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Hand-me-down storage strategies evolve with solid state

When talking to clients about their IT needs and storage vendors about system development, I notice a change in the expected longevity of storage systems. This change is largely due to the rise of solid state storage systems.

Many of our high-end enterprise clients have had an established practice of using disk-based primary storage systems for three years in that role. After that, they move tier 1 application data to a new storage system and relegate the old system (now an ancient three-years old) to secondary storage for two more years.

The five-year lifespan and the plan to update or upgrade storage systems was based on the reliability of the system (meaning component failure rate change over time), the advantages of improved technology every few years, and the cost for maintenance once the warranty period expires.  This has been built in depreciation schedules and business plans.

Now I’m seeing a new dynamic around how long people expect their storage systems to provide value. This is an outcome of the availability and maturing of solid-state storage systems and plans to use them with tier 1 applications and virtualization. Most vendors have made great strides in addressing wear-out issues and the reliability improvements are driving down the service cost estimates for flash. Some vendors are quoting longer warranty periods or reduced maintenance costs.

Our IT clients see the dramatic performance improvements from all-SSD systems. They are purchasing more systems and capacity while still getting the benefits from the initial system they deployed. The depreciation schedules can change and the main driver for purchasing is not for replacement, but for addition.

All-flash storage systems are changing the thinking around the longevity of storage systems.  The planned hand-me-down process may no longer be the norm.  Some vendors see the longevity as a competitive opportunity and are aggressively pursuing that with a longer warranty period, lower maintenance costs, or a more easily negotiated warranty extension.  Other vendors have finance people that see maintenance revenue as a birthright annuity, and they are not changing. This is a competitive area and using negative marketing information to hold onto that annuity revenue will only work until the competitors have made enough inroads with customers to take away the business.

This will be another interesting storage trend to watch develop.  It will be an important competitive area and will distinguish vendors where innovation and opportunity is held back by maintaining that financial annuity while letting the competition move forward.

(Randy Kerns is Senior Strategist at Evaluator Group, an IT analyst firm).

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