The Requirements of a Cloud-Like Experience for On-Premises Mission Critical Workloads

The cloud provides computing, networking and storage resources on a pay-as-you-go basis. IT resources become an operational expense. Most on-premises data center resources need to be purchased up front. IT resources are a capital expense. The challenge with purchasing hardware and software upfront is that in most cases IT needs to buy with the end result in mind. They need to predict to what extent the workloads using these resources will grow and make sure that the systems purchased support that growth.

Scale-out and later scale-right architectures alleviated some of the concerns over a CAPEX business model. In a scale-out architecture organizations can add nodes as the workload demands for performance and capacity expands. Each expansion unit is a server, called a node, with storage capacity, storage performance, networking and computing capabilities. The challenge with scale-out is that not all of the resources of a node are used at the same pace and eventually the scale-out system becomes out-of-balance. The out of balance resource problem was solved by a scale-right architecture, where each node could have additional resources added to it, capacity for example, so that resources were consumed more completely before new nodes were added.

The next step in the evolution from scale-up, scale-out, and scale-right architectures is composable architectures where virtual arrays are created from discrete components available in the cluster enabling a fine-grained use of resources for maximum efficiency. A composable architecture enables IT to respond dynamically to the needs of the organization’s workloads and deliver the exact performance and capacity required by each. We’ll discuss composable architectures more in the third blog in this series.

The other appealing component of the cloud is its business model. While scale-out, scale-right and composable architectures provide the technological flexibility of the cloud, they lack its consumption model. Cloud resources can be purchased at the scale desired, expanded in lock step with the workloads and then returned if the need passes. Most on-premises workloads, regardless of the architecture, require an upfront purchase for the full amount of the system. Also, each of these requires another full purchase of additional nodes as the environment scales.

These business models can be created on-premises but need to be more than a technology lease. Organizations looking to create a cloud-like experience for their mission critical workloads need to be able to consume resources incrementally as needed. Additionally, they should have the option to have software subscriptions to be separate from hardware purchases – to deliver further flexibility, both from a technical and economic perspective. This enables them to change hardware configurations as required but not have to re-buy software. In the classic CAPEX models, each expansion requires the purchase of new software as most licenses are not transferable from one version of hardware to another.

If done correctly the vendors providing on-premises solutions have a distinct advantage. Cloud providers essentially have only one option. On-premises vendors that adapt their solution and partner correctly can provide many more options.

They can continue to provide a more classic CAPEX business approach to organizations that want it. Ideally, this appliance approach still disaggregates hardware and software. Vendors can also offer a subscription model for the software so that hardware and software purchases can be further disaggregated. Third, the vendor can offer a utility type of solution where hardware and software are bundled and charged for based on monthly consumption. Lastly, the vendor can also provide an “as-a-service” model which the customer can leverage with an existing model for workloads such as disaster recovery, or disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS); and dev/test.

Conclusion

Two big attractions of cloud computing are flexibility and its OPEX business model but they lack the deterministic, performance and high security of on-premises solutions. On-premises solutions can benefit from a cloud-like model but vendors have to do more than offer a cloud-model that is really a lease in disguise. They need to make technological advances in how their solutions allocate resources and how that solution can be consumed.

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Twelve years ago George Crump founded Storage Switzerland with one simple goal; to educate IT professionals about all aspects of data center storage. He is the primary contributor to Storage Switzerland and is a heavily sought after public speaker. With over 25 years of experience designing storage solutions for data centers across the US, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS and SAN, Virtualization, Cloud and Enterprise Flash. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland he was CTO at one of the nation's largest storage integrators where he was in charge of technology testing, integration and product selection.

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