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Storage-as-a-service: Consumption models from the big six

We look at the big six storage makers’ consumption model offers, which allow customers to pay for on-prem hardware and cloud storage capacity on a pay-per-use basis, within limits

The cloud has affected IT much more broadly than simply bringing easy-to-consume remote compute and cloud storage. It has brought a whole new way of procurement and consumption, with pay-as-you-go and as-a-service becoming the new norm.

That desire to only pay for what you use has now spread to IT hardware and storage in particular, with the key array makers offering consumption models that allow customers to pay for their equipment according to what is used.

For many, that knocks the “traditional” three-year purchasing and upgrade cycle into a cocked hat. Financially, it takes storage hardware off the balance sheet and turns it into an operating expense (opex) rather than a capital expense (capex) outlay and so can be offset against tax.

In terms of flexibility, too, consumption models can mean more responsiveness to the need to increase – and possibly decrease – usage, with the ability to operate in hybrid cloud fashion adding to that.

In this article, we look at the big six storage array makers – Dell EMC, HPE, IBM, Hitachi Vantara, NetApp and Pure Storage – and what they offer in terms of consumption models.

All offer some way or another to pay for storage capacity according to what is used, and all have some kind of minimum commitment in terms of capacity.

But they differ, too, with some appearing more keen to offer or explain their consumption models for storage. Meanwhile, some make more of a deal of the ability to use hybrid cloud, and the suppliers naturally differ on to what extent storage can be paired with compute and other elements in the IT stack from their own stable.

Dell EMC Apex Flex on Demand

Dell EMC’s consumption model for hardware is Apex Flex on Demand. This allows customers to select from PowerMax NVMe flash, PowerStore mid-range all-flash, PowerFlex hyper-converged (HCI), ECS object storage and PowerEdge servers, plus some HCI solutions, and PowerProtect DD and PowerProtect DP data protection appliances.

Customers work with Dell EMC to determine a “committed capacity” and “buffer  capacity” likely to be required in the future. Raw and usable capacity data is measured several times a day at component level using automated tools installed with the hardware. Daily averages are calculated and a monthly average is then derived from the daily average.

Storage and data protection hardware are measured on raw/usable capacity consumed, while HCI also factors RAM usage into its equations.

HPE Greenlake

On sign-up with GreenLake, HPE delivers a preconfigured system that includes all the hardware and software needed, then manages the system during its lifecycle. Customers pay a monthly subscription fee based on a pay-for-use pricing structure.

Storage offered includes HPE Primera high-end NVMe/flash arrays, HPE Nimble all-flash, HPE Nimble all-flash and hybrid-flash storage arrays and Simplivity hyper-converged, as well as StoreOnce data protection appliances.

Data protection can also be via HPE Cloud Volumes Backup from on-prem to cloud with software from Veeam, Commvault or Cohesity.

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.

HPE also offers GreenLake Central, a self-service portal for monitoring usage, cost, security, compliance, performance and other metrics, including private and public clouds and edge environments.

Hitachi Vantara

Hitachi Vantara’s Flex plans offer its storage hardware via purchase or lease, as well as two true consumption models. The latter – known as EverFlex Consumption Utility and As-A-Service – differ 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’s Storage Utility is a pay-per-use model that delivers three years of planned 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 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.

Average use is measured daily over a monthly period, then billed quarterly. IBM Storage Utility is for industries and organisations with more than 250TB of storage needs.

IBM storage products available under Storage Utility include the all-NVMe FlashSystem 9200, enterprise mid-range FlashSystem 7200 and FlashSystem 5100, the mainframe-compatible DS8900F, TS7770 tape library, the full VersaStack converged infrastructure family which includes pay-as-you-use for Cisco compute, IBM Cloud Object Storage, Elastic Storage Server and the IBM Spectrum Protect Suite.

NetApp Keystone

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

Keystone payment options range from various ways to 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 level tiers is available, including Extreme, Premium, Standard and Value.

Billing is for predicted committed capacity, plus pay-per-use for burst capacity with bundle pricing that includes hardware, core OS and support for a £ per TiB price for file, block, object and cloud storage services.

NetApp’s hybrid cloud offer lets customers automatically tier infrequently accessed data to lower-cost storage, either on-premise or to any public cloud.

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

Pure Storage

Pure as-a-Service is a storage-as-a-service platform that unifies on-prem and public-cloud storage resources in a single subscription to provide block, file and object storage.

The offer was originally called Evergreen Storage, but was renamed in 2020. 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, ranging from mission-critical Ultra to the bulk Capacity offer, via Premium and Performance.

Hardware resources available are Pure’s FlashArray and FlashBlade arrays, and Purity software, plus cloud storage, and a unified subscription for all of it. 

Pure1 management tools allow management of the hybrid cloud environment 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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