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The COVID-19 pandemic is exacting a toll on data center storage services. With many employees working from home, enterprises are finding that operating, maintaining and updating a storage infrastructure is a challenge.
This situation has businesses shifting, or planning to shift, at least some storage spending from on-premises data centers to the cloud. Others are updating and improving their on-premises storage systems in ways that will help handle new and unique user demands.
The pandemic has highlighted the need for flexible and scalable architectures, said Peter Tannenwald, a director in the technology practice at West Monroe Partners, a Chicago management and consulting firm. "The supply chain and operating distortions driven by the emergency have challenged IT operations teams to provide capacity and capabilities as part of a new normal, challenging legacy assumptions," he noted.
Many data center operators over the past six months have witnessed surging demand for storage resources, because data frequently must be made easily available to large numbers of internal and external users. "With the growing demand comes the need to increase infrastructures, which requires more workers, more software and hardware resources," said Jorge Garcia, principal analyst at Technology Evaluation Centers, an impartial technology advisory firm based in Longueuil, Quebec. The pandemic, however, has made it difficult for operators to obtain and deploy these resources in a timely manner.
Given the difficulty of upgrading on-premises storage resources, many organizations are opting for a public cloud-first storage approach. "Clients are starting to realize that cloud solutions enhance security, avoid network downtime, achieve operational efficiency, and support low cost and automated disaster recovery," Tannenwald said.
Staffing issues are also motivating managers to transition storage resources from on-premises sites to the cloud. "Technical staff can't, because of the pandemic, come into work, and an outage can knock out the business," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst for technology research firm The Enderle Group, based in Bend, Ore. "Any enterprise that isn't at least thinking about [cloud storage] is in some form of pandemic denial."
Budgets for on-premises IT technologies, including storage, appears to be in decline this year, Tannenwald said. "Public cloud-based compute and storage services are, in contrast, increasing as per their past trends."
Data center storage deployment issues
Compared to cloud services, on-premises data centers are expensive to build, equip and maintain. Buying data storage facilities, such as disks and servers, can be costly. Traditional on-premises data center storage infrastructures also require physical accessibility -- a definite disadvantage during a pandemic.
"A data center needs to provide high availability, high throughputs and low latency," said Jerry Cheng, an assistant professor of computer science at the New York Institute of Technology. "Addressing any of these requirements will need long-term professional or expert-level technical support, which is infeasible for many small or medium organizations."
Cloud storage services provide easy-to-use interfaces, elastic storage capacities and disaster tolerance capabilities, Cheng said. Organizations can buy the most appropriate cloud storage service based on their actual demands at a reasonable price, and cloud data centers can be easily upgraded or downgraded without worrying about maintaining the physical storage infrastructure. "Cloud data centers significantly reduce the entry bar for small organizations and are attracting more users to shift from on-premises data centers to the cloud," Cheng said.
Remote management and automation
To manage and maintain a data center with fewer on-site staff members, it's necessary to establish a remote access control capability that enables teams to remotely manage storage devices. It's also important to deploy effective fault tolerance and disaster tolerance mechanisms. "The data center [operator] needs to consider many worst-case scenarios to provide data redundancy, high availability and disaster recovery, even with the presence of hardware failures," Cheng said.
Rob EnderlePrincipal analyst, The Enderle Group
IT automation is beginning to play a critical role in almost all IT areas, and data center storage is no exception, particularly when supported by powerful emerging technologies, such as AI. "Two areas where automation will be key are security, where intelligent automation can help mine and automatically analyze larger data sets to detect, prevent and correct security risks, and automatic resource management and assignment," Technology Evaluation Centers' Garcia said.
Automation can also help data center operators achieve new levels of agility while reducing labor and maintenance costs. "Automation techniques can perform automated disk error detection, data backup, storage resource allocation and reallocation, data recovery, fault tolerance and disaster tolerance," Cheng said.
Automation can help accelerate on-premises data center storage deployments while providing deeper visibility into storage use. It also allows developers to build storage controls into their code using APIs and containers. "Storage automation will become more flexible and enable the interoperability of storage platforms and services within a hybrid infrastructure," Tannenwald said.
Another benefit of automation is its ability to help IT teams work more efficiently, wherever they're located. "Automation can minimize time spent on repetitive tasks," Tannenwald explained, "allowing for more focus on forward-thinking planning and execution."