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IDC: Why Midrange Storage Growth is Soaring

Andrew Buss
Research Director, IDC

April 25, 2022

It’s interesting to note that, while the overall external storage market continues to grow, over the next five years the fastest growing segment will be midrange storage.  There are very good reasons why more and more enterprises are choosing midrange storage systems as they move through digital transformation.

Many of the storage capabilities that traditionally set high end enterprise storage apart have migrated down into midrange offerings, making these systems more performant, scalable and highly available than ever before. And yet midrange systems have maintained their own characteristics that had traditionally set them apart from higher end offerings – lower cost and ease of use.

If you have high end systems coming up for technology refresh (which often happens in enterprises undergoing digital transformation), you may want to take a look at midrange offerings as a possible replacement. What you find may surprise you:

  • All NVMe systems. Proven for years in high end systems, NVMe is now available in many midrange storage platforms. Systems using NVMe technologies can deliver sub 100 microsecond latencies, millions of IOPS, and tens of gigabytes of throughput – all features you might have thought defined high end storage.  And all of that is available in compact systems that require as little as 2U of rack space.
  • Scale-out architectures. Add nodes to improve performance and extend capacity into the tens of petabytes, all while managing the entire configuration as a single system. And don’t overlook the importance of mixed node support as this provides the ability to accommodate multi-generational technology refresh without forced downtime or forklift upgrades.
  • Enterprise-class storage operating systems. Those vendors that support the same enterprise-class storage operating system across their portfolio bring proven, high end storage management capabilities to their midrange platforms. Having a common management paradigm and consistent set of capabilities across midrange and high-end systems also improves administrative productivity.

Historically, high end storage stood out for its resiliency and availability, making it the platform of choice for an enterprise’s most mission-critical workloads. Configurations like stretch clusters, used to ensure business continuity even in the face of site disasters, was an important capability for availability but traditionally only available on high end systems.  By cost-effectively leveraging the approaches used in high end systems, vendors can bring those same characteristics to their midrange systems.  Today, enterprises will find the stretch cluster capability on some of the more forward-thinking storage vendors’ midrange systems. While some vendors offer 100% data availability guarantees on their high-end systems, very few offer them on midrange systems. Among those that do, you’ll find midrange designs that pull from the vendors’ high-end systems, implement scale-out architectures, support high end features like stretch clustering, and use a common enterprise-class storage operating system across their product line.

Hitachi’s VSP E series is a midrange system in this mold.  And a recent Customer Spotlight document from IDC on Netic, a Hitachi Vantara customer for over a decade, validates the above narrative. As a hosting provider for business-critical IT operations in Aalborg, Denmark, Netic manages their customers’ on-premises private cloud infrastructure to stringent performance and availability SLAs (service-level agreements). After having worked with several established enterprise storage provider systems early on, Netic was introduced to Hitachi through their OEM agreement (back in the late 2000s) with Sun Microsystems. At that time Hitachi was the only enterprise storage vendor offering a 100% data availability guarantee, and Steen Jensen, the CEO of Netic, noticed a reliability difference in the Hitachi equipment (which had been installed under the Sun StorEdge brand) within the first year.  By 2009, Jensen began to purchase storage directly from Hitachi, working with their high-end storage systems for their customers’ most mission-critical workloads.

Although Netic’s initial Hitachi purchase was the Hitachi HUS VM, the hoster was introduced to Hitachi’s Storage Virtualization Operating System (SVOS) with their first Hitachi Vantara VSP purchase.  In 2019, Netic moved to support NVMe with the purchase of a Hitachi Vantara VSP 5000.  Intrigued by the introduction of Hitachi midrange VSP E series systems in 2020, Jensen saw them as a way to provide their customers with lower cost infrastructure without sacrificing performance or availability, and in particular liked the fact that they ran the same SVOS which Netic’s techs already knew and trusted.  Although Netic does run some other storage systems, SVOS-based arrays are the only ones the hoster trusts to perform upgrades on during the day. The E series clustering capability provides a seamless, non-disruptive growth path for Netic customers if and when they should need it. For more detail on how Netic evolved to the Hitachi VSP E series, see Hitachi Vantara Storage Reliability Critical to Danish Hosting Provider’s Success.

Over the last two decades, Hitachi storage has been known for its availability, a characteristic that includes making failures transparent, supporting high availability, ensuring data integrity, and delivering fast recovery. IDC research over the last several years consistently places availability among the top three purchase criteria for primary storage among enterprise buyers. With digital transformation highlighting the importance of big data analytics to day-to-day operations, the uptime of storage infrastructure to capture, store, protect and analyze data is becoming increasingly important.  Like many Hitachi customers, Netic relies on Hitachi’s proven ability to provide high availability and predictable performance across its product line from midrange to high end.

With the evolving capabilities of midrange storage, extremely high availability requirements can be associated with the workload, not the platform. This can help to reduce the cost of storage infrastructure for enterprises.  There is clearly still a need for high-end storage platforms though, particularly when enterprises want to consolidate workloads onto a single system whose combined throughput requirements are in the tens of millions of IOPS. The TCO associated with this kind of consolidation can be significant, depending on the scale at which it is executed.

To better understand the considerations enterprises should take into account when planning workload consolidation efforts, IT managers can review What to Look for When Considering Enterprise Storage Workload Consolidation (IDC #US48670822, January 2022).  This document provides useful tips regardless of whether enterprises are looking to consolidate around midrange or high-end storage systems.

Where are you on your journey to cost-effective and flexible storage? Are you still stuck in the noughties, or are you making a break for freedom? To learn more, read the IDC Market Spotlight


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Andrew Buss

Based in London, Andrew Buss is research director for IDC's European Enterprise Infrastructure program, with responsibility for research covering present and future trends impacting servers, storage and networking and IT service delivery.