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Enterprise storage: reading the tea leaves

data center
(Image credit: Image Credit: Scanrail1 / Shutterstock)

I’ve spoken to several CFOs over the last few months. My aim in doing so has been to better understand how our customers’ needs have changed after what has, needless to say, been a challenging year. From those conversations, it seems the only thing most CFOs are certain about right now is that their businesses are heading towards even greater uncertainty.

They’re uncertain about future revenue or growth. The ebbs and flows of supply and demand are becoming harder to pre-empt and they’re realizing that, during a pandemic, they can no longer use trends from the past to predict what will happen in the future. For many CFOs, thinking further down the line than two or three quarters is a scary prospect. You can survive negative growth for perhaps two thirds of the year, but if you are unable to pay salaries, suppliers, building fees, and so on, in the longer term, the company will go out of business. They’re left wondering: when will we finally stop treading water and actually turn a profit? How can we make that happen?

Meanwhile, CIOs have been thrust into the spotlight. In the first phase of the pandemic, they were responsible for facilitating the sudden transition to operating remotely, which included establishing a ‘new normal’ for remote workers. They will now start switching their focus from reactive crisis-mode to finessing long-term digital strategies that will ensure resilience and aid financial recovery. History has taught us that those companies will continue to grow post-crisis. Money is arguably more valuable than ever before, with budgets being used across the organization to combat the effects of Covid.          

What does this tell us about the future of IT spending? The saying goes that you have to spend money to make money, and that certainly applies to digital transformation efforts. But it’s clear that buying habits are going to change. So here are just some of the ways I anticipate seeing the enterprise storage landscape evolving over the coming months and years, in the aftermath of Covid-19.

Everything in the cloud? Not necessarily. 

Let’s start with one of the most obvious outcomes of the pandemic, and that’s an increase in cloud adoption. With most people working from home, the flexibility and scalability of cloud makes it an incredibly appealing solution for businesses to remain operational under incredibly volatile conditions. In fact, in a poll by Snow Software, 82 percent of the 250 IT leaders surveyed confirmed they had ramped up their use of cloud during the pandemic and a further 66 percent claimed they would continue to increase their overall use of cloud even after lockdown restrictions have been lifted.

Of course, we’ve already seen steady growth in the cloud market over the last few years, and while this will no doubt continue on its current upwards trajectory – now likely at an accelerated rate – that’s not the full story.

In step, we’ll also continue to see steady growth in the traditional enterprise storage market, albeit at a slower rate. The reason for that is that many companies are still running their data in a very high-performance environment, with very low-latency, and those workloads cannot be shifted into the cloud. Companies that still rely on block or file storage may instead opt to move from three-tier architecture towards a converged platform or alternatively a private cloud set up. For most companies, a hybrid environment, with a mixture of on and off premise cloud, along with the existing data center, will be the best option to meet their diverse storage and processing requirements. But there certainly won’t be a one-size-fits-all solution, particularly for large enterprises with especially complex needs.

We are moving into a hybrid IT environment, with edge, core and cloud offerings functioning in unison. Here the game is a hybrid IT model, a combination of cloud and non-cloud environments. Organizations that recognize this will do well.

Object storage on the up.

As the data landscape continues to grow in complexity, it’s important to not ignore the exponential growth of the object storage market. As businesses strive to become more data-driven the amount of unstructured data they accumulate will continue to expand. Think about all the different types of data an average organization collects in a single day. What is the value of data if you can’t find it?

We recognize an urgent need for many businesses to get structure around unstructured data by using functionality like metadata. In short, object storage brings structure to unstructured data. While block storage will continue to serve its purpose for structured data, object storage will really take off in a post-pandemic world.

More affordable storage with flexible consumption.

But in this uncertain new world, and as their enterprise storage requirements continue to evolve, businesses will need greater flexibility. They will desire solutions that give them the capacity to scale-up and scale-out depending on the fluctuating needs of their business. And of course, on what will inevitably be a long and difficult road to financial recovery, having more control over storage spend will be critical.

Flexible consumption models – or Storage as a Service (SaaS) – will become increasingly popular with vendors, allowing customers to pay only for what they actually use. For budget-conscious especially, SaaS will be a real lifeline. It can reduce the overheads associated with hardware costs and reduce some of the typical risks associated with infrastructure investments.  

If you’re looking for a stable production environment which runs 24/7/365 days a year, the most cost-effective solution is probably to run in the data center. However, cloud native applications are better suited to the cloud. There’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.

Becoming data-driven.

But of course, echoing the sentiments of the CFOs that I’ve spoken to, nothing is certain. And if the last few months have taught us anything, it’s that the future can be wildly unpredictable. Yet in business, you can never think too far ahead. After months of dramatic upheaval and rapid change, companies will now need to think long-term. That means laying out a data and digital infrastructure strategy and ensuring their architecture is robust, reliable, secure and scalable.

During the pandemic, most will have already laid the groundwork for greater digitalization. But the next step will be to fortify those foundations for the future, so that business can move from simply being data-enabled to becoming truly data-driven.

Tom Christensen, CTO and Customer Advocacy, Northern EMEA, Hitachi Vantara