In Part I of Utility Computing Pioneers, we discussed storage service providers, an early attempt at utility computing, and lessons from that experiment that might apply to current utility computing efforts. In Part 2, we will address some of the other issues that prompted so many SSPs to radically change their business models, and what the future may hold for storage on demand.
Many once thought that purchasing storage as a utility meant that investment dollars could be stretched further because capital investments did not have to be made in storage infrastructure, and additional workers did not have to be hired to manage it. However, those assumptions have since been challenged, and the rise of cheaper, modular storage has made it easier for companies to do their own utility storage, thus reducing the need for outside SSPs.
Eric Schott, director of product management with EqualLogic, says that he does not believe that outsourcing storage to an SSP would actually lower the cost of doing business. "Outsourcing storage is a complex and risky decision," says Schott. He believes that storage maintains and protects a company's vital assets, and while some specific IT applications may be outsourced, there are many that businesses need to keep in-house due to the importance of maintaining control.
IT departments are continually bringing new applications online, upgrading systems and procedures to increase the productivity of the entire company. "IT departments want complete control of their data to ensure that they can respond to business needs, changing systems, applications and partners as needed," Schott says. The outsourced storage model can restrict and add complexity to what is a sensitive and dynamic process, he says.
Schott says that provisioning storage as a utility is about easier growth and management of storage, and since there are now affordable, enterprise-quality solutions available that are easy to install, use and scale, there is no need to outsource such a vital part of a company's IT operation.
Eran Farajun, vice president of business development at Asigra, agrees that storage on the whole is now getting cheaper to buy. "However, managing storage still costs more than buying it," he adds, "but primary disk storage is getting easier to do and thus less expensive."
The transition to storage as a utility can be intricate and difficult, but the end result can be a more responsive data storage management system, one that is designed with the appropriate infrastructure equipment.
Utility Model Turns Inward
Farajun says that primary disk as a utility has potential for market acceptance — but as an internal utility service managed by the central IT group and "sold" via charge backs within the corporation, a view that Schott agrees with.
Schott believes that the future of storage on demand is within IT departments that want to be able to provision storage as a utility to their users. "In this case, the IT department is the utility, not an outside entity," says Schott. This provides the benefits of centrally managing storage resources while being flexible in how resources are provided to applications, departments and users, with the added security of the company maintaining its own data stores.
"Vendors are now in a position to deliver customer solutions that create a central pool of storage that can be provisioned on demand as users and new applications require," Schott says.
Schott says that perhaps the biggest opportunity for outsourced storage-on-demand went the way of the dot-com bust, but that the issue of on-demand storage provisioning has become a hot topic within IT departments. "Storage customers continue to state their top issues are in managing growth and improving management of storage resources," says Schott. "Customers are looking for consolidated storage solutions that enable the on-demand model, which allows them to buy what they need when they need it."
Schott says IT managers are fed up with the current purchasing model that involves large capital purchases, planned to last three or four years, that run out of capacity along the way, requiring another large investment in the end.
Some industry experts believe that customers purchasing computing equipment based on projects — an approach that allows customers to start small based on current project needs and grow as the project expands or new projects are begun — is a much more effective business and operational model.
According to Schott, a single, scalable storage grid that can be provisioned on-demand for new applications could benefit both customers familiar with SAN technology and those not yet using it. "For IT departments that have already ventured into the SAN model, utility storage introduces a new paradigm for how SANs can be created, managed and scaled to meet growing requirements," he says. "For IT shops still utilizing direct attached storage (DAS), the utility storage concept provides a graceful model for how they can consolidate their storage into a SAN that can be managed cost-effectively and efficiently."
With a SAN solution designed to create and intelligently manage a scalable, central storage pool, the utility model can be deployed and grown without large expenditures or sophisticated IT resources, Schott says.
Farajun says servers that are hosted in a third-party data center that need to be backed up could benefit from storage utility deployment, since this is something that customers can buy from their hosting provider or SSP partner inside a data center offering the service. He also believes that customers who want to replicate or mirror their data offsite to an alternate data center could benefit from storage utility deployment.
The biggest opportunity for stand-alone storage on demand may have withered with the dot-com bust, but utility storage still has the potential for market acceptance — just in different forms than originally envisioned.