Servers called, and they want their disks back.

Until recently, there has been little debate about how to provide enterprise-class storage in the data center. Enterprise class storage arrays have ruled data storage for decades. However, distributed server-based storage systems emerged with comparable capability and growing market share. Does this mean we are looking at the death of the enterprise storage array?

The power of x86

There has been an onslaught of investment and new players in the market that Wikibon has labeled Server SAN. Server SAN is x86-based converged systems. These systems are capable of running traditional workloads such as VMware vSphere and providing enterprise-class storage services. It’s common to see Server SAN provide the enterprise performance and features expected from enterprise storage arrays at a fraction of the cost.

EMC ran a test of its ScaleIO solution within Amazon Web Services (AWS), and the results were impressive. The testing team drove close to 30Gpbs of traffic and nearly 1,000,000 IOPS via 400 AWS instances. EMC recently announced ScaleIO will be a free solution, with support being the only cost for customers.

EMC competitor Nutanix recorded 1,000,000 IOPS via 40 nodes. Nutanix has also reduced the barrier to entry by introducing a Community Edition (CE) of its platform. The CE solution would be used for proof of concepts in non-production environments and by enthusiasts in labratories.

Server SAN market growth

Wikibon predicts the compound annual growth (CAGR) of Server SAN at 44.2% and a CAGR of 17.8% for traditional enterprise storage when looking at projections for 2012-2027. According to Wikibon, Server SAN sales will overtake traditional enterprise storage by 2021 (Figure A). So, what does the growth of Server SAN mean to the typical enterprise data center manager?

Figure A

Target use cases

In most cases, Server SAN is being proved out in Tier 2 workloads. A common use case for Server SAN has been VDI and other read-heavy workloads. Another advantage to VDI is data locality; VDI workloads run on hypervisors. An integrated platform has performance advantages because compute and storage are tightly coupled. Data center manager should take a look at running read-heavy workloads on Server SAN.

Dedicated appliances such as those from Nutanix have been positioned to replace traditional arrays even for Tier 1 applications. Appliance vendors have provided use cases that include mission-critical installations of SAP.


Storage virtualization has enabled a new category of products that can offset or even replace traditional storage arrays. While Server SAN will not replace traditional storage arrays in entirety, it gives enterprises additional options.

Has your organization migrated to or considered Server SAN options, or are you still unsure whether you trust these systems? Let us know in the discussion.

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