Top Data Storage Vendors for 2021

eWEEK TOP COMPANIES: Here are the best data storage companies in enterprise IT, as compiled by eWEEK and using various analysts as guides.

storage vendors

Whether on premises in hardware or in a cloud, next-generation enterprise data storage is all about systems providing the correct data protection for users while at the same time maintaining data privacy for stakeholders at all levels. These requirements are the same for any size enterprise. In this article, eWEEK looks at the world’s top suppliers of data storage hardware.

According to the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Enterprise Storage Systems Tracker, released Dec. 8, global market revenue for enterprise external OEM storage systems declined 1.4% year over year to nearly $6.8 billion during the third quarter of 2020 (3Q20). The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic is largely to blame for the numbers decline, analysts agree. Yet total external OEM storage capacity shipped was up 9.6% year over year to 18.9 exabytes during the quarter. Go figure.

Dell Technologies was the largest external enterprise storage systems supplier during the quarter, accounting for 28.8% of worldwide revenue. HPE/New H3C group finished second with a 10.8% share. NetApp and Huawei tied for third place in the market with shares of 9.4% and 9.4%, respectively. Hitachi and IBM finished fifth and sixth with market shares of 5.6% and 4.6%, respectively.

Other in the worldwide top 10, according to analysts that include Gartner Research, included Veritas, Pure Storage, Hitachi Vantara and Infinidat. Kioxia (formerly Toshiba) and Equinix, the fast-growing data center company, are among those on the bubble of the top 10.

Storage, along with computing and networking, is one of the three fundamental components of IT: You can’t stay in business without it, whether you’re storing data in machines on your campus or in the cloud. All of these companies offer both of these options, but we're focusing on physical on-premises solutions in this article.

Best in the world

Vendor reputation is huge in this sector; most companies tend to buy replacements from the original vendor they choose, usually because of efficiency reasons. All of the companies below have improved their security performance over the years, thanks largely to the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI), automation and multi-level security schemes that are now in favor in the markets.

The companies on this list own in aggregate about 90 percent of the enterprise data storage hardware market. They also all have connected their cloud storage options to their hardware.

Here are eWEEK’s top storage vendors of for 2021 and beyond, based on revenue, number and quality of products, reputation and innovation track record.

Dell EMC

Round Rock, Texas

Value proposition for potential buyers: EMC had been the world data storage market-share leader for 12 straight years until Dell acquired it in October 2015 for $67 billion, the largest IT acquisition deal up to that time. So it’s no surprise that the combined Dell EMC remains the market leader with 29 percent of the world data storage hardware sales in 2020, which turned out to be $1.9 billion in Q3 2020. If your product is selling, and you have nearly 30 percent of the world data storage monetary pie (which is estimated to be about $28 billion in 2020), then you can legitimately celebrate being No. 1. Dell EMC, largely because it is always evolving its technology, will be very tough for anybody to unseat at No. 1 for the next few years at least.

The merged company has continued to maintain its storage hardware leadership legacy by remaining No. 1 in the external enterprise storage systems market, essentially the arrays that make up a storage area network and/or network-attached storage network. Product lines of note include PowerVault ME4 and SC Series Primary Storage, EMC Unity hybrid-flash storage arrays for block and file storage and Isilon NAS storage.

Key values/differentiators:

  • Wide variety of choices for medium-size and large systems. An enterprise buyer can spend a long time going through all the choices offered by Dell EMC. Individual systems can range from $10,000 and spend into the millions of dollars. Company product “counselors” can assess older systems and suggest digital transformation.
  • PowerVault ME4 Series: ME4 Series is purpose-built and optimized for SAN/DAS simplicity and accelerated performance.
  • SC Series: Automated hybrid-to-all-flash storage solutions offer modern architecture and affordable performance for organizations of all sizes. This represents the future of enterprise storage.
  • EMC Unity hybrid-flash storage arrays for block and file storage, great for specific types of use cases involving big data sets, such as genomics, credit-card data and government agency information.
  • Heavy-duty linear storage: Dell EMC has Isilon NAS storage, which has been a mainstay of movie producers for more than a decade. This is because it moves heavy video and computer-generated image files straight to and from a preconfigured destination in a very fast dedicated network. Most movie producers and CTOs have selected Isilon as their movie production storage favorite.
  • SC series arrays and the enduring VMAX and VXRail product lines.
  • Support: Considered high-level, due to Dell and EMC’s longtime reputation of listening to customers.

