A lot has happened in the data storage industry over the past 20 years, and Storage magazine has been there to chronicle the highlights every step of the way. In 2002, a storage industry institution was born under the name of Storage magazine launched its first Product of the Year competition. I was lucky enough to follow the POY – as current and former employees of the magazine call it – for about 15 years.

The idea was to reward the best data storage hardware and software available, but it wasn’t just another Editors’ Choice or a rewards program for users’ choice. POY has charted a different course in seeking to find the best of the best storage equipment. Our expert panel judged the products based on their latest iterations. In fact, one of the prerequisites to be considered for an award was that the product had been introduced or upgraded within the previous year. Twenty years later, this “what have you been up to lately” principle still underpins our award selections.

Including this year’s winners, Storage The magazine awarded 313 gold, silver and bronze honors to the products of the year, with these winners representing a history of diversity and excellence in networked storage.

The birth of a contest

Two decades ago, storage was just beginning to shed its image as a vapid supporting actor for servers, which were the stars of the network. But as shared storage systems have appeared in data centers, IT managers have seen storage in a different light: as an essential component of successful enterprise computing. IT professionals began to realize that network attached storage could play a strategic role in the data center, and it became a large and complex market that continued to evolve and innovate.

The first one Storage The magazine’s Product of the Year awards in 2002 recognized outstanding products from 14 different companies, with what was to become the usual mix of old suppliers and cutting-edge newcomers. Their offerings reflected the state of the data storage market at that time and how quickly storage technology had developed. Looking back, this first round of POY awards was notable because 13 of these companies were later acquired by other storage or system vendors, but also because Commvault – a little-known startup that had only deployed its first products than two years earlier – won gold for backup and disaster recovery software. This victory would prove to be a harbinger of the company’s longevity, as the 2002 gold medal was the first of seven awards for Commvault, including another gold medal in 2019.

Competitive trends and developments

Our annual competition reflects the growth of the storage industry and its products. In showcasing the 2005 disk and disk subsystem winners, we touted the 76.8 TB capacity of the gold-winning Xiotech Magnitude 3D 3000e, a capacity that today can be handled by just four high capacity hard drives. Flip the timeline 15 years and Vast Data – the 2020 disk and disk subsystem gold winner – had a maximum capacity of 1.35 petabytes, while the Dell EMC PowerStore silver winner had a capacity high-end 2.8PB. However, both are eclipsed by the 2020 Infinidat InfiniBox F6000 bronze winner with its potential single-rack capacity of 4.1PB.

We’ve also had our share of repeat winners like Commvault with his seven podium finishes. POY winners have provided the evolution of computing storage history with repeat winners that demonstrate not only their own growth, but the maturing of an increasingly sophisticated storage market. Over the years, EMC has won 11 Product of the Year awards in its various roles as a “native” storage vendor, an acquirer of other technologies such as Data Domain, and finally, an acquisition object for Dell. Technologies. But each year, newcomers reap their share of awards, often harbingers of the indelible marks they are destined to leave on storage technology. POY predicted the rise of rising storage stars like Asigra, Infinidat, Pure Storage and Veeam – to name a few – as these startups turn sparks of innovation into dominant market positions.

Storage Magazine’s Product of the Year awards have evolved over the past 20 years, from the print editions seen here to today’s online format.

And if you’re wondering how fast the storage market is changing, know that 11 of our recent winners didn’t exist when we launched our first products of the year. Our categories have also evolved to reflect how storage has evolved from a necessity to a key player in strategic planning. Two of today’s categories — cloud storage and hyperconverged and composable infrastructure — didn’t exist 20 years ago. In 2019, we decided to combine two of our original categories – Backup & Disaster Recovery Software and Backup & Disaster Recovery Hardware – into a single category of Backup Hardware, Software & Services and disaster recovery. Updated category title reflects integration of data protection processes and products and how data protection should job with today’s massive capabilities and ever-evolving threats.

I am proud to have participated in a dozen Storage magazine’s products of the year, and I continue to marvel at the diversity of products, from major network-attached storage systems to a vast ecosystem that not only deals with where data lives, but also how to protect, manage and ensure their accessibility. I am already looking forward to the 2022 competition.