The world of data storage is changing faster than it has since the mid-90’s amid the rise of hardware arrays and storage networks. Looking back 2008 will be seen as a pivotal year. The big news, in rough ascending order:

Though production-ready products are still in the future, the broad vendor embrace of Fibre Channel over Ethernet signaled the beginning of the end for the Fibre Channel physical layer. The storage companies who profited from a decade of Balkanizing the storage network market will have Cisco calling the shots.

Brocade, in particular, needs good strategy advice. Maybe one of these days they’ll get it.

Blu-ray tanks
Call me old-fashioned, but I have a soft spot for removable media. So I’m sorry to see Sony screw the pooch with Blu-ray’s big-studio-friendly licensing and hate-the-customer DRM. And sinking the PS3 as well.

The good news: you can put HD content on a standard DVD – just not as much; and there’s an upscaling dvd player – the Oppo Digital DV-983H that upscales ordinary DVDs to near Blu-ray quality. Yes, even better than the upscaling on a Blu-ray player. One less reason to pay the Blu-ray tax.

2.5″ drives
Rumor has it that Seagate is designing its last generation of 3.5″ drives, which augurs the switch to SFF in desktop and enterprise systems. 3 years ago 2.5″ drives were 1/5th the capacity; today the gap is 1/3 the capacity and a much smaller price differential.

At some point it will occur to Seagate’s top management that 1.8″ and 2.5″ drives are the disk industry’s best answer to flash. Now, if Seagate were in the I/O business, it would be a different story.

Zero-maintenance storage
Xiotech and Atrato introduced storage boxes that guarantee capacity, performance and uptime with no maintenance for 5 and 3 years respectively. These are storage game-changers.

That Seagate sold ISE to Xiotech after spending years developing it has to be one of their biggest blunders ever, several notches above buying Xiotech in the first place. The ISE is, in effect, a super disk that Seagate could have sold to all its enterprise disk customers.

2008 is the year that every major vendor – with the laudable exception of laser-focused WD – announced alliances and/or plans to enter the flash drive market. High-end SSDs will displace 15k high-end disks in the next 3 years.

But flash-in-disk-clothing is the near/medium-term solution. Fusion-io and Violin are on the winning architectural track. Flash belongs between the CPU and disk layers: that’s where we’ll get the most benefit for the added cost.

Hey, disk vendors: want to stick it to Intel, Micron and Samsung? Buy one of them. You are in the I/O business, not the disk business.

Commodity-based cluster storage
EMC’s Atmos, HP’s Extreme Storage 9100 and IBM’s XIV are commodity-based cluster storage. The important thing is the storage mainstream has embraced storage clusters based on commodity hardware and mostly open-source software. That’s what Google did years ago and soon many companies will.

Yes commodity hardware saves real money, as I and Bill Mottram of Data Mobility Group found out when we ran the numbers on HP’s 9100 vs Isilon, NetApp and Sun. We’ll see if Atmos is on the latest EMC price list when I do the updates later this month.

The StorageMojo take
2009 will be a great year for the hungry and flexible. The ongoing financial train wreck is trouble for Big Iron fans in the data center.

Fortunately, help is on the way. Look for my 2009 forecast before the end of 2009.

Courteous comments welcome, of course. Of the companies mentioned I’ve done work for HP and Fusion-io.