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Three Advances in Enterprise Storage Transforming the Ownership Experience

Enterprise expectations for their technology infrastructures have changed significantly over the last five years. Happily, advances in storage technology are meeting those new expectations. This article identifies three advances in enterprise storage that are transforming the storage ownership experience.
Advances in enterprise storage that are transforming the ownership experience include:

  • New storage acquisition and deployment options
  • Non-disruptive upgrades
  • Predictive analytics and proactive support

Transformational Advances in Storage Acquisition and Deployment Options

Enterprise storage vendors are offering new storage acquisition and deployment options that give their customers greater flexibility in how they acquire, deploy and manage storage. These capabilities are influenced by public cloud models and multi-cloud operational requirements and include:

  • Consumption-based pricing that provides cloud-like flexible capacity and OPEX accounting
  • Deployment as traditional branded storage appliances on premises and in colocation facilities, SDS, SDS in the cloud, and cloud volumes

Acquisition options. Vendors continue to provide arrays in the familiar branded appliance form. However, nearly a quarter of midrange arrays are now available in a Storage-as-a-Service (STaaS) model. This enables enterprises to treat the storage as an operational expense (OPEX) rather than capital expense (CAPEX). It also enables enterprises to consume on-premises storage as flexible capacity, very much like the public cloud.
These STaaS offerings go well beyond traditional lease-purchase agreements. The vendor retains ownership of the storage. In most cases the vendor is responsible to keep the array available and up-to-date. Enterprise IT still manages storage volumes for its applications, but the vendor manages the underlying array. Most vendors require a one, two or three year agreement and storage costs are generally lower for committed capacity versus flexible capacity.
Some vendors manage instances of their arrays in one or more public clouds. Enterprises can subscribe to array capacity using the same tools they use to subscribe to the public cloud vendor’s standard storage offerings. This approach to STaaS makes enterprise array capabilities available in the cloud. This generally includes the full array of data services that enterprises have come to rely upon.
chart of transformational acquisition and deployment options in descending order
Deployment options. In addition to new acquisition options, 10% of the arrays are now available as software-defined-storage (SDS). This gives enterprises new flexibility in deploying enterprise-class storage across multiple locations. It can also be used to enable cost-effective disaster-recovery in the cloud while maintaining full control of the storage system, just as if it were on-premises.
SDS and STaaS offerings in the public cloud add hybrid-cloud or multi-cloud capabilities. The best implementations integrate the cloud instances or cloud volumes under a single, familiar, management environment. Thus, these offerings can accelerate enterprise cloud adoption and corporate initiatives that are based on public cloud services.
Some SDS offerings have limitations compared to the vendor’s branded appliances. Some limit the capacity per node. Others offer a reduced set of data services. Therefore, enterprises should clarify whether the SDS solution they are considering is limited compared to the traditional storage array offering.

Transformational Advances in Non-Disruptive Upgrade Capabilities

Enterprises expect their data center infrastructures, including storage systems, to provide continuous availability. Non-disruptive upgrade (NDU) features provide the foundation for that availability. These include non-disruptive software/firmware upgrades for controllers, network ports, HDDs and SSDs, controller or storage shelf addi­tion and controller replacement.
Midrange storage arrays have made major progress over the last five years in their support for these core NDU features. In 2015, only 33% of the products supported more than one NDU feature. Today, all the array DCIG evaluated support at least three NDU features, and most support five or more NDU features.

chart comparing 2015 and 2020 support for transformational NDU features
Source: DCIG

Beyond the traditional core NDU features, many enterprise storage arrays now support the ability to replace old controllers with new controllers and to perform non-disruptive data migrations. As a result, enterprises can upgrade to higher performing controllers or higher capacity storage media while continuing to serve data.
Chart listing transformational NDU features in declining order of support
Source: DCIG

Transformational Advances in Predictive Analytics and Proactive Support

Beyond the foundational NDU features, current conversations about availability are more likely to focus on proactive support enabled by predictive analytics, or on cloud-based intelligence that avoids downtime by taking the entire operating environment into consideration to either recommend or black-list specific software and firmware updates.
The combination of predictive analytics and proactive support transforms the storage ownership experience. Nimble Storage and Pure Storage used this combination to create a radically better ownership experience. The results have been very positive for their customers and for the companies. Pure Storage has become a billion-dollar company in all-flash storage. HPE acquired Nimble Storage and is now integrating its advanced InfoSight predictive analytics across all its data center products.
Other storage providers are embracing these storage analytics capabilities and the proactive support that they make possible. The maturity of each vendor’s offering varies. Some are focused on individual array health, relying more on fault data than predictive analytics. However, all offer real benefits to customers by increasing the uptime that each array delivers. Consequently, multiple vendors claim they are seeing six-nines (99.9999%) availability in the field, and some vendors are implementing 100% availability guarantees.

chart of transformational analytics and support features in declining order of support
Source: DCIG

A Powerful Combination

These three advances in enterprise storage provide substantial benefits to enterprises. In combination, they positively transform the enterprise storage ownership experience. While the maturity and focus of each implementation varies, they all enable new levels of availability while reducing or eliminating the burden of administering storage systems. They can also facilitate enterprise cloud adoption. Consequently, these capabilities are creating new value for the enterprises that deploy them.
DCIG will continue to cover developments in enterprise storage. If you haven’t already done so, please sign up for the weekly DCIG Newsletter so that we can keep you informed of these ongoing developments.


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