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Forget emerging tech, consumption-based pricing booms in 2020

Cloud storage's appeal is based less on tech or total cost than on the value that comes from Opex pay-as-you-go pricing. Now you can get that cost model for on-premises storage.

This is the time of year when we forecast which storage technologies will emerge in the coming months.

My prediction is that the biggest change in enterprise storage in 2020 will not be a new technology or product. It will be the way people pay for data center storage. A decade or so into the cloud era, we are learning what makes the public cloud so popular is not how or where it stores data or its total price. What people like is how the cloud enables them to pay based on how they use resources, shifting their storage cost from a Capex to an Opex consumption-based pricing model. Now they can get that model inside their data centers, too.

The major storage vendors all offer consumption-based pricing through formalized programs such as Dell Technologies On Demand, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (HPE) GreenLake, Lenovo TruScale Infrastructure Services, NetApp Keystone and Pure Storage Evergreen Storage Service. All signal the arrival of what Dell COO Jeff Clarke called an on-demand economy.

These programs include selling storage and other infrastructure through subscriptions, pay-per-use, as-a-service and leasing models. Or, in other words, it's becoming an Opex world where customers can buy technology on-premises just like they would purchase cloud services.

On-premises Opex futures

Consumption-based pricing or as-a-service storage is not new. Some large vendors have offered Opex pricing for parts of their portfolios. Backup vendors have also adopted as-a-service models, and hyper-converged infrastructure pioneer Nutanix moved to a software-based subscription model in 2018.

But there is a new emphasis on making on-premises storage an Opex buy. HPE CEO Antonio Neri said all the vendor's products will be available as a service by 2022. NetApp rolled out Keystone at its annual Insight user conference in October, and Dell unveiled On Demand at the Dell Technologies Summit a few weeks later.

"The answer is we don't know," Dell chairman and CEO Michael Dell said when asked how many customers he expects will move to as-a-service pricing. "But we have some indicators."

He pointed to a spike in deferred revenue in recent quarters. "But as to how many of the customers will adopt it, we'll let the customers decide that," Dell said. "I will tell you that some customers don't want it. For example, in the public sector, customers don't want subscription services. But we're building all of our solutions so that they can be bought on a consumption and as-as-service basis."

If Nutanix CEO Dheeraj Pandey is correct, there may be more customers willing to buy storage subscriptions than Dell expects.

Whether I own it or whether he owns it, whether it runs in my data center or somebody else's doesn't even matter, right?
Slade WeaverSenior manager, Paypal

"Subscription pricing is becoming the foundation of all things multi-cloud," Pandey said. "We have a Global 10 customer buying subscription software from us, which was unthinkable three years ago. There's a transition to bring subscription pricing everywhere, not just off-prem but on-prem, too."

Slade Weaver, a PayPal senior manager in charge of its Core Data Platform, is a big NetApp storage customer. He attended NetApp Insight last October and said Keystone looks very interesting. Weaver said subscription pricing or leasing offers IT an enticing option for purchasing infrastructure.

"Whether I own it or whether he owns it, whether it runs in my data center or somebody else's doesn't even matter, right?" Weaver said. "You want to be in the data center business, great, knock yourself out. If you don't, go lease the space or go to the public cloud."

Michael Kientoff, senior systems administration for data protection at media giant Meredith, said his company bought Rubrik backup systems on a five-year lease. He said that provided flexible payment as well as easier upgrades.

"It's an Opex purchase," he said. "It worked out better for our financials. In year three, we're getting more capacity, they're bringing in more nodes. If we continue with Rubrik in year five, they swap out gear, bring in the next generation, vacate one node, bring in a new node and go through that process for the entire stack. It's their problem to come in and move us over to the new gear and get rid of the old gear -- not our problem anymore."

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