To take under advisement: Dell EMC is the largest storage company in the world, thus new customers will have to endure various layers of administration before they determine which people they actually need to deal with. This is par for the course in any large enterprise IT sector, so don’t take it personally.

Who uses it: A wide variety of SMBs, mid-range companies, large enterprises, government agencies, the military and scientific organizations; used by storage admins, CTOs, CIOs, chief data officers
How it works: subscription cloud services, physical on-premises arrays
For more information, go here.

HPE/New H3C Group

San Jose, Calif.  |  Austin, Texas  |  Hangzhou, China

Value proposition for potential buyers: HPE Storage is now partnering with Chinese networker H3C, which is the exclusive provider of HPE servers, storage and associated technical services in China. This has widened HPE’s sales opportunities greatly in the world’s most populous country.

H3C offers a full portfolio of digital infrastructure products, spanning across compute, storage, networking, security and related domains, and providing a comprehensive one-stop digital platform that includes cloud computing, big data, interconnectivity, information security, new safety, internet of things (IoT), edge computing, artificial intelligence (AI) and 5G, as well as end-to-end technical services. 

HPE Storage, the umbrella portfolio of HPE storage products, aims to be a one-stop shop for all things storage, competing directly with Dell EMC, NetApp, IBM and Huawei. The list includes the full gamut of data storage products: arrays, high-end enterprise online storage, near-online (nearline) storage, storage networking, archiving, deduplication and storage software. H3C has added networking expertise, design and manufacturing.

HPE has developed many industry-first storage technologies to simplify network storage. The company is a proponent of converged storage, which is storage architecture that combines storage and compute into a single entity.

Key values/differentiators:

  • Reputation: HPE hasn’t been in business since 1939 without being a dependable provider of IT hardware and software to its customers. It is one of the three longest-surviving storage companies in the world; the others are Iron Mountain (physical data storage) and IBM. It has an excellent repeat-business record.
  • H3C adds networking hardware, software and services: HPE always has networking capabilities but was never able to overcome Cisco Systems’ huge lead in the enterprise market. H3C gives HPE the opportunity to sell outside the U.S. and perhaps inside, as well.
  • Large product set: HPE has literally hundreds of storage products in its portfolio from which to choose. It can be overwhelming if you haven’t done your homework on what system you really need for your use cases.
  • AI everywhere: HPE has taken a leadership position in getting AI and machine learning in or at least near every storage package it sells. This is because AI means automation, and automation means ease of use and intelligent execution of storage strategies.
  • Memory-driven flash arrays: These are relatively expensive, but their performance is about as fast as you’re going to get. If you have the budget, require the performance to complete the desired UX (user experience) and the use case fits, flash is the approach to pursue.
  • Support: Generally considered excellent all around. This has been a hallmark of HPE since the beginning.

To take under advisement: HPE may not have quite the number of product options companies such as Dell EMC and IBM have, but it’s working on providing them, and H3C is helping greatly in the China market.

Who uses it: Midrange to large enterprises are the sweet spots for the company; used by storage admins, IT managers, CTOs
How it works: subscription cloud services, physical on-prem arrays and servers
For more information, go here.

NetApp

Sunnyvale, Calif.

Value proposition for potential buyers: NetApp, long ago considered simply a “good little file-server company,” is now a full-service data management platform for cloud and on-premises systems. It is the largest pure-play independent storage company on the planet. NetApp long ago left its reputation as a storage provider for small and midrange companies to become an international-level storage player and is listed in the top four of storage revenue leaders with 9.4 percent of the world market, tied with Huawei. The company has more than 100 kinds of storage hardware devices for data centers in its product list; they are all connected by a common operating system and are designed to plug in and work together on demand.

