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Automation and acceleration the Asian aspiration

Storage infrastructures within Asean organisations are changing to support technologies designed to speed up, automate and centralize.

ASEAN organizations are adopting storage infrastructures that are faster, more efficient, automated and centralized, as they seek better performance or return on investment.

In particular, technologies such as  hybrid  flash  arrays are growing in popularity, as is flash cache on  servers, software-defined  storage and storage  automation,  says Sandeep  Bazaz,  industry  analyst  for  ICT at Frost  & Sullivan Apac.

The Asia-Pacific storage market was worth around $9.8bn in 2014, and had a growth rate of 6.4%. The global enterprise storage market was worth around $38.4bn in the same year, with a growth rate of 4.5%.

Hybrid flash arrays are popular because they are cheaper than flash arrays and performance is much better than hard disk drives (HDDs). Flash cache for servers is another option for enterprises that want instant results. “The idea here is to bring the most accessed data closer to the compute resource, which is done by keeping the flash on the server system bus, reducing the travel time from server to storage,” says Bazaz. Flash storage technologies are creeping into organizations, and could be a viable alternative to disk storage, as flash offers 10 times the performance of disk.

Software-defined storage (SDS), like other virtualization technologies that separate storage software from the underlying hardware, is still in the early stages of adoption. Enterprises are showing interest as SDS enables them to access resources quickly and helps network managers manage flow, storage and access to large amounts of data, according to Bazaz.

The technology that really speaks to an organization’s bottom line is storage automation, which can be applied to tasks such as tiering, snapshots, deduplication and compression. This can help organizations cut costs, improve overall efficiency and reduce complexity. One way for companies to reduce the total cost of ownership (TCO) of their storage resource is to ensure their equipment lasts longer, works more efficiently and is easier to manage. “Storage tiering and efficiency technologies like thin provisioning and dedupe [data deduplication, a data compression technique] continue to find favor,” says Suzie Low, principal research analyst at Gartner.

HDDs continue to be widely used, even though  flash memory and solid-state drives (SSDs) have gained in popularity, and will remain dominant for the next few years. “SSDs cost 10 times more than HDDs and high-capacity SSDs are still not readily available in the market. While the SSD market share is growing constantly and price is coming down, the incremental price and performance ratio is not going at a pace where SSD will completely dominate the industry,” says Bazaz. What’s more, the innovation in the HDD space continues to make it an attractive option, as it is less expensive, more responsive and readily available in large sizes.

However, SSD offers significant improvement on IOPS (input/output operations per second) and latency, which means it would replace high-performance HDD (15,000 revolutions per minute and above), says Low.

Another trend is the emergence of cloud storage, with its promise of scalability and affordability, replacing siloed datacenter infrastructures.

Something to rely on

For organizations, the choice of storage technology is typically driven by business requirements, and a key criterion is stability.

At Philippines-based AMA Education System, the storage technology used is determined by the type of data, which is segmented into simple, or complex, high-traffic, mission-critical, high-risk, structured or unstructured. “We always look at more stable technologies because there are no risks involved,” says Edwin Santos, head of IT at AMA. “However, we also look out for newer technologies that we feel can give us competitive advantages in the future.”

AMA deals with data in volumes that run into the terabytes in its SQL-based, Oracle-based systems and learning management systems. The data ranges widely and includes human resource and financial information, numerous papers, electronic media and e-learning content. This content is generated by the organization’s 150,000 students and 5,000 employees, spread across 200 campuses in Asean and further afield.

Currently, AMA is using a combination of technologies that include solid-state and cloud technologies, and is considering flash technology. High-traffic data is kept in solid-state storage technologies (flash will soon be used too). Non-sensitive data is kept in public clouds and the more sensitive data is kept in private clouds.

“Prior to the emergence of cloud storage, all data was stored in-house in our datacenter, and we are maintaining NAS [network-attached storage] arrays for all that. The shift to the cloud started in 2011 when we began to get good offers from service providers. The reason is simple: it is about converting capex [capital expenditure] into opex [operational expenditure],” explains Santos. “We also maintain carefully reviewed SLAs [service level agreements] with the various providers.”

For backup purposes, AMA typically uses retired equipment. The organization operates on a four-year cycle, after which its storage equipment is retired, and then used as backup for another four years. “We are looking at flash and hard disk-based media as there are no clear breakthrough technologies in the offing, and are considering the improved HP 3PAR and the next-generation IBM flash storage,” says Santos.

Cut down on TCO

In general, organizations are looking to leverage technologies that help to reduce the total cost of ownership of storage by extending the lifecycle, optimizing storage resource and simplifying the management, says Gartner’s Low. The type of storage system adopted varies depending on an organization’s size, she adds. The large enterprises that have the IT manpower and skills to test the new technologies also tend to have an integrated project plan that guides them in technology deployments. They may have legacy infrastructure they want to integrate and to consolidate their investment.

By contrast, small and medium businesses  (SMBs) often lack IT manpower and skills. Ease of deployment and manageability are important buying criteria, and SMBs are open to new approaches such as cloud storage. “SMBs are inherently cost-conscious and would prefer to use storage devices that are cost-effective, and at the same time able to meet their performance requirements. They continue to use technologies like HDD for storage and tape for backup,” says Frost & Sullivan Apac’s Bazaz.

Larger enterprises will use the stable technologies like HDD for their storage needs, but at the same time will start using new technologies like hybrid flash arrays and flash array devices for critical and extremely responsive storage needs, Bazaz adds. He points out that in mature economies like Malaysia and Singapore, enterprises are more inclined to adopt hybrid flash drives or all-in flash drives for some of their critical data than businesses in developing economies like Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam and Myanmar. Developing economies are still inclined to use HDD because of its price and capacity advantages.

Finally, even as the storage landscape continues to change and technology evolve, organizations can take positive steps to protect their storage investments. Low suggests considering storage consolidation or virtualization for ease of management, and automated storage tiering and efficiency technologies such as thin provisioning and dedupe for greater efficiency of resources.

“Buy for the near term and negotiate for upgrades, focus on roadmaps and get guarantees in writing with regular reviews,” advises Low. “The vendor ecosystem is undergoing change and there will be disruptions. Be careful what you buy and whom you buy from.”

TAO AI LEI has written about the technology industry for more than 10 years and is the former editor of a regional IT weekly in Asia. She is based in Singapore, and can be reached at taoailei@gmail.com.

This was last published in August 2015

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