Storage for IT companies today is being driven by the big trends such as automation, flash and convergence. The larger factors driving these trends are: 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.
Most IT professionals today feel that storage is too complex, hard to manage and expensive. According to a Forrester Consulting study conducted on behalf of Dell, the vast majority of IT organizations 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. Keeping up with the storage trends mean more benefits to organizations in terms of cost and efficiency.
Let the machines manage your data
According to the same Forrester survey, provisioning times, cost effectiveness, accuracy of provisioning and responsiveness to business needs are the top four concerns, and organizations are willing to pay more for systems that reduce management complexity, saving them time and money in the long term. 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. Some of the innovations that help companies do just this include automated tiering, snapshots, virtual server and desktop integration/optimization, and de-duplication 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. Many organizations 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.
The All-in-One Solution
According to the aforementioned Forrester study, organizations see value in buying storage, other data center 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 centers will be converged within the next two to three years.
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, virtualized systems that can be customized 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 organizations 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. Organizations can drive new levels of easier IT manageability into blade infrastructures by deploying a converged infrastructure such as this.
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. Organizations are realizing that in order to stay with the times, they need to change with the times and be willing to take risks to do so. 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.
-The author is VP and GM, Dell Storage