Key values/differentiators:

  • Hyper-converged all-flash arrays: NetApp HCI is designed to accelerate digital transformation with the high-performing, lowest-cost all-flash hyperconverged infrastructure.
  • High-end arrays: NetApp Cloud Volumes offer extreme data-movement performance and advanced data management in the data center for hybrid and private clouds.
  • AFF all-flash array: Speeds up everything with its cloud-connected, fully non-volatile memory (NVMe)-enabled architecture. Any type of storage that uses such a schema will be among the fastest available.
  • Hybrid cloud is a mixed computing, storage, and services environment made up of on-premises infrastructure, private cloud services, and one or more public clouds. The primary benefit of a hybrid cloud infrastructure is agility. NetApp can help build a modern hybrid cloud that unifies your infrastructure and frees your data to move where it needs to be, so your data-centric business can adapt and change direction quickly in the name of gaining competitive advantage. 
  • Support: NetApp is well-known for its personalized support and go-out-of-their-way-to-help approach to working with customers on installation and maintenance of its systems.

Who uses it: SMBs, midrange to large enterprises; used by infosec personnel, storage admins, CTOs, CIOs
How it works: subscription cloud services, physical on-prem arrays
For more information, go here.

Huawei

Shenzhen, China

Value proposition for potential buyers: Huawei told journalists back in 2015 that it would be breaking into the U.S. data storage market top three vendors by 2018. Well, that didn’t happen, but here in 2020, it has squeezed into the top five, which still is pretty impressive, considering all the sharks in the water around it. 

Huawei is not primarily a storage provider; it is a Chinese multinational networking and telecommunications equipment and services company headquartered in Shenzhen, Guangdong. Like its counterparts Verizon, AT&T, Orange and others, Huawei built its own data centers years ago, and, with the advent of data center converged servers, networking and storage, found out that it now has lots of data center real estate it could put to work. It has used much of that capacity for storage and has been producing massive amounts of storage hardware and software for enterprises. Their biggest advantage? You guessed it: Pricing, for both hardware and software.

Huawei has been in hot water with the United States since at least 2018, when it was accused of intellectual property theft and espionage. That concern led to a ban blocking U.S. companies from using its networking equipment on 5G wireless networks.

While the ban had nothing to do with its storage or other lines of business, Huawei is widely believed to have been hurt, both in terms of sales and reputation. Nonetheless, it forged ahead and concentrated on its storage hardware business, and it has been very competitive as a result.

While all of the market leaders -- EMC, HPE and NetApp -- now provide plenty of solid-state storage options for their customers, they also have a lot of older, established customers that have used spinning-disk storage for years and haven't moved as fast to new-gen storage as newer companies have. Huawei hopes to swoop in and entice some of those legacy customers to upgrade their systems in 2021 with new-gen--and cheaper--equipment from their menus. We’ll see what happens.

Key values/differentiators:

  • Major-league customers: The company provides enterprise data-storage solutions to entities in both public and private sectors, such as the People's Bank of China and e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding. 
  • The company’s Dorado all-flash storage broke a processing speed record in 2020 for SPC-1 Performance with 21 million SPC-1 IOPS with data reduction enabled. Then again, all market leaders in this category claim speed records of some sort each year.

New 2020 products in Huawei's OceanStor Storage series include:

  • The OceanStor Dorado Series has FlashLink 2.0 technology, including enhanced NVME Over Fabric (N0F) and intelligent disk controller collaboration.
  • The OceanStor Pacific Series, designed for mass data processing scenarios, has a new design to help address mass storage issues around center of gravity and heat dissipation. Huawei claims that it achieves 30% resource utilization improvements and up to 62.5% footprint reduction in equipment rooms with the intelligent EC algorithm, vNode hardware architecture, multiprotocol interworking and decoupled storage-compute solution.
  • FusionCube 500 is a new edge data storage processor designed for smaller environments. The product integrates compute, storage, network, security and artificial intelligence (AI) functionality in a 5U space.
  • Huawei Data Management System (DMS), intended to simplify data management while making it more intelligent, uses AI along with data management engine software to streamline data exchange, provide analytics and provide full lifecycle management.
  • The OceanStor data protection appliance makes copies of data immediately after mounting so backup storage can directly take over production, according to Huawei. The company says this reduces recovery time objective (RTO) from hours to minutes. Huawei recommends using the appliance in combination with read-only and write-once Blu-ray storage discs.

