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How to spot genuine Storage-as-a-Service: a quick guide for the region’s digital innovators

cloud digital transformation
(Image credit: Shutterstock / issaro prakalung)

Over the past 12-18 months, technology decision-makers have rightly been preoccupied with how to economize their IT environments in the face of external tumult. Irrespective of whether they chose to operate fully in the cloud, on-prem or hybrid, they sought IT models that could deliver cloud benefits — flexibility in consumption, a simplified user experience, lower total cost of ownership (TCO) and support options. 

This brings about significant implications for infrastructure, which is a mission-critical IT component for any business looking to compete in a digital economy. IT decision-makers increasingly demand infrastructure models that look more like the new world of cloud, not the old world of multiyear purchasing, operational overhead, and the responsibility of delivering service level agreements (SLAs) landing on stakeholders. Today’s savvy CIOs want to get away from legacy issues such as up-front expenditure, vendor lock-in, risky forecasting, and unpredictable overheads.

A recent study by IDC predicts that by 2024, 43 percent of organizations expect consumption of -aaS models to increase – and this is a direct result of the most recent economic crisis. Additionally, half of the world’s data center infrastructure is going to be consumed in as-a-service offerings. Unfortunately, when it comes to storage, not all of those who go looking for a true Storage-as-a-Service (STaaS) model will find the real deal.

Not all STaaS is built equal

Procurement teams that settle on a STaaS goal are likely to be disappointed with the limitations of some providers. The same pressures that are pushing customers to new operational models are dragging legacy vendors to the realization they need to adapt their offerings. However, some are doing this by concocting offerings that merely pass for flexible consumption models during the specification-and-selection process, but crumble in the face of modern real-time business needs. It’s important for businesses to bear in mind that the long-term lock-ins, cost fluctuations and disruptive upgrades of old still very much remain.

The modern CIO is out to smash legacies. They need to be looking for the signs of “Broken Subscription on Demand” passing for STaaS. First, let us agree that -aaS should be about more than subscription-style cost models. Regaling business stakeholders with tales of the virtues of operational expenditure (OPEX) versus capital expenditure (CAPEX) may win over some, but CIOs now need commitments to meet more requirements than cost. In implementing true STaaS, IT leaders are in search of business partners, not suppliers. 

Providers that dress up legacy models as new-and-shiny answers to emerging demands will be reticent to participate in an SLA designed for the customer. Under their terms of engagement, the “S” is removed from “-aaS”. There will be also a concerted effort to avoid including penalties in contracts as they relate to performance or downtime. What’s more, the responsibility for capacity management may be pushed onto the customer, requiring them to be proactive in planning and requesting increases. In the end, these changes may not be possible under the contract, because a given capacity may only be changeable at the date of expiration and renewal. Contracts can sometimes even include clauses that commit the provider to a mere fraction of the required capacity. And on asset management, customers frequently find that they must make explicit requests and even shoulder the cost of shipping and installation. 

What good looks like

True STaaS offers the OPEX model, of course, but it goes way beyond this to a business-partner approach that concentrates on delivering value and flexibility. STaaS providers build their offerings around SLAs and SLOs, and design agreements with the needs of CIOs firmly in mind. In order to offer a real service, there needs to be data, observability, and telemetry of workloads to manage the tight SLOs offered to customers. They put the “Service” back into “as-a-Service”. 

For a start, because of their service-centered business models, true STaaS providers should not have any doubts about including penalty clauses in contracts that are tied to performance and downtime, having carefully designed their operations to be non-disruptive. Capacity management is a tight collaboration between provider and customer, where extra storage is set aside up front to allow for rapid, on-demand expansion; and the contract will allow for these changes to be done at any time, with no penalties for the “breaking” of clauses. With the right agreement providers will also anticipate asset requirements, shipping as needed and installing at no extra cost.

Perhaps one of the greatest hallmarks of cloud-like models is not so much the ability to move with the times, but the ability to do so automatically. STaaS carries with it the upgrades of hardware and software as they become available rather than when they are asked for and paid for. Additionally, these upgrades are 100 percent non-disruptive as opposed to the legacy 3–5-year forklift processes, which not only require planned downtime/maintenance, but also add unnecessary and undesirable risk. It is this feature, more than any other, that establishes the bona fides of any provider claiming to offer STaaS.   

Reap the rewards

True Storage-as-a-Service is, quite simply, the model customers demand rather than the model some legacy providers want to foist upon them. At a very minimum, the STaaS offering selected should offer a cloud experience; no business disruptions when migrating (or thereafter); easy installation; proactive management; flexible options for entry, expansion and exit; transparent pricing; flexibility of architecture, from cloud to on-prem to hybrid; automation capabilities, especially in upgrades and maintenance; and a seamless experience that does not vary whether the solution is delivered directly or through a partner.

STaaS has the power to accelerate organizations’ digital transformation efforts and help them do more with their data. — meaning CIOs are able to better align technology with business goals and reshape operational units. This allows the people responsible for storage to leave mundane management monotony behind them and focus more of their time on creativity and innovation: cost-effectiveness follows; productivity follows; innovation follows; business growth follows. And in today’s global digital economy, could there be any stronger case than that for true STaaS?

James Petter, General Manager International, Pure Storage

James Petter
James Petter is VP EMEA at Pure Storage.