Photo - KT Ong, GM, Commercial Business, Dell Malaysia
Experts like to talk about the big trends driving the storage industry-trends like automation, flash and convergence. Although these trends are important, there are just two points for storage professionals, CIOs and business executives to bear in mind: the accelerating growth of data to be stored, currently averaging 50 percent per year, and the limited storage budget increases for IT departments, currently averaging in the low single-digits. It's the classic case of having to do more with less, and more often than not, everything else becomes secondary.
So how do the big storage trends affect your ability to do more with less? According to a Forrester Consulting study conducted on behalf of Dell, the vast majority of IT organisations are seeking storage that is simpler to manage and uses automation to free up staff members for more-strategic tasks. The survey of 839 IT professionals showed that 74 percent of IT leaders and 66 percent of storage administrators believe that storing and managing data is too complex today.
The key findings revealed that storage is generally complex, hard to manage and expensive. Too often it is a drag on innovation. Provisioning times, cost effectiveness, accuracy of provisioning and responsiveness to business needs are the top four concerns, and organisations are willing to pay more for systems that reduce management complexity, saving them time and money in the long term. The Forrester data is supported by a new survey from the Enterprise Strategy Group, which reported that 42 percent of respondents to its annual spending intentions survey indicated that business process improvement is the most important consideration for justifying IT purchases.
For these reasons, storage vendors are placing a greater focus on automation and easier-to-manage storage environments to not only reduce storage complexity, but reduce costs as well. Example innovations include automated tiering, snapshots, virtual server and desktop integration/optimisation, and deduplication and compression as ways to apply additional under-the-covers automation to reduce overall costs.
Automated tiering helps customers manage data when and where they need it, and in the most cost-effective storage tier. According to Forrester, many organisations buy storage that's capable of more performance than they can ever consume because they aren't confident in their ability to measure and configure precise real-time demand for performance. Storage systems with automated tiering allow users to let the system determine the optimal tier for data workloads; over time, it will allow data to gravitate toward the media choice that best fits its actual needs and budget considerations.
Both as part or all of a storage array, in the server, or some combination of these, flash and other solid-state storage have been gathering momentum quickly as demand for faster response times increases and costs decrease. The number and type of these solutions will continue to expand as the technology gains broader acceptance, and we see value in flash in both external storage arrays and at the server-side, where flash cache can help reduce latency for key applications.
As traditional server and storage lines blur, there's an opportunity to apply automated tiering to server-side flash cache as part of a broader storage infrastructure with flash and various spinning disk types. Users can get the best of both worlds by placing data in server-side flash for some blocks while placing other blocks on the back-end storage system, either on SSD or rotating-disk drives.
One + One + One = Five
According to the aforementioned Forrester study, organisations see value in buying storage, other data centre technologies and services from one vendor. A total of 95 percent of IT leaders and storage admins indicated that they see value in buying storage from the same vendor from which they buy server, networking, system-management or IT services. Respondents indicated that a deeper relationship with a smaller number of vendors can build trust, provide technology synergies that ease management and streamline support relationships, making it easier to manage the big picture.
This brings us to the final major storage trend-convergence-which actually comes full circle, with automation and simplicity. A critical component of IT convergence is the desire to simplify operations and amplify IT productivity (i.e., automation). Gartner predicts that 30 percent of data centres will be converged within the next two to three years.
Convergence is a trend that iLand, a Houston-based cloud infrastructure-as-a-service provider, has embraced. The company is able to accommodate growing customer demand and scale resources rapidly by using the automated configuration capabilities of a converged solution. It thereby achieves up to five times faster infrastructure deployment, better leverages its IT staff and reduces operating costs by up to 37 percent.
Storage lines are blurring with server-side cache and, to a greater extent, with the convergence of IT components-servers, storage, software and networking-into a singularly managed system. One example is the blade form factor with the advent of blade arrays. By converging compute, switching and storage resources into a dense, self-contained form factor, blade arrays offer a range of capabilities, from basic disk arrays to highly automated, virtualised systems that can be customised to address specific applications and environments.
The driving force behind converged infrastructures is the opportunity to increase efficiency and agility in operations, applications and service management. Benefits include reduced cost of running applications, faster infrastructure deployments, simplicity and speed of management, and improved time-to-value for application and cloud deployments.
It's important to bear in mind that bundled solutions are not necessarily comprehensive ones, however. Although convergence and pre-integration-the grouping and packaging of servers, storage, networking and management-can help ensure infrastructure performance, reliability and quality, not all solutions are created or managed equally.
Blade arrays, a relatively new market entrant that puts SANs in a blade form factor next to blade servers in the same blade chassis, also can help organisations reduce operating costs through more-efficient use of switching resources, simplified cabling and consolidated management with chassis backplanes.
Convergence through enterprise-class storage blade arrays can offer the improved manageability and productivity typically associated with advanced external storage. Organisations can drive new levels of easier IT manageability into blade infrastructures by deploying a converged infrastructure such as this.
Innovative Solutions Can Make a Big Difference
Although Forrester reported that quantification of the precise total cost of purchasing and managing storage remains limited, interest has grown in managing soft costs such as organisational agility, application performance and business continuity, in addition to upfront acquisition costs. Respondents indicated a willingness to try new solutions, including software features, licensing models and innovative vendors, if they can deliver better long-term results, and they see innovative storage-management approaches as a way to improve the bottom line.
IT's appetite for change is huge: 85 percent of storage admins and IT leaders said they would consider buying a storage solution that costs more than a competitive solution but saves staff considerable work time; and 94 percent would like to see easier-to-use and highly automated storage features in their next storage-solution purchase.
Software licensing is one area where innovation can play a role. Forrester reported that 82 percent of IT leaders believe that a perpetual licence structure for storage software, which allows users to transfer software from old equipment to new equipment and receive updates at no additional charge, could reduce their storage total cost of ownership. This belief shows strong interest in this model and recognition that the traditional model can lead to high costs.
These aren't the only trends-or considerations-that will affect your storage environments and plans, but we believe they are the key drivers and should keep you busy for the foreseeable future. But whatever you do, don't forget about KSS: keeping storage simple(r) really does make (dollars and) sense.
KT Ong is general manager for Dell Malaysia's commercial business.
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