Who uses it: Midrange to large multinational enterprises; used mostly by countries in the Far East. 
How it works: subscription cloud services, physical on-prem arrays, flash media.
For more information, go here.

IBM

Armonk, N.Y.

Value proposition for potential buyers: Three years ago, IBM announced a major initiative into NVMe-based (non-volatile memory-based) storage in a bid to keep moving the enterprise storage performance forward. Now, with the engineering might and full force of the global organization behind it, IBM has gone full-force into flash storage along with containers and microservices development and is equipping all its data centers around the world with this super-fast data-moving storage tech.

When IBM makes a move like this, businesses -- and competitors -- notice. And when Big Blue does decide to make a move into a particular market like this, you know it will do it with the full force and ability of its international brand.

Key values/differentiators:

  • Reputation: Once a company buys IBM, it often doesn’t waver in buying it again. All the major providers on this list have loyal clients, and it’s because these vendors take good care of the customers they have.
  • Large product line: As one might imagine, a potential customer can sit down with an IBM rep and pore over hundreds of storage options; this means that customers can virtually design their own custom systems from the vast product lines IBM owns. You get what you pay for, however; the more customized a system is, the more expensive it will likely be.
  • IBM Storage for AI and big data: Enabled with cloud and container connectivity, IBM storage for AI and big data simplifies infrastructure and optimizes efficiency with faster, massively scalable results from edge to inference.
  • Hybrid cloud storage: Container-enabled enterprise storage, deployed seamlessly across on-premises and hybrid cloud storage environments, helps users reduce complexity.
  • Cloud Pak and Container Storage: Protect enterprise data with persistent storage services for containers with IBM Spectrum Storage family and Red Hat offerings to simplify the deployment of IBM Cloud Paks, enabling a faster and more reliable way to modernize and move to the cloud.
  • Next-gen data protection: Data backup and recovery solutions fortify cyber resilience and data protection to ensure uptime and help systems applications, VMs, and containers in hybrid cloud environments achieve 100% compliance.
  • Support: Considered very good for a large company, but still not in the class of NetApp or HPE. It’s a humongous organization.

To take under advisement: IBM wants to let everyone know that it can handle any size of business, and it can. But for a smaller local company, it probably would be overkill to invest in an IBM storage hardware solution. Also, because IBM has so many other businesses and does not concentrate on storage only, it may be a little difficult to navigate through to the right company representative—at least at first.

Who uses it: Midrange to large enterprises only; used by storage admins, IT managers, CTOs
How it works: subscription cloud services, physical on-premises services
For more information, go here.

Pure Storage

Mountain View, Calif.

Value proposition for potential buyers: Six years ago, Pure Storage was one of the first startups to bet its future on NAND flash storage exclusively, which put it in the driver’s seat for what turned out to be the true future of storage. The company is now a leader in Gartner’s highly respected Magic Quadrant. 

Pure Storage competes with its NVMe-based products, FlashArray//X and the lower-cost, lower-performance FlashArray//C. Pure Storage is completely channel-driven and operates mostly in North America, with about one-third of its business international. The vendor caters mainly to the enterprise market and across all verticals, offering its modern data experience predicated on simplicity, flexibility and AIOps capabilities. In the last 12 months, Pure Storage introduced FlashArray//C, targeted for application consolidation and long-term data retention use cases. It also announced Cloud Block Store, which offers a cloud-native storage solution for workloads deployed in AWS.

“Pure has had a revolutionary impact on the business, completely changing our mindset and how the cloud storage team functions. The storage experience freed us up to be more creative. It was a magical transformation,” said Keith Martin, Senior Director, Cloud Capacity Engineering at ServiceNow.

