New Storage Technology Accelerates Business, but Disrupts IT

Innovation Drives Changes

Lee Caswell, Vice President of Product, Storage and Availability Business Unit

Lee Caswell, Vice President of Product, Storage and Availability Business Unit

Innovation is a force that demands new skills as rapidly as it renders old skills obsolete. Historically, enterprise storage has been a highly specialized field. But as flash technology has evolved, many of the specialized storage management tasks have disappeared. The demand for legacy skills is declining and the skill sets needed to manage a company’s data center are shifting.

Traditionally, storage admins spent long hours determining how to protect against mechanical disk failures and how to eke improved performance from drives where, industry-wide, functionality had been relatively fixed for the past 10 years. Storage specialists worked with complex systems and complicated performance modeling to successfully match storage capacity with enterprise demand.

Today, with the the introduction of solid state reliability and data-access times 100 times faster than disks, flash technology dramatically improves performance and frees up storage administrators from disk-based planning and support drudgery. It also eliminates performance tuning, reduces administration, and unlocks resources that can then be reinvested in mission-critical strategies.

Hyper-Converging Staff

Although hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) is the fastest-growing category of storage, one of its biggest advantages—that it only needs general, light-touch administration instead of specialized, involved maintenance—is also one of the biggest hurdles to accelerating its widespread adoption. IT teams with dedicated storage specialists struggle to move from legacy systems to HCI without also simultaneously changing IT processes and staff organization.

HCI simplifies the management infrastructure significantly, which affects roles and responsibilities. Hyper-converged infrastructure is far less complex than traditional storage and its administration can be handled by an IT generalist, which eliminates the need for a storage specialist on staff.

As one customer put it, “I’m not just hyper-converging my infrastructure, I’m hyper-converging my staff.”

As a result, multiple roles can be collapsed into a single team, made up of IT generalists that are now able to share responsibilities as needed. The IT generalists on one team tend to work closely and collaborate better, and IT staff may become more nimble and integrated with the business staff as a result.  

Changes in Technology

The hard disk drive is the last major mechanical component in modern computers, and with the price of flash storage dropping significantly, it’s trending toward obsolescence.

I’m not just hyper-converging my infrastructure, I’m hyper-converging my staff.

Disk drives have been a drag on computing performance for a decade. Over time, spinning disk drives grew larger, but not faster, because the industry reached a threshold at the speed of sound. Meanwhile, CPU and RAM continued to get faster and faster, and it became necessary to work around the physically constrained speed limitations of storage in order to optimize overall performance.

With flash storage, speed is no longer an issue. Flash storage is solid state, not powered by a spinning disk, so it’s faster, quieter, and delivers superior performance. Historically, flash is more expensive than traditional storage but, with HCI and quickly declining flash prices, it is increasingly affordable, accessible, and valuable for forward-looking businesses.

The evolution of the iPod is illustrative. The first iPod was the size of a deck of cards because it was powered by a mechanical disk drive. Later versions did away with disk-based storage and used flash storage instead. Consequently, iPods became faster, smaller, more reliable, and used less power, thereby extending battery life. On a larger scale, the same thing is happening for businesses around the world as they move from traditional storage to HCI.

Bright Future for Storage

The changes brought by improved storage technology are disruptive but positive. Until recently, enterprise storage was complicated, managed by specialists, and segregated from other IT functions. Often, IT teams managed separate budgets for servers and storage. Now with HCI, storage is a core part of the infrastructure, and budgets and staff can be combined in new ways. It not only improves the performance of enterprise applications, but also brings teams together, enabling them to collaborate better, work faster, and achieve more impactful results.