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The Week In Storage: Mt. Micron Rumbles, Seagate Crumbles, Public Cloud Grumbles

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The week in storage included news from Zadara Storage that the company is updating its service with its ZIOS Intelligent Object Store, increased SSD capacity and Fibre Channel support. Zadara's platform now covers all the bases by offering object, file and block storage in on-prem deployments or private, public and hybrid clouds.

Nexenta and Canonical announced a new strategic collaboration that includes offering NexentaEdge in the Ubuntu Juju charm store, and SanDisk recently updated its InfiniFlash product line with 12 Gbps SAS, which effectively doubles its performance up to two million IOPS.

Mt. Micron Rumbles, Spews Forth Storage 

Two weeks ago we reported on Micron's first quarterly loss in 12 quarters, so it clearly isn't all crimson and roses in Boise, but the company held an encouraging press event this week.

We visited the Austin-based Micron Storage Solutions Center (MSSC) this week to learn about Micron's new products and its vision for the future. Jon Carter, VP of Storage Emerging Memory, set hearts aflutter when he strode down Mt. Micron with a stone tablet 3D XPoint wafer, but quickly tempered the excitement by revealing absolutely nothing. 

The industry is listening with rapt attention as one of the most exciting products in recent memory works its way to market, but Micron has its lips zipped. Not to be outdone, Intel also put on a 3D XPoint demo this week at IDF that told us absolutely nothing of value. The great thing about 3D XPoint, at least from the Intel and Micron viewpoint, is that it establishes a "captive market" that will spew big dollar signs in the long term. It sure is a frustrating experience for the rest of us.

Micron is also focusing on adding value at the system level for its customers with its Micron Accelerated Solutions, which are a promising trio of systems that will open new doors for the company. Micron selected Supermicro as its platform provider, which is a wise move that shields the company from storage system patent trolls while also enabling a very competitive pricing model.

Micron is even helping with challenges that are more granular by establishing a solutions center to help its customers tune their applications for flash. The company also introduced the new 9100 and 7100 Series NVMe SSDs at the event and announced that its new client SSDs with its impressive 3D NAND are headed to market this month.

Micron may have hit a bump in the road recently, but it has a clear vision and a war chest of new products to further its ambitions. The company has built an incredibly solid foundation that encompasses some of the most important components in computing - great things await.

Seagate Stock Crumbles

Seagate issued disappointing preliminary financial results yesterday. The company lowered its guidance by $100 million, which may foreshadow a third-quarter loss, and the ensuing stock meltdown was swift and violent.

The declining PC market is punishing the entire industry, but Seagate's worrying inability to forecast the market, and thus control costs, has its investors running. Seagate stock plummeted 19 percent, which was the largest single-day loss since it fell 24 percent in 2009 during the economic collapse, and the second-largest single day loss in company history. Seagate shed value by the billions; its market cap plunged from $10.39 billion to $7.58 billion.

The bloodletting continued today as Seagate was down another 5.61 percent to $22.59, which is a huge drop from the $55.96 it was trading at 12 months ago. WD also experienced a moderate drop as the stock market digested the relatively old news that the HDD market will likely never regain its previous luster.

WD has been busy stocking its HGST subsidiary with flash-centric acquisitions (to the point of product overlaps), and the recent addition of the SanDisk NAND fabs grants it full control of its flash strategy. In contrast, Seagate acquired the SandForce and Nytro assets from Avago to build out its flash-based product line but is relying upon its strategic alliance with Micron for access to flash.

Seagate will never be able to compete with the NAND fabs on price even with a strategic alliance, but it did have the advantage of its global sales channels and integrating the products into its own storage systems. However, the NAND fabs are either producing their own storage systems or enabling others with reference architectures, so that advantage is quickly evaporating.

The HDD industry is shifting from a high volume model (which is driven by selling as many low-margin units as possible), to selling high capacity and high-margin units. The transition is painful, but the HDD vendors claim it will be better over the long term.

SSDs are never going to supplant high capacity HDDs, but they are becoming an integral part of the storage industry at every level. Unfortunately, both of Seagate’s HDD competitors (WD and Toshiba) have NAND fabs, so there is little doubt that Seagate is actively exploring a fab purchase or merger.

This Week's Storage Factoid

Eighteen minutes, or the U.S. Government, is all it takes to shake our faith in the cloud to the core.

The goal of the cloud is for it to evolve into a public utility, such as water, gas or electricity. The meteoric rise of the cloud is fueling the economies of scale that will drive down pricing to a tenable level, but reliability and security remain two of the primary reasons that some are either avoiding the cloud entirely, or hedging their bets with hybrid implementations.

Reliability is king in the datacenter; all other concerns bow before it. Google's cloud crashed for 18 minutes this week, which is an eternity for mission-critical applications. Google's misstep, which is merely the latest in a string of outages, stemmed from a simple IP configuration error. Google, of course, has systems and redundancies built into multiple zones around the world to provide failover and redundancy--all of which were utterly useless as the bug spread across its entire global infrastructure, thus denying its users, and their customers, access for a seeming eternity.

Unfortunately, there are no legal requirements for cloud providers to publicly report the length and severity of outages, which makes it impossible for the broader public to gauge the overall reliability of the cloud. We can rest assured that for every reported outage, there are an untold number of localized sporadic outages known only to the end user.

Data security is another pothole in the road to the cloud, but many users also naturally assume that the cloud is more secure than their own infrastructure. This is arguably true; but not if your own government is sifting through your data with impunity.

Microsoft alleged in a lawsuit against the U.S. government that the Department Of Justice is routinely issuing warrants for users' data, which are followed by an eternal gag order that prevents the company from reporting the "breech" to its customers, forever. Microsoft noted that this is happening with more frequency.

Perhaps what is the most disconcerting is what is not happening. 

The government is certainly not limiting its warrant/gag order combination to Microsoft users alone; AWS, IBM, Google, Dropbox, Box, et al...where are your protestations? It seems odd that only Microsoft is complaining about this obvious abuse of power when there is little doubt it is occurring elsewhere. This leads one to wonder just how often it's happening, and what else is happening that we are not aware of yet.

Paul Alcorn is a Contributing Editor for Tom's Hardware, covering Storage. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.