Key values/differentiators:

  • Pure’s platform is known as Airi, which uses NVIDIA DGX servers, Arista network infrastructure and Pure Storage Flashblades. 
  • There are currently three versions of Airi that range from 2 PFlops of performance to 4 PFlops and 119  TB of flash to 374 TB. 
  • All three versions of Airi are single-chassis systems. The newest ones are multi-chassis systems where multiple Airis can be daisy chained together to create a single, larger logical unit.
  • Both can accommodate up to 30x17 TB blades. One version uses up to 9 NVIDIA DGX-1 systems for a total compute capacity of 9 Pflops. The other can be loaded up with up to 3 NVIDIA DGX-2 systems for a total processing capability of 6 Pflops per unit. The new units use Mellanox’s (recently acquired by NVIDIA) 100 Gig low-latency Ethernet.
  • Pure Storage also has an AI-optimized version of Flashstack, which is its engineered system using Cisco UCS servers and Nexus data center switches. The new Flashstack for AI uses the Cisco UCS C480 M5 ML AI servers that is optimized for deep learning. The server contains up to eight NVIDIA Tesla V100 GPUs that use the NVLink interconnect to make the eight processors work like a single, massive GPU. Flashstack uses Cisco’s 100 Gig Nexus storage and Pure’s Flashblade system.
  • Pure Storage has standardized on its internally developed NVMe drive technology supported by nondisruptive migrations and customer-friendly business programs. Customers report high customer satisfaction due to ease of use and flexible cloud-like consumption programs.
  • The FlashArray//C is a QLC 3D NAND-capable array offering more aggressive price points and higher capacities compared to FlashArray//X, and is offered as an alternative to HDD-based and hybrid storage arrays.

Who uses it: Midrange to large enterprises
How it works: physical on-prem arrays; storage cloud services
For more information, go here.

Veritas

Santa Clara, Calif.

Value proposition for potential buyers: Veritas has a lot of loyal customers around the world. This is a long-established, highly trusted data storage provider with a long list of clients, including the U.S. government, the military, scientific installations and health care providers. The company went private in 2015 and separated from Symantec following a rocky 10-year relationship with the data security provider, and it's turned out to be a good thing. Founded in 1983 by Eli Alon and Dale Shipley (both from Intel) and Stanford professor and entrepreneur Mark Leslie as Tolerant Systems, Veritas was one of the first providers of data backup and recovery, now a required feature in all storage. It has a global clientele of about 55,000 customers.

Key values/differentiators:

  • Finding the right data: Veritas includes extensive cataloging capabilities that enable granular recovery of data. Customers can use the snapshotting technology to find specific pieces of information and restore it in seconds—right down to a single file.
  • Advanced disaster recovery: Organizations can easily replicate data between regions of the same cloud (intra-cloud replication), advancing disaster recovery efforts. Customers can also set policies so that snapshots are taken automatically at set intervals.
  • High-end data backup: Veritas NetBackup 8.0, the company's flagship data protection solution for enterprises, now provides storage tiering in Microsoft Azure, which improves data lifecycle management by optimizing the movement of data. This lowers costs for enterprises and provides increased operational benefits of Azure while reducing the need to deploy additional storage with a separate point product.
  • Snapshot management: Veritas CloudPoint 2.0 features new-generation snapshot management and orchestration technology that uses Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud native snapshots. Adding extensive data-protection capabilities gives users new ways to replicate, search and classify their data.
  • Supporting popular workloads and multi-cloud/hybrid-cloud environments: Veritas supports a wide array of workloads and applications, including Microsoft SQL Server, MongoDB, VMware and Oracle. It also supports an array of multi-cloud environments, giving customers choice with consistent data protection alternatives across the board with just one intuitive, centralized dashboard.
  • Support: Veritas has an excellent reputation in this area.

To take under advisement: Veritas has long been the kind of company that relies more on word-of-mouth than on heavy duty marketing and advertising. Thus, it doesn’t have the overall visibility that many of the companies on this list have. But that doesn’t negate the quality of the products and services it offers.

Who uses it: Midrange to large enterprises; used by storage admins, IT managers
How it works: physical on-prem arrays, subscription cloud services
For more information, go here.

Hitachi Vantara

Santa Clara, Calif.

Value proposition for potential buyers: Hitachi Vantara, which began in September 2017 as a wholly owned subsidiary of the global Hitachi Ltd., is finding its footing and exhibiting its own storage-business personality. The corporate move hooked up Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) with Pentaho and the Hitachi Insights Group to create a subsidiary focused on data integration, internet of things (IoT), big data analytics and enterprise storage. This is now a formidable competitor to the top four companies in this list.

Key values/differentiators:

  • Combining strengths in storage tech: Vantara boasts solutions that “grow with your business” and can scale to 69PB and 21M IOPS. HDS storage systems live on in the form of the company's Hitachi NAS Platform and G Series arrays. This is much more than just an organizational update. Hitachi Vantara is essentially a new company resulting from the convergence of HDS, Hitachi Insight Group and Pentaho. The new entity combines Hitachi's 108-year experience in operational technology with 59 years of IT expertise, providing data management for business insight.
  • Newest products: HV's new all-flash VSP F series and hybrid-flash VSP G series systems offer an agile data infrastructure with up to three times more IOPS performance and 2.5X greater scalability than previous versions. Improved cloud and container integration allow more workloads to run on a single system while helping to eliminate data silos and supporting new workloads, HV said.
  • Hybrid is the trend here: The new enterprise-class Hitachi VSP models include the all-flash VSP F700 and VSP F900 and the hybrid flash VSP G700 and G900 systems. To reach a broader range of customers, Hitachi is introducing new midrange models: the VSP F350, F370, G350 and G370 systems. These systems are powered by the next generation of the Hitachi Storage Virtualization Operating System, SVOS RF, which has been rearchitected for increased performance, scalability and data efficiency.
  • Creative pricing: All new VSP systems are backed by Hitachi's new flat-charge service model and come with a foundation software package that includes the company's infrastructure analytics and copy data management software.
  • Support: Overall considered very good, but some people believe this is a work in progress.

To take under advisement: Hitachi has a global reputation for good quality hardware; not so much for software and services. It has never been up to the quality/performance levels of the three or four leaders in this segment, but it is trying to remake its legacy with Vantara, and it is indeed making strides toward the top of this list.

Who uses it: SMB,midrange to large enterprises; used by storage admins, IT managers
How it works: physical on-prem arrays, subscription cloud devices and arrays
For more information, go here.

Infinidat

Herzliya, Israel  |  Waltham, Mass.

Value proposition for potential buyers: Infinidat is among the leaders in the Gartner Magic Quadrant. Its primary storage portfolio consists of InfiniBox, which is characterized by its high-capacity and performance capabilities and resilient storage architecture. The vendor made three major operating system updates to its platform during the evaluation period; notable enhancements include the introduction of active-active replication, concurrent three-site replication, a new Kubernetes CSI drive, and security enhancements. Infinidat’s operations are focused in North America, Europe, South Africa and Japan, and its clients tend to be very large enterprises and service providers.

Key values/differentiators:

  • In a large, multi-PB-scale environment, the Infinidat hybrid storage array provides customers with a storage solution optimized for both price and performance.
  • Product adoption among global Fortune 1000 customers and service providers is relatively high due to its 100% availability guarantee, high level of customer satisfaction, ease of management and DRAM/flash-optimized performance.
  • Infinidat Elastic Pricing, a hybrid capital expenditure (capex)/opex pricing model, enables customers to instantly activate additional capacity on either a purchase or rental basis.
  • Infinidat’s multi-PB architecture is not ideally suitable for enterprises that require less than 250TB of storage.
  • Infinidat does not offer an SSA solution, which limits its consideration among customers that view SSA as a requirement.
  • The vendor has a limited direct presence in emerging markets; customers in these regions must work with a credible Tier 1 Infinidat partner to ensure adequate post-sales support.

For more information, go here.

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Other key international players: Oracle, Fujitsu, WD, Tegile, Kaminario

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 15 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...