The Game Storage Marketing Teams Can’t Seem to Stop Playing
In the IT industry there is no greater threat and opportunity today than cloud. Yes, there are other things that keep vendors up at night, but it’s cloud that cuts across hardware, software and service providers like a hard line drawn in the sand.
And that’s an important analogy because business leaders do view cloud as a “line in the sand” for data center investments.
The promise of lower operational costs and predictable budget expenditures is so enticing that analysts estimate 30 to 40% of business applications will move to cloud within the next few years. Cloud friendly workloads like email and file sharing will move even faster with over 60% moving to the cloud.
With this in mind, it is no surprise that storage vendors are ‘cloud washing’ their offerings, adding ‘cloud’ to product names, using terms like ‘cloud integrated,’ or pushing slogans like “the complete cloud platform.”
But does saying you have a cloud offering mean it IS a cloud offering?
Value Messaging: Don’t Leave the Spin Cycle On Too Long!
To answer the question of whether a storage offering is cloud-y, we need to step back and first consider why vendors’ add cloud messaging to existing solutions in the first place.
Ultimately it comes down to value messaging. Leading with technical product details like interface type, bus speed, protocol support, etc. which forces you to determine the value. Aligning (spinning / washing) messaging to the business problem the product solves should make life easier for you. From that stand point, ‘washing’ is a good idea.
Where vendor’s get into trouble though is when they stretch messaging to the point that it isn’t 100% factual or generalize benefits so much that you can’t tell what problem the product addresses.
This problem becomes very apparent if you look at the common cloud use cases:
Moving data to cloud to minimize costs. Data is tiered to cloud so you buy and manage less storage / minimize data center investments. This can be disruptive (implement new kit and re-architect application workflows) or transparent (existing storage automatically tiers data off).
Copying data to cloud for simple, low cost protection. Copy of data is created on a long term cloud resource. This can be disruptive or transparent (provider uses your array’s data protection software to copy data to a similar array they own or a software version of your storage OS).
Building a cloud platform. Here, you’re building a storage platform for hosting applications and data from different business divisions or customers. At a basic level any array that is resilient, multi-tenant and delivers on specific price / performance goals can be ‘a cloud platform.’
Because almost any enterprise array can, in theory, be used as part of a cloud platform, a lot of vendors stretch, spin and wash their array messaging to be cloud-tastic. Some might even go so far as to say they offer a complete cloud platform. Unfortunately, what you’re likely to find is that can’t really deliver the functionality you need for a cloud platform let alone serve the first 2 use cases.
If it walks like a duck…
So what DOES a storage platform need to deliver if you want to consider it for use as a cloud platform or, more likely, to use it as an interface to the cloud so you can minimize capital equipment costs and reduce the size / cost of your data center?
Requirements vary, but in general you should make sure that a storage array can deliver:
Performance Controls: Not only should an array be fast, it should offer Quality of Service controls to prevent noisy neighbor issues found in cloud, multi-tenant environments.
Efficiency Controls: Unless you are getting the steal of the century an array should offer data reduction technologies that reduce storage consumption and cost. BUT you need to be careful about understanding how these will perform under load. If heavy usage (what you want on a cloud) results in significant performance degradation be sure there is a way to turn off that data reduction!
Security Controls: Data in the cloud needs to be protected. How that is accomplished will depend on your goals and your customers’. At the very minimum that includes multi-tenant security but it could also include encryption and a host of other controls.
Automated Provisioning: Cloud tenants come and go so having the ability to quickly provision storage based on SLAs is critical. This is more than ‘easy setup’ and covers automation of many configuration tasks including data protection based on your best practices. That is the only way to eliminate risk and deliver a predictable customer experience.
Public Cloud Integration: Unless you’re a cloud service provider you’re unlikely to hit the economies of scale necessary to beat public cloud, even factoring in charges for transferring data to and from the cloud. Plus, public cloud lets you reduce capital equipment expenditures and overall data center costs like floor space, power and cooling. For these reasons, cloud tiering to Amazon, Microsoft Azure or another large cloud provider (solves use case #1) is absolutely key.
In addition to these features there are other functions you may want: array statistics for chargeback, specific application integration (e.g. OpenStack) and more. Some of this is optional and some of this can be custom built if the array and it’s monitoring software includes APIs for custom integration.
Net: If a storage array can’t deliver on these items (or the sub-set that is critical to you) it may talk like a duck but it won’t walk like a duck and it certainly isn’t a complete cloud platform.
Next Steps: Buyer Beware
I’d love to say there is a magic bullet that lets you easily see beyond the cloud washing to look at what a product really does or an independent site that gives honest insights into how ‘cloud integrated’ a storage platform is, but there isn’t. All I can tell you is to keep your eyes open and beware any vendor that says they offer a “complete cloud platform” or “the only cloud you’ll ever need,” because odds are they don't. Instead, focus on the problem you want to solve and make sure the product solves it!
And to the vendors out there washing their products. Please, for the love of customers, don’t leave your offerings in the wash too long!