HDS Analyst Summit 2014
One of the topics at Hitachi Data Systems’ analyst summit in Colorado recently was the future of storage. The company was asked by several participants what their strategy was to deal with the ‘commoditization’ of storage hardware and the increased adoption of open systems software. HDS shared part of their strategy for combining some of these new technologies into their enterprise storage software platform as well as their general plan for moving their organization towards the future.
There’s a movement towards build-it-yourself systems using cheap hardware led by the hyperscale, cloud storage and cloud services industries. For companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc, the future (and the present) means white box servers running open source software that’s designed with the resiliency to support the lowest cost hardware they can find.
These organizations have the staffs to run this kind of homegrown infrastructure successfully and a business model that requires it. In fact, their ability to lower the cost of providing that infrastructure to their clients is one of their biggest competitive advantages.
However, the enterprise companies that currently run big systems like HDS’s VSP and similar gear from NetApp, EMC, IBM, etc. are in a different boat. They certainly have a lot of data and part of their competitiveness is tied to their ability to exploit that data with advanced analytics, while keeping their storage costs in check. Their IT infrastructure is there to support the business but that business isn’t building and selling infrastructure services like the cloud providers do.
These enterprise users expect the innovations that are driving the do-it-yourself (DIY) infrastructure wave discussed above to benefit them, but they’re not looking to sweep the floor of the data center and put in racks of white box servers. Also, “benefit” means improved outcomes (flexibility, lower cost, service level attainment, etc.) which doesn’t necessarily require separating software from the storage hardware or only using commodity hardware.
DIY in the Enterprise
At this summit HDS echoed the point that not every company is interested in the DIY model for building infrastructure, at least not in the same way that large cloud providers have done it. In addition to building it yourself, DIY can also mean design-it-yourself, upgrade-it-yourself and support-it-yourself. These are critical infrastructure functions that many enterprises are not ready to assume. Instead, these organizations need support for the systems they buy and a clear roadmap from the vendors that design and manufacture those systems.
As an example for these companies, “doing it yourself” may mean customers buying lower cost modular systems that run enterprise storage software, like HDS’s SVOS; the tier 1 storage operating system that runs on their largest virtual storage arrays. To that end, Hitachi mentioned they have plans to release a product that runs SVOS on a modular, x86 platform, but one that is built and supported by HDS.
This means users can take advantage of some of the innovations brought on by the DIY movement, but still have their tier 1 vendors providing the infrastructure design, implementation and support functions that many enterprises don’t want to take on. HDS also mentioned that down the road, they expect to sell SVOS as a software solution that runs on third party hardware. At that point, users will be able to leverage their existing hardware or source their own white boxes if they’re so inclined.
While storage hardware is becoming commoditized HDS also recognizes that the major differentiation in storage products is coming from software. This software will enable users to protect, move and secure data, not just store it. Software will also make storage systems smarter, along the lines of their Social Innovation project and the concept of software that’s more “aware”, such as application awareness, platform awareness, etc.
Storage infrastructure is moving in the direction of cheaper hardware, scale-out architectures and maximum flexibility. HDS is leveraging these technologies, first developed by the large cloud providers, to create an interesting alternative to the more traditional storage system that enterprise data centers are currently using.
Clearly, the future of storage innovation is in software and HDS is betting that enterprise IT will continue to need sophisticated solutions like their SVOS technology. Making the ‘crown jewels’ available in lower cost, scale out hardware and then as a software-only solution is a gutsy move by a big company that stands to cannibalize some of its existing enterprise storage system business. If this is the future of storage architecture in the enterprise as well, HDS is making a bid to be in the middle of it.
Hitachi Data Systems is a client of Storage Switzerland