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IT's need for speed: Is your cloud fast enough?
Tue, 3rd Oct 2017
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Most businesses want to digitally transform their operations, and fast.

All too often, however, they end up investing in clouds and other infrastructure that can't accelerate or maintain sufficient speed to meet their strategic plans.

As line-of-business users assume greater control over technology budgets, it's up to IT to educate them about the need for speed in the data center, and technologies like flash storage that bring enough raw performance to power their ambitions.

Non-IT business functions have very different expectations, and understandings, of the cloud than their more technical counterparts.

Today, those expectations typically revolve around digital transformation - using large volumes of high-velocity data to power a range of new digital channels like mobile and social media.

And these expectations influence technology investments like never before: IDC expects that by 2020, line-of-business technology spending will nearly equal that of IT.

IT's need for speed

In all this talk of digital transformation, it's easy to forget the basics of performance. No technology strategy can succeed without sufficiently fast, resilient hardware, whether it's located in the cloud or an in-house server room.

And while public clouds may offer greater upfront scalability or spin-up speeds, the actual performance of their hardware often remain relatively inscrutable to their customers.

IT teams instinctively understand the need for the right hardware: it's been part of their job for decades. Line-of-business leaders, however, tend to lack that same technical awareness of the underlying systems required to power their digital strategy.

As a result, many end up selecting their infrastructure based on cost or scalability – omitting the question of how fast the data center can actually run, or how efficiently they can ramp up that top speed with new infrastructure if needed.

That's an approach which can create significant issues for future growth, especially as the volume and velocity of data tend to increase far faster than any business can predict.

IT leaders need to ensure technology investments can meet both the current and future need for speed. In particular, that means moving data centers away from disks and into flash - one of the few mediums that can effectively handle high-performance, high-velocity applications like Big Data and analytics.

Doing so will bring storage up to speed – literally – with major leaps forward in network and compute performance in most public and private data centers, and give line-of-business functions what they need to achieve the full potential of their digital strategies.

Flash: Saving the data center?

To an extent, the move to flash is already happening locally: Even two years ago, the rate of adoption for all-flash array storage was more than 50% higher in Australia compared to the rest of the Asia Pacific region.

A growing number of Australian organisations are already considering all-flash data center, typically led by IT in a bid to meet line-of-business digital objectives.

At NetApp, we've seen our own business grow nearly three times as fast as the rest of the market since pivoting more heavily into all-flash products and platforms.

By 2020, 1 in 2 data centers are expected to use only flash arrays for primary data, perhaps even more in Australia where adoption has generally outpaced the global average.

However, there's still some way to go before flash becomes the norm in the data center – meaning IT teams can still gain a sizable competitive advantage if they begin adoption now.

The best way to start is by adopting flash as part of a private or hybrid cloud.

A growing number of businesses are struggling with the public cloud's lack of flexibility when it comes to hardware - it's never easy to upgrade a rack when you share it with thousands of other tenants - and moving to hybrid infrastructure as a more accommodating alternative.

When businesses move over to hybrid cloud, they can run their high-performance workloads on flash-based private infrastructure while maintaining less intensive ones in the public cloud.

As long as IT can ensure compatibility between the different segments of the cloud - especially across different storage protocols - this hybrid approach tends to give the business the agility and control over data that digital transformation efforts require.

As line-of-business needs evolve and grow, IT will have to maintain top speed across a growing range of infrastructure types.

Hyperconverged infrastructure, for example, has become a go-to for application testing and development workloads, rather than more data-heavy ones - but as those applications grow in complexity, they'll also demand much faster and more scalable hardware for storage and compute.

IT will also find itself under pressure to keep accelerating at low, or even decreasing cost – something that flash, with its minimal power and cooling footprint, is relatively well-suited to doing.

The speed of the cloud often gets overlooked, and it's up to IT to ensure that any infrastructural investments can keep pace with the ambitions of digital transformation.

Investing in flash as the new standard for storage can significantly raise the cloud's speed, but only if it's done with compatibility and enterprise-wide adoption in mind.

As long as IT leaders can steer their business counterparts' investments in the right direction, they'll be able to run well towards their digital goals - and avoid being left behind in the dust by the competition.