There is pent-up demand for solid-state disk technology as a successor to flash and hard-disk drives, with customers embracing high-performance solid-state disks to support growing data storage demands driven by cloud computing and analytics technologies.

More than half of the customers in the IBM survey (57%) responded that their organization needs to develop a new storage approach to manage future growth. The survey of 250 US IT professionals in decision-making positions was conducted by Zogby International in August 2011 on behalf of IBM.

The survey demonstrates a need for a new class of storage that can expand the market for solid-state drives (SSDs) by combining increased data delivery with lower costs and other benefits. Nearly half (43%) of IT decision-makers say they have plans to use SSD technology in the future or are already using it. Speeding delivery of data was the motivation behind 75 percent of respondents who plan to use or already use SSD technology. Those survey respondents who are not currently using SSD said cost was the reason (71%).

Anticipating these challenges years ago, IBM Research has been exploring storage-class memory, a new category of data storage and memory devices that can access data significantly faster than hard disk drives – at the same low cost.

Racetrack memory, a solid-state breakthrough technology, is a potential replacement for hard drives and successor to flash in handheld devices. A storage device with no moving parts, it uses the spin of electrons to access and move data to atomically precise locations on nanowires 1 000 times finer than a human hair. This technique combines the high performance and reliability of flash with the low cost and high capacity of the hard-disk drive. It could allow electronic manufacturers to develop devices that store much more information — as much as a factor of 100 times greater — while using less energy than today’s designs.

These new storage technologies could also alleviate critical budget, power and space limitations facing IT administrators. Today, an average transaction-driven data centre uses approximately 1 250 racks of storage, taking up 13 996 square feet and 16 343 kilowatts (kw) of power. By 2020, storage-class memory could enable the same amount of data to fit in one rack that takes up 11 square feet and 5,8kws of power.

“Technology shifts and market forces are fundamentally changing the composition and design of storage systems,” says Bruce Hillsberg, director of storage systems, IBM Research: Almaden. “Evolving current storage technologies alone would not answer customers’ diverse and rising data storage demands. We’re constantly researching new materials and processes to extend existing storage technologies and get ahead of the performance and capacity requirements of future systems.”

As part of its solid state research, IBM Research also invented a technology that makes it easier and more economical for clients to intelligently manage data in tiers. IBM’s currently available Easy Tier technology automatically moves the most active data (such as credit card transactions) to faster SSDs to prioritize and provide quick access to data for emerging workloads like analytics. The system moves secondary data (less urgent data to be saved, for example, for regulatory requirements) to more cost-effective storage technologies. This is an important technology in preventing what IBM characterizes as “SSD sprawl” or the overuse of the technology, helping clients use SSDs appropriately to maximise data access while keeping costs in check.

In the last year, IBM Research recorded a number of storage breakthroughs, including a 29-Gigabit per-square-inch tape demonstration; a world record of scanning 10-billion files on a single system in 43 minutes; and the creation of a 120-petabyte data system that is roughly 10 times larger than the biggest single data repository on record. In addition, IBM has introduced over five storage products within the last two years based on significant storage innovations from IBM Research.

The new survey also found that:

* Nearly half (43%) say they are concerned about managing Big Data;

* About a third of all respondents (32%) say they either plan to switch to more cloud storage in the future or currently use cloud storage;

* Nearly half (48%) say they plan on increasing storage investments in the area of virtualisation, cloud (26%) and flash memory/solid state (24%) and analytics (22%); and

* More than a third (38%) say their organisation’s storage needs are growing primarily to drive business value from data. Adhering to government compliance and regulations that require organizations to store more data for longer – sometimes up to a decade – was also a leading factor (29%).