovations forged by pioneers like Micron will expedite the adoption of the existing technology as well as pave way for more evolutions like NVMe over Fabrics. Engineers at Micron are greatly excited about this next big thing and are working incessantly in association with the NVM Express® trade to make sure the company is well positioned and ready for the new revolution.