CIOs: don’t get distracted by Flash, but focus on data agility

19 Dec 2012

John Rollason, director for product, solutions and alliances at NetApp EMEA

Solid-state storage will be a trend to watch in business IT next year, but CIOs have been urged not to focus on Flash hardware when evaluating their data strategies for 2013 and beyond.

Enterprise storage that uses Flash memory components currently comes at a hefty price premium – up to four times the price of disk-based storage – but proponents say customers can claw back some savings, thanks to faster performance and the ability to distribute digital content more efficiently.

Next year many expect the flurry of activity in this market to continue, with established vendors like EMC, HP, NetApp and others vying with start-ups like Whiptail, GreenBytes and Skyera that are landing major VC investment as they try to harness a disruptive technology to unseat incumbents.

What’s forcing the issue is that storage budgets are capped while the requirements to handle data are increasing rapidly. In an EMC-sponsored white paper released earlier this year, IDC analyst Laura DuBois wrote: “Thanks to the ever-growing number of applications, the digitisation of data, and other trends in IT, the demand placed on an infrastructure to deliver an increased number of transactions will grow exponentially … The status quo of buying more and more poorly utilised disks to store more data is no longer acceptable.”

John Rollason, director for product, solutions and alliances at NetApp EMEA, urged IT leaders to look beyond the box and see the bigger picture of building a smarter data infrastructure.

“CIOs are changing the way they’re measuring the value of storage. There’s much more of a focus on whether it is agile, shareable, and can be used in a cloud infrastructure,” he said, citing a recent NetApp survey of 1,400 CIOs throughout the Europe, Middle East and Africa region.

“For some applications, like high-performance computing or database applications, the potential of using Flash in its entirety is very interesting. At the moment our strategy is to use intelligent cache to combine cost-optimised disk and performance-optimised Flash,” Rollason said.

He said the company is pursuing a strategy of storage efficiency, using deduplication and provisioning technologies which allow the same amount of data to be stored in a smaller physical space – costing less to power and cool.

“We have a guarantee of 50pc less physical space required, using intelligent software to mean that you’re not over-provisioning the storage and buying more than you need. That’s benchmarked against a traditional SAN using data protection,” he said.

“There’s a lot of noise, a lot of start-ups and venture capital but fundamentally most new entrants to the market haven’t sorted out capabilities like availability and data protection.” 

Rollason confirmed that NetApp plans to launch several Flash-based offerings next year and claimed the company would look to build on Flash’s features to make it work in large-scale environments.

“A lot of people are making the mistake of thinking the hardware is important. Flash is still disruptive, but 95pc of the value of storage and data management is in the software,” he claimed.

Gordon Smith was a contributor to Silicon Republic