A new world order for storage

Old enterprise storage paradigms are giving way to cloud services and converged systems.

Lance Harris
By Lance Harris, freelancer
Johannesburg, 01 Jul 2014
Hennie van Tonder, MWeb Business, says most customers will start their journey to full-blown cloud services by hosting their servers with a service provider.
Hennie van Tonder, MWeb Business, says most customers will start their journey to full-blown cloud services by hosting their servers with a service provider.

With data volumes continuing to grow at a rapid pace and IT budgets under growing pressure, South African companies are starting to move towards cloud-based solutions and converged infrastructure to improve the efficiency and flexibility of their data storage environments. The migration is expected to take a few years, but vendors say they're seeing companies - besides those with the largest IT departments - steadily replace legacy platforms as their hardware refresh cycles come up.

Growth in demand for cloud-based platforms is coming from businesses of all sizes, says Oliver Potgieter, director at Alto Africa. But companies are looking for platform solutions rather than pure infrastructure, and the benefits of such solutions are easy to understand, he adds.

As their hardware refresh cycles come up, many businesses are looking towards moving some of their infrastructure and services to the cloud. Companies that are adopting storage as a service are mostly those that have established infrastructure skills bases. Those that are trying to downscale their internal IT departments are, instead, looking towards software as a service or platform as a service, says Potgieter.

The journey towards infrastructure as a service offerings, such as storage as a service, starts for most enterprises with hosting their servers in a service provider's cabinets, says Hennie van Tonder, head of product at MWeb Business. "We have a large number of customers just renting facilities such as rack space, power, network connectivity and air-conditioning," he says. "But that's the first step towards managed infrastructure as a service."

The two areas of the storage market that are moving mostly to the cloud in South Africa are storage solutions for end-user computing - essentially enterprise DropBox-style applications - and disaster recovery and business continuity solutions, says Dominic Oettl, divisional director at EOH. These services lend themselves to sharing of data across the cloud and offer immediate cost and efficiency benefits.

With people working outside their offices, they need to access data from multiple locations and on multiple devices, he says. When it comes to the disaster recovery market, the cloud allows companies to replicate data offsite on disc-based storage rather than depending on tape. Falling costs of fibre connectivity and storage have made the cloud more viable as an offsite backup option.

Commoditisation of the storage market has driven the cost per gig of disc storage from R60 down to R10 or even R5. The result is that service providers have had to bring the costs of their cloud storage services down dramatically, making such offerings more affordable to enterprises. "It's driving a lot of efficiency in people's disaster recovery plans," says Oettl.

A marriage of sort

But in time, companies can be expected to adopt hybrid cloud and on-premises models, many of them eventually looking towards the cloud for most of their production infrastructure, says Oettl. "Every proposal has an infrastructure as a service element," he adds. "That said, every customer scenario is different and the cloud is just one of the tools in the toolbox."

Rather than adopting the cloud for all of their infrastructure needs, many South African companies are opting for cloud-integrated storage solutions, says Pradeep Roy, senior technical architect at Accenture South Africa. Such solutions marry onsite storage with the ability to tap into the scale and reduced costs of cloud-based storage.

"These forms of cloud integrated storage will become a clear stepping stone for clients wanting to take advantage of the costs offered by cloud while still enjoying some of the performance benefits of having storage on-site," says Roy.

Another trend gaining traction in South Africa is a shift towards converged infrastructure, where vendors package servers, storage, software, networking and other data centre elements into preconfigured, pretested solutions designed to meet a particular IT or business need. In many cases, it's the service providers that offer cloud services that have adopted converged infrastructure most enthusiastically.

The global trends are being echoed in South Africa.

Paul Ruinaard, senior account executive, VCE

IDC predicts that worldwide spending on converged infrastructure will grow to $17.8 billion in 2016 from $4.6 billion in 2012. Converged infrastructure represents a fraction of the $80 billion spent each year on server, storage and network data centre hardware, but it is growing at a faster pace than the rest of the market.

Most major vendors, including the likes of HP, IBM, Oracle, Dell, Cisco, EMC, NetApp, VMware, VCE and Microsoft, have added converged infrastructure solutions to their product portfolios. Converged infrastructure is starting to see broader acceptance as the value proposition behind engineered systems becomes clearer to end-user organisations, says Paul Ruinaard, senior account executive at VCE. "The global trends are being echoed in South Africa," he says.

A new status quo

"Large IT operations with high operational costs are focusing on how they can reduce the costs of their existing infrastructure while making it as flexible as possible in anticipation of the needs of big data," Ruinaard adds.

Accenture, too, is seeing demand for converged systems grow in South Africa, especially for database and warehouse applications, says Roy.

Converged infrastructure solutions are being most aggressively adopted in public sector organisations and businesses in other parts of Africa, partly those with greenfield sites, says Ruinaard. Large South African businesses are slower on the uptake, partly because their IT departments believe they can implement and manage infrastructure more cost-effectively. In addition, people with skills on older platforms "have an interest in preserving the status quo".

The biggest factor driving organisations to converged infrastructure is big data, because organisations are struggling to rapidly scale up legacy IT infrastructure to cater for analytics across vast volumes of data, Ruinaard says.

Converged systems allow organisations to provision new infrastructure within weeks, compared to the four to nine months it might take a large enterprise or service provider to provision new systems the old way. Other benefits of converged infrastructure include simpler management of operations, reduction of operating costs, and massively improved uptime and availability, Ruinaard adds.

Amid all the talk about optimising storage infrastructure, CIOs should not lose sight of what matters, which is the data, says Bryan Balfe, channel manager at CommVault South Africa. "Whether services and solutions are outsourced or not, the data still belongs to the business, and the CIO remains accountable for data from its creation to its deletion," he adds.

The reality is that whether data is housed on-premises or in the cloud, the value of the data will always outlive the hardware it's stored on, Balfe says. For that reason, whichever infrastructure strategy companies adopt should be geared towards protecting data even when the market changes and new options come to the fore.