‘Hidden’ disruptions in the IT world too, says HDS exec
By Benjamin Cher January 21, 2016
- Flash may solve problems at the point, but needs to be part of holistic view
- ‘While everyone is looking at all-flash, we are looking at flash for all’
DISRUPTION is happening everywhere and leaving no stone unturned in its quest to digitise all processes.
But most conversations about digital disruption revolve around front-facing industries like hotels, or consumer services such as grocery-shopping or even ordering your takeout.
The fact is, disruption is also happening in the ‘background,’ in the infrastructure and data centre industries for example, where the promise of new technology and cheap hardware is unleashing innovation.
Among these disruptive technologies is flash storage, according to Adrian De Luca (pic above), Asia Pacific chief technology officer at Hitachi Data Systems Corp (HDS), a wholly owned subsidiary of Hitachi Ltd.
As opposed to mechanical disk-based storage, flash technology is supposed to provide greater scalability and application consistency. It is ‘non-volatile,’ which means it does not require power to maintain data integrity.
Flash has been in the market long enough to not be considered new – flash memory technology was first unveiled by Toshiba Inc in 1984 – but its relatively high cost has prevented many businesses from jumping on board wholesale for their data storage needs.
However, the last year was remarkable due to the number of new players entering the flash market, according to De Luca.
“We saw companies like SolidFire, Pure Storage, and EMC’s XtremIO [rising],” he said.
These developments “have been very good for customers, because if there are more competitive players, this creates more innovation faster.
“The faster the innovation, the lower the cost, and the higher the adoption rate for customers,” he added.
Flash the saviour at the ‘point’?
Indeed, De Luca said that HDS has seen a “big acceleration” in adoption in the last two years.
Much of the innovation new companies are bringing to the table has been focused on solving ‘point problems, he said.
For example, a company focused on performance acceleration can solve a particular problem on a particular workload, he added.
“Some of the areas where flash really helps are in things like transactional database acceleration and virtual desktops,” said De Luca.
“Because in traditional data centre environments, things like ‘boot storms’ – when everyone gets into the office at nine and turns on their computers at the same – can cause issues, and they [new companies] have been able to solve those particular pain points,” he added.
Solving these point problems is great, but managing data requires a holistic approach, De Luca argued.
“What our concern is when we speak to customers, is that you can buy a particular device to solve a particular problem, but is it still holistically helping you manage data?
“Is it still holistically helping you do governance? If it is a separate device, how are you providing unified management across those environments so you can maintain a good productivity mix?” he added.
Thus, flash has to be considered as part of an overall picture and not just a standalone technology, De Luca argued.
“We are embedding flash in lots of different use cases. We’re seeing flash being used in a hybrid configuration – because it is still very expensive, rather than putting all that workload in the data centre, customers only need 10-15% of their workload in flash,” he said.
The newer flash storage technologies still lack the features that enterprise customers need, such as data centre replication and scaled-out workloads, De Luca claimed.
“Though they may help with acceleration, they don’t help in data centre management,” he said.
“While everyone is looking at all-flash, we are looking at flash for all,” he added.
IT companies can no longer charge top dollar for enterprise-grade servers and technology, what with the falling prices of hardware.
“Partly, some of that is being driven by the fact that enterprise technology is being pushed down into lower packaging (i.e. bare metal boxes),” De Luca said.
“We have also reached a point in many cases, where these big enterprise storage arrays are just too big for a lot of environments,” he added.
Rather than getting ‘the best in the business,’ in many cases, ‘good enough’ is all the business really needs, De Luca argued.
“What we [HDS] have been focusing on is how to bring enterprise capability into smaller packaging, particularly in Asia Pacific,” he added.
While HDS has been successful in the enterprise space, the company is feeling the effects of the market demand for enterprise features on cheaper hardware, according to De Luca.
“We are now starting to see customers that still need virtualisation, but they don’t necessarily need two-, three- or four-petabyte storage.
“What we did in 2014 was to take the software component out of our enterprise array and made that independent of hardware,” he said.
Adapting to customer needs has forced HDS to make decisions that would have been out of place 10-15 years ago, when the ‘closed ecosystem of products’ thinking was still rampant.
“Having an independent software-based operating system for all things storage and being able to package that in different products – that has been our strategy,” De Luca said.
“It’s been a journey for us, taking enterprise-grade functionality and bringing it down-market, which allows us to address smaller customers that still have big problems,” he added.
Disk world still there
But despite the flash allure, disk storage will continue to play a role in IT infrastructure, De Luca acknowledged.
“Some analysts are predicting that disks will disappear in the next five years, but I don’t think I believe that – just like tape, it would just get pushed out to other requirements,” he said.
“What are we seeing more now is high-capacity disks being put into object stores – we are no longer using RAID but Erasure Coding, because these object stores are in the petabyte [range],” he added.
RAID (redundant array of independent disks) combines multiple disks for data redundancy or to boost performance, while Erasure Coding protects data by breaking them into fragments, then expands and encodes them, storing the redundant data pieces in a distributed manner.
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