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From capex to opex: Storage procurement options bloom

We look at the growing list of possibilities when it comes to paying for storage infrastructure, ranging from upfront purchases with upgrades to pure pay-as-you-go options

We are in an age of unprecedented flexibility in storage procurement. The cloud has been a huge driver, making the concept of pay-as-you-go a norm of far-reaching influence.

The fundamental pull of pay-as-you-go is flexibility in use, deployment, upgrades, scalability, speed of development and roll-out, and with the promise of better cost efficiency.

Storage has long been the most monolithic of components, dependent on forklift upgrades and multi-year refresh cycles, and all the disruption that comes with them.

But storage suppliers have adapted. Customers can have capacity delivered in much more flexible ways, with procurement options that range from full ownership – which sectors such as the public sector need – to pay-as-you-go with storage capacity and performance upgrades triggered via AIOps monitoring.

In this article, we look at consumption model-based purchasing – primarily for on-site hardware – and what is on offer from the main suppliers.

Storage continuum: Own-it-outright to as-a-service 

What we are seeing among storage suppliers is the emergence of consumption models of purchasing for on-site capacity that mirror the ways we buy cloud services.

Cloud – in the sense of services delivered remotely – is not always suited to the ways customers work. Some avoid the cloud for reasons of performance, compliance, or risk to security or availability.

And so, although true pay-as-you-go storage may have its roots in the cloud, there are now on-site options that bring the same levels of flexibility.

These can range from opex-based consumption models in which the hardware remains the supplier’s property and customers pay only for the capacity they use, to fully owned capex spend but where hardware upgrades, as required, are built in.

At the opex end of things, customers usually commit to base levels of usage, while upgrades to storage and controller hardware are delivered as required. 

At the capex end of the spectrum, customers can purchase storage hardware outright. But here, some suppliers now offer the option to buy the hardware while still benefiting from upgrades to storage hardware, with monitoring and predictive analytics.

Supplier consumption model options

If customers want the pure pay-as-you-go route, they should look for offers that put hardware in their datacentre but charge only for capacity used. Usually there will be a minimum capacity commitment and term, with deployed storage monitored by AIOps tools for maintenance and to trigger hardware upgrades. 

But if customers want to purchase storage hardware outright, there are a couple of major options. You can buy storage in a capex transaction and then pay only for capacity used.

This option brings the ability to own equipment outright while also buying capacity on a pay-as-you-go basis and benefiting from non-disruptive hardware and software upgrades.

Also, in some cases it is possible to own the hardware outright and get non-disruptive hardware and software upgrades when required. This allows for a longer lifespan in the storage deployment and as the organisation grows, it can scale as needed.

Dell EMC Apex Flex on Demand

Dell EMC’s consumption model for hardware is Apex Flex on Demand. This allows customers to select from block, file and object storage hardware, plus data protection appliances.

Customers work with Dell EMC to determine a “committed capacity” and “buffer capacity” that is likely to be required in the future. Raw and usable capacity data is measured at component level using automated tools installed with the hardware. Daily averages are calculated and a monthly average then derived from that. Dell EMC promises to cap monthly billing at 85% of total installed capacity.

HPE Greenlake

HPE GreenLake delivers preconfigured hardware and software, then manages the system during its lifecycle, with payment via a monthly subscription fee.

Storage offered includes block, file and object which includes HPE Primera high-end flash, HPE Nimble all-flash and hybrid-flash, Simplivity hyper-converged, Qumulo scale-out storage, and StoreOnce data protection appliances.

Storage from the GreenLake consumption model fits in alongside the whole raft of HPE’s datacentre offer. So, GreenLake comes with the full range of the HPE offer behind it, from composable infrastructure such as HPE Synergy, third-party software and services and professional and operational services from HPE Pointnext.

Hitachi Vantara

Hitachi Vantara’s Flex plans offer its storage hardware via purchase or lease, as well as consumption models. The latter is EverFlex Consumption and is part of its X-as-a-service offer (X = everything), which varies depending on whether infrastructure is managed and monitored by the customer or Hitachi, respectively. Both of these are pay-per-use, cloud-like models.


IBM offers Storage as a Service and Storage Utility.

Storage as a Service can work across on-premise datacentre and hybrid cloud and is based on IBM FlashSystem hardware. It comes with a base level to meet current needs plus 50% on top of that pre-installed. Base and expansion capacity are charged at the same rate.

Storage Utility is a pay-per-use model that delivers 200% over base needs capacity on day one. The idea is that datacentre upheaval is avoided by over-provisioning and then using IBM Storage Insights to monitor capacity needs.

Customers pay only for what they use and if their data needs shrink during any month, the bill will reflect capacity usage, with a minimum “base”. The purported benefit of over-provisioning means additional capacity is readily available, at least within the contract period.

NetApp Keystone

NetApp emphasises the cloud element of its consumption model, Keystone, which offers hardware in various non-capex formats on-premise as well as cloud capacity.

Keystone payment options range from pay outright for the hardware (Flex Pay), through Flex Subscription pay-as-you-go, which includes cloud capacity, and Flex Utility, which aligns costs to usage.

A range of service levels is available and billing is for predicted committed capacity, plus pay-per-use for burst capacity with bundle pricing that includes hardware, core OS and support for file, block, object and cloud storage services.

NetApp’s Active IQ dashboard allows customers to monitor and manage storage usage, provision storage, set data protection policies, review burst capacity, usage and billing, and request further capacity and services.

NetApp recently added BlueXP, which provides a single control plane in which all NetApp storage is visible. That includes on-site Ontap (NAS, etc), E-Series (flash-equipped SAN) and StorageGrid (object storage), as well as NetApp storage in AWS, Azure, Google and IBM public clouds.

Pure Storage

Pure Storage has three as-a-service-like offerings, all under the Evergreen brand.

Evergreen//Forever is for customers that want to purchase hardware outright, but with lifetime upgrades.

Evergreen//Flex is where hardware is purchased but capacity bought on a pay-as-you-go basis. Capacity can be specified and paid for, and delivered on any Pure hardware that can host it. So, in theory, Flex allows customers to use capacity in any of their arrays.

Evergreen//One – formerly Pure-as-a-service – unifies on-premise and public-cloud storage resources in a single subscription to provide block, file and object storage. Customers pay only for what they use, in terms of effective capacity usage, not provisioned storage.

Customer commitments can be as short as 12 months, with longer 24- or 36-month terms available and minimum capacity is 50TiB. Four service levels are offered.

Pure1 management tools allow management across datacentre and cloud from a single dashboard. This includes monitoring and provisioning, as well as the ability to manage capacity and performance upgrades from Pure.

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