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With on-premises storage, storage administrators must adapt or perish

Storage admins show increased interest in and adoption of on-premises storage technologies such as software-defined storage and hybrid clouds.

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"It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change." Though often attributed to him, Darwin never actually wrote this line. Still, there is a near-universal truth in those words that's applicable to a wide variety of environments, including the realm of information technology.

Public cloud services have become agents of evolutionary change, not just for the IT industry, but for IT careers as well. Over the past several months, I have encountered numerous IT leaders whose organizations are in some phase of digital transformation involving the integration of public cloud resources and other recent innovations.

New on-premises storage technologies have also seen increased interest and adoption. These storage innovations -- such as software-defined storage, converged and hyper-converged infrastructure, and hybrid clouds that take the form of on-premises cloud controllers or gateways -- can provide significant value and cost savings over traditional storage architectures. While public cloud services receive the lion's share of media coverage, these storage innovations for on-premises or hybrid environments are often capable of delivering economic savings that can rival or even surpass those of public cloud services.

Recently, I've had several rather disconcerting conversations with storage administrators that reveal a distinct resistance to the latest in on-premises storage.

It is important to concede that organizations differ on the rate at which they adopt and integrate new technologies, and while some businesses embrace these innovations, a few IT shops and administrators are resistant. Delaying adoption can be a prudent decision, but there is a difference between a strategic delay and an unwillingness to change. In fact, I've recently had several rather disconcerting conversations with storage administrators that reveal a distinct resistance to the latest in on-premises storage.

This opposition usually emerges with data storage technologies that overlap with internal spheres of administrative or political control, as innovations such as SDS and convergence can blur the lines of responsibility among storage, server and virtualization teams. Many organizations respond by adjusting how they allocate responsibility to align with changes in technology, but some resist.

ESG research identifies these concerns as well. A recent ESG study found that one of every three storage administrators views convergence as the technology most likely to impact their job in five years, while one in eight indicated SDS. Although these technologies often blur the lines of responsibility between storage and other IT infrastructure divisions, they can also deliver tremendous savings in both capital and operational expenses.

Natural selection

While organizations that resist these innovations face a number of risks -- the most obvious of which is being surpassed by competitors that benefit from the efficiencies engendered by these new technologies -- data storage administrators who fight or ignore these changes place themselves at even greater risk. For example, inherent in application development is the demand for speed and agility. Development teams need resources quickly and cost effectively, but if traditional IT processes don't provide those resources, they will go around and subvert process by (often) turning to public cloud resources.

The efficiency delivered by recent on-premises storage architectures, such as SDS, often delivers storage capacity at or below the cost of the public cloud.

The resulting IT "gray market" creates several challenges for businesses and administrators such as:

  • Data isn't protected or secured by traditional means.
  • Spending on IT becomes obscured and less predictable than other budgets.
  • Applications developed on non-IT approved resources encounter problems as they transition to production, slowing down application development and further burdening operational expenditures and business as a whole.

In an extreme case, an entire business may simply decide to shift its on-premises architecture to a fully hosted or public cloud site. ESG research found that leveraging cloud services as an alternative to in-house infrastructure is the most commonly identified means of containing IT expenditures and cutting costs.

The takeaway: IT leaders already perceive the cloud as a more cost-effective option. In reality, however, the public cloud is not always less expensive. The efficiency delivered by recent on-premises storage architectures, such as SDS, often delivers storage capacity at or below the cost of the public cloud. These savings quickly become apparent when adjusting for the cost of data ingest and egress.

Reluctance to evaluate the latest on-premises storage innovations inhibits businesses from accurately comparing on-premises to public cloud storage options.

Thanks to continual innovations in storage technology, the on- versus off-premises decision isn't clear-cut. The approach that wins is often determined by the specific needs of the application. Reluctance to evaluate the latest on-premises storage innovations inhibits businesses from accurately comparing on-premises to public cloud storage options, increasing the likelihood that they will stick with their preconceived notion that public cloud is cheaper.

Additionally, once a workload has moved off-premises to a public cloud resource, the challenge of migrating data can make it near impossible to pull the data back. So even if, in the end, it makes the most financial sense for a workload to stay on-premises, once it moves to the public cloud, it will likely stay there.

Survival of the fittest

Fully understanding the potential of on-premises storage technology requires evaluating the latest innovations.

The cloud is fundamentally changing the IT industry, and public cloud resources offer tremendous value. Storage vendors responded by innovating with new technologies that have shifted the cost curve and deliver hardware flexibility. Not every organization is ready to adopt new technology immediately, of course, preferring a more prudent and cautious approach. But when choosing between an on- versus off-premises deployment, businesses need all the relevant information to make the right decision.

Consequently, fully understanding the potential of on-premises storage technology requires evaluating the latest innovations. Organizations and individuals that resist doing so can't fully adapt to the new IT ecosystem and risk falling behind or, worse, getting left behind completely.

About the author:
Scott Sinclair is a storage analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group in Austin, Texas.

Next Steps

Pros, cons of integrating on-premises, public cloud storage

Unlock the power of on-premises cloud storage

Hybrid cloud storage vs. public, private clouds

This was last published in September 2016

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What appeals most to you about on-premises storage technology?
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It's not just the cost, but the kind of cost. Cloud storage is typically an ongoing operational expense, while in-house storage is typically a capital expense (plus some ongoing operational). so to a certain extent it depends on your company and how easy it is to get each kind of money.
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