Storage Has to Perform

July 3, 2017 Justin Owens

The trouble with making decisions about your data storage these days is that it is no longer a relatively discrete function of your systems. For several decades we simply added capacity as required, more spinning disks whether in SANs or NAS or other configurations, or moved onto the latest technology….and added disks. The industry has for generations used the term ‘integrated’ to boast about the capability of different parts of any IT system to work together. Now we talk about hyperconvergence, a perfectly good new term, but it simply means super-integrated because we have reached a new level of integration.

Data storage is now integral to the compute function, as indeed is the required networking. It’s as if they were on the same chip, which is indeed one of the many aspirations of progressive IT these days. An alternative strategy is to have them all integrated in the same cloud—which is true cloud computing and has all the much-trumpeted virtues of scalability and no need for capital expenditure. But performance is better and more reliable in the data centre or on-premise, because there is less dependence on network connectivity. That is possibly a contentious issue, but the fact is that there has been a disquieting number of public cloud service outages. Many business functions are well served by cloud, but high performance computing is not in the cloud for very good reasons.  

There are many factors apart from the technology that are driving the need for better performing data storage and the advance of storage technology. Notoriously, we are generating (and retaining) ever vaster amounts of data. That’s a cliché. But we are also discovering across multiple sectors, from astrophysics to healthcare to retail, that accumulated data is a valuable resource. To gain the advantages, data has to be well managed.

The rapid advances in business analytics of all kinds are also a driver, of both compute and data storage performance. For instance in many applications such as financial services, anti-fraud and security generally, real-time analytics is now the norm. So ever more speed is essential. In a growing number of industries it is actually a factor in competitiveness. Today, all-flash storage arrays are becoming common for just that reason. The scale of the investment is offset by the potential market advantage.

How does any organisation decide where to go next in its data storage capabilities and technology? It’s always difficult, not least because today it is not necessarily driven by the need for more capacity or the approach of a regular upgrade cycle. All too often CIOs and IT directors have to convince their Boards of the need to invest in new technology or even complete replacement just perhaps a year or so after the last upgrade. Line of business directors and managers tend to think of IT investment in cyclical terms. Which is OK for maintenance of a level of systems performance but does not contribute to the organisation’s advance to the next level of its performance.

In competitive markets like retail and financial services, online or on-premise—or in sectors like healthcare because scanning is generating enormous data files—where a major step forward is necessary the technology choices and costs can be intimidating. The decision parameters have to be about the business or the organisation’s objectives in the first place. Ideally, a base line can then be set at what is the range of technology that will enable those objectives. Since we’re talking storage, clearly there will be tiered and unified options, often software-defined. But you can’t separate the processing power and speed, the compute end of things, because the objective is the best performance for the tasks.        

Budget is going to be a constraint in most circumstances, but even with an unlimited shopping mandate there is a caution to be observed. As the industry has it, there is a fine difference between the leading edge and the bleeding one that causes pain and risks failure. In today’s market, data storage genuinely offers a wide range of proven high performance solutions that are enterprise class. In normal organisations, proven IT solutions are best. So buy the best. 

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