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HOW FLASH STORAGE CAN HELP THE STRATEGIC CFO TACKLE THE STORAGE COST CONUNDRUM

Steve O’Neill, CFO, EMEA Strategic Operations and Director of Sales Strategy explains the key things CFOs need to know when evaluating one of the top items of IT spend

Worldwide, the amount of digital data created, replicated and consumed each year is doubling every two years. EMC’s report found that the quantity of data will multiply 10-fold between 2013-2020, from 4.4 trillion gigabytes to 44 trillion gigabytes. This has complex – and expensive – consequences for businesses that need to store, secure and manage all this data to quickly drive competitive advantage whilst meeting with external compliance requirements and staff and customer needs.

Some estimates put the cost of this storage at between 40% and 60% of an organisation’s annual IT bill, as such, the CFO could benefit significantly from having a clear perspective on some of the emerging trends in in storage to help frame these investments.

Steve O'Neill
Steve O’Neill

One of the major trends in the way data is stored today is in the move from keeping data on traditional hard disk drives, which operate in much the same way as record players do with a ‘spinning’ disk, to solid-state ‘flash’ drives, such as the ones used in smartphones and tablets that have no moving parts. Whilst flash has historically been much more expensive per gigabyte of storage than traditional hard disk drives and therefore often ruled out of the CFO and CIO’s options, data reduction features are now making flashed based storage very affordable and the 3 to 5 year total cost of ownership (TCO) is changing accordingly along with understanding of the additional benefits that flash can deliver. However, beware that all Flash Storage Array’s are not the same, consistency and predictability are key.

Here are six things about flash storage I think CFOs need to consider.

  • Performance: Flash drives are fast. And they’re fast in multiple respects – not only can data be accessed from them more rapidly than hard disks, but they can also handle a greater volume of processing transactions in the same period of time. In addition, flash can deliver much higher levels of predictability and consistency in their processing times. This speed and predictability is important as it enables businesses to develop and run more sophisticated applications to analyse bigger data sets more quickly to give them a competitive edge – whether that’s for a financial services institution who can benefit from millisecond improvements in trade execution or retail businesses who want to quickly analyse point of sale information to manage stock control or direct marketing promotions.  Big data analysis, data rich applications, video and rich media customer engagement all require greater performance from your storage and it’s not unusual for flash to deliver 40%+ improvements in processing time or to enable whole net new functionality not previously available.
  • Risk: Flash drives also known as ‘solid state’ drives, are what the name suggests – there are no moving parts. This lack of moving parts makes them massively resilient and therefore much less risk of down time than traditional spinning disk drives. This also extends the use cases for storage equipment in previously unforeseen areas as they are much more resilient to external environmental factors, coping better in a wider range of temperatures and climates, explaining the military’s adoption of the technology early on.
  • Energy: The lack of moving parts reduces the power consumption both for running the equipment but also for cooling the data centre, as those moving parts generate heat. If physical storage is the number one cost of IT capital expenditure, then power in the data centre is usually in the top three of IT opex cost along with people costs and datacentre space. This can be significantly reduced in an IT environment where flash is utilised more widely and can be a significant contributor to your green agenda.
  • Simplicity: Typically due to the design and lack of moving parts, a Flash drive is simpler to install and configure than a traditional spinning disk and is often ‘plug and play’. This gives great benefits of both speed and agility of implementation but also at a reduced cost.
  • Footprint: A Flash drive is significantly smaller than a traditional spinning disk drive and ultimately takes up less space in your data centre. As data centre space is probably in your top 3 IT opex costs, either being based in your physical office in an expensive city location where square footage is at a premium or even outsourced to a data centre hosting company where you may be charged on the basis of the number of racks of server equipment you have in play, intelligent use of a mix of storage media, including flash, alongside storage virtualisation, can drive down the physical footprint your IT infrastructure requires. In fact, by taking advantage of data reduction features (compression and de-duplication) within an XtremIO array, customers can experience significant cost savings with examples taking solutions that would previously accommodate 5 racks in a data centre down to 1/7th of just one rack – you do the math!
  • Cost: When you consider the increased performance, reduced power needs, reduced footprint and reduced risk profile of a flash IT environment, the cost equation shifts significantly. Whilst capital expenditure for an ‘all-flash’ data centre may look to be more expensive than a traditional environment, the data reduction benefits and the positive impact on opex makes a 3 to 5 year TCO view potentially very different.

IT budgets – and indeed all budgets – are always under pressure. A strategic CFO looks beyond the initial capex view to weigh up the 3 – 5 year opex TCO and will engage with their counterparts in IT to evaluate when and where possible returns from investments in technologies, like flash, could pay dividends. Talking to customers around our business, we see phenomenal interest in the XtremIO flash technology as businesses wake up to its potential to improve business performance, create competitive advantage, reduce risk and save them money in the medium term. CF “Nos’”, in the meantime, won’t get past the price tag, and risk exposing their entire business to rising costs, competitive disadvantage and unwanted risk as the digital universe continues to expand.