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Will hyper-converged infrastructure kill traditional storage?

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Anyone reading the technology media today would be forgiven for having the impression that traditional storage, including SANs, storage arrays, and NAS, is obsolete and that software defined or hyper-converged storage solutions are the way to go. Certainly the pitch is an attractive one – simply turning conventional servers into a fully-fledged storage system managed by software sounds far more attractive than the conventional storage system method.

The key characteristic of the hyper-converged approach is that the services are separated from the hardware, resulting in an extremely flexible solution. This makes it a great fit for some scenarios, but it is far from being the white knight it is often made out to be. The hyperbole about software defined storage is mostly generated by the software vendors themselves, whose outlook can be characterized as: “When all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail”. We urge enterprises to consider the whole toolbox before choosing a storage approach.

One of the key drivers for enterprises to increase their storage requirements is the onwards march of digitalization and the ensuing flood of data it creates. IT managers are faced with having to manage this exponential growth in data, while under pressure to create an extremely flexible, scalable landscape, all within the context of constantly squeezed budgets. It’s no wonder that software defined storage and storage as part of hyper converged IT look like attractive options. It’s also in an IT manager’s DNA to investigate the latest, shiniest options, if only to demonstrate that they are on top of the latest trends. These approaches can result in excellent solutions, but they aren’t the best fit for every scenario.

For each complex IT challenge there is a simple solution……which is wrong

The mistake that many enterprises make is that they plan their storage strategy by looking at the technologies on offer. This approach often leads to the wrong conclusions. The starting point for determining the right storage solution has to be the business requirements: what level of agility do you really need and what quality of service is necessary? You should also identify the cost structure that will work for your business and how much scalability you really need. Armed with your answers you should talk to your trusted vendor to identify the right technology to deploy.

The typical discussion about the software defined storage approach revolves around the cost benefits that can be realized thanks to the hardware savings. It is true that, as the reliability functions are covered by software, the hardware is less important and can therefore be based on more cost effective machines. A word of caution however – it is the license model that drives the cost, so the total cost could be just as much or even more expensive than the traditional approach.

Also be sure to take hidden costs into account. It is easy to calculate the difference between license costs and hardware costs but it is far more complicated to calculate the costs of the integration work that will be required, and which can be significant. Ascertain whether you have the skills required to manage the integration and the manpower to manage multiple vendor relationships. A software defined approach means that there is no longer a single point of contact for the solution as there are now both hardware and software vendors to manage, which becomes all the more challenging if there are issues to solve. These examples can be classed as operational costs rather than capital expenditure so typically they are not included in the purchase calculation but do have a potentially significant effect on the total cost of ownership.

It is only when you take all the different considerations into account that the right solution emerges. We’ve worked with many customers where a software defined approach looked like the obvious solution, but when we completed the cost calculations, we were surprised to find that the outlay was very similar once we’d added the license costs. This is why it is so important to have clarity over the business objectives. If your storage requirements are rapidly growing and unpredictable, the new paradigms could well be the best solution, but if your environment is stable and running well, proven technologies could be the more appropriate approach.

freedom dynamics fujitsu coverFujitsu advocates taking a business-centric data center approach. Businesses should examine their requirements for agility, reliability and cost and only then progress to selecting the right technology and operating model. Software-defined storage has many benefits but it isn’t going to replace traditional storage technologies any time soon. Whether it is the right solution depends entirely on an individual enterprise’s use case.

For more information about storage technologies and scenarios – read the Freeform Dynamics Whitepaper based on in-depth discussions on the latest technology developments with IT vendors and service providers, along with intelligence gathered from mainstream enterprises during broader market studies: http://business-datacenter.global.fujitsu.com/business-centric-storage

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