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Rewriting the Genetic Code of Storage

Colin Gallagher Colin Gallagher
Vice President, Digital Infrastructure Product Marketing, Hitachi Vantara

October 5, 2021

Rapid, near-constant change is the defining state of today’s modern, digitally transformed business environment. As the past year has made painfully clear, it is time for a storage infrastructure and a storage strategy that can rapidly adapt. Such flexibility is essential to support the requirements brought about by new business conditions. Storage must enable business change and not be a disruption that slows or prevents progress.

Evolutionary biology offers students of storage an interesting analogy. First posited by Stephen Jay Gould, punctuated equilibrium suggests that changes in species are not the result of slow incremental processes over millions of years, as previously supposed. Species instead undergo rapid, radical change in very compressed times periods in response to extreme pressure. Anything unable to adapt quickly is pushed out of its niche, fated to die out. After such periods, the world stabilizes, but it is fundamentally different.

Incremental change while maintaining business resiliency has so far defined the history of data storage. Subtle improvements introduced over long periods of time have been the norm.

That long period of stability is at an end. Business conditions are changing rapidly in many dimensions. The pandemic dramatically expanded the footprint of remote work. Cloud adoption, digital transformation, and dramatic disruption of operations are surging inexorably across many industries. Apps and rapid delivery have replaced visits to stores. Virtual collaboration has replaced in-person meetings. A virtual desktop streamed from the cloud that runs on any handy lightweight device replaces a powerful desktop computer.

Stability has been the watchword in storage. Now the world needs its storage architectures to evolve quickly AND be stable. Today’s storage architecture must assume that change is the normal state of things. Storage arrays must be primed to support an ever-shifting mix of performance and cost requirements. Whether arrays target high-performance, balanced cost-performance, or lower-cost needs, all need to respond to the pressure of change. Even the end of a storage array’s life should be painless, with the transition to new arrays taking a matter of hours or days, not weeks or months, and never imposing disruption.

Change is constant, and when it comes to storage arrays, it should be effortless. It should not introduce additional risk to your business. Three characteristics define the storage species emerging from the pressures of the era of change: efficiency, resiliency and agility. While all three terms are deeply ingrained in the DNA of storage, evolutionary pressure is hard at work to dramatically rewrite the code that defines each.

Resiliency for When Things Go Wrong

Way back in 1999, a single stroke of a backhoe digging earth brought the internet to a standstill for much of the Eastern United States. While a problem for some businesses, it merely inconvenienced many others at the time. Today such an occurrence would bring nearly every business affected to a standstill.

Things can and will go wrong, and businesses can’t simply shut down when they happen. The ability to serve data at speed under any circumstances is not “nice to have.” It is essential to the survival of every business, regardless of its size. Things are going to happen. Performance under adversity has to be built into the genetic code of modern storage arrays.

Also associated with resiliency is an awareness that all things have a useful life span. Technology constantly moves forward. Components wear out. Accidents happen. A business can’t just hang an “out to lunch” sign on its window when its infrastructure needs maintenance or upgrades. Storage arrays must be predictable no matter what happens. Punctuated equilibrium tells us that something big is going to happen and that event will force change. We may not know what it is or when it will happen, but we can design storage arrays prepared to continue to perform even as they undergo rapid evolutionary change.

Efficiency Is About More Than Cost

Data is being produced in ever-increasing quantities and at a rate that far exceeds the resources available at most organizations. Storage arrays must adapt to make it possible to store more data at a lower cost. That is a more complex challenge than simply making physical storage devices less costly. Storage arrays must offer choices of hardware and software that allow one array to offer numerous price/performance tiers.

Efficiency is also a product of managing the increasing quantity of data without requiring an ever-increasing number of people to do the managing. Just as the transportation infrastructure is looking to autonomous cars, the world needs more self-driving storage infrastructure. Self-driving cars are expected to make travel safer by getting slow-reacting humans out of the driver’s seat. Similarly, in an increasingly congested digital world overrun with data, we need to leverage new technologies such as AI and machine learning to reduce the need for people to handle the care and feeding of storage constantly.

In a world of constant change, we also need to consider how storage is acquired and deployed. Storage needs may be increasing, but an organization needs different types of storage at different times. Storage not optimized to current needs is inherently inefficient. Changing businesses need new ways to obtain the storage they need and then switch to different storage quickly when their requirements change.

Agility Is the Key to Opportunity

Punctuated equilibrium is not just about asteroid strikes and volcanic eruptions. It also embraces opportunism, allowing a species to swell into a new niche to make the most of some new resource. Storage agility is correlated with opportunity, empowering a business to adapt to take advantage of trends and change quickly. It’s how business thrives.

Today’s businesses amas vast amounts of data, but not all data is the same. Some data is “cold data,” preserved for archiving, retention, backup, governance, and so forth. Then there is “hot data,” the stuff that actively courses through the veins of the business every day. While hot data has immediate, tangible value, there is no telling when cold data may suddenly be part of a hot opportunity. Storage platforms need to be able to morph to suit the rapid-fire pace of change. That may entail suddenly serving more users as the products of a business line change. As seen during the pandemic, businesses that formerly were primarily face-to-face operations now find themselves conducting predominantly online operations. Business patterns change, and storage platforms need the agility to support the business wherever it needs to go.

At Hitachi, resiliency, agility and efficiency are what we think about today as we rewrite the genetic code of storage technology. Our objective is to enable your business to make the most of today’s evolutionary opportunities to emerge at the top of tomorrow’s phylogenetic tree.

Colin Gallagher

Colin Gallagher

Colin leads product marketing for storage systems and software, and converged/hyper-converged solutions. He has 25-years’ storage marketing and product management and has a passion for telling stories about technical products that help customers solve business challenges.