The Starbucks model for Storage-as-a-Service

Starbucks™ is not a coffee shop. It purveys beyond coffee and tea, and food and puts together the yuppie beverages experience. The intention is to get the customers to stay as long as they can, and keep purchasing the Starbucks’ smorgasbord of high margin provisions in volume. Wifi, ambience, status, coffee or tea with your name on it (plenty of jokes and meme there), energetic baristas and servers, fancy coffee roasts and beans et. al. All part of the Starbucks™-as-a-Service pleasurable affair that intends to lock the customer in and have them keep coming back.

The Starbucks experience

Data is heavy and they know it

Unlike compute and network infrastructures, storage infrastructures holds data persistently and permanently. Data has to land on a piece of storage medium. Coupled that with the fact that data is heavy, forever growing and data has gravity, you have a perfect recipe for lock-in. All storage purveyors, whether they are on-premises data center enterprise storage or public cloud storage, and in between, there are many, many methods to keep the data chained to a storage technology or a storage service for a long time. The storage-as-a-service is like tying the cow to the stake and keeps on milking it. This business model is very sticky. This stickiness is also a lock-in mechanism.

In the name of data modernization

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the marketing term of storage modernization. Data has been changing . The nature of data requirements has changed. The businesses now demand agile data, data that can be processed and has its value extracted almost in real time. Streaming data is becoming a first class citizen in data processing as storage platforms are changing to adapt to this new nature. Deep learning and machine learning workloads in the name of artificial intelligence future are changing the face of data, and storage is adapting to this. Automation, couple with infrastructure-as-code (IAC) are fueling (and inundating) the feverish pace of Kubernetes adoption. Data preservation, data sovereignty, data privacy and security are the other demands of data that either stitch together the stories of multi cloud-like service or tear the conversation fabrics apart.

In additional to that, consumption-based storage services provide better financial management of cashflow, costs and more efficient spending. OPEX type of storage spending is on the rise, with managed storage infrastructure and operations services getting a good fair exposure as an alternative to the legacy CAPEX business models.

All these things are happening in the name of data modernization.

The returns?

There are many forms to lure in the customers in the attraction of the modern data experience and cloud journey. Having an super cheap object storage (AWS Deep Archive Access Tier is $0.00099 per GB/month) is the perfect lure to entice customers to the S3 storage service until they find out about the egress fees. Having the ease of swiping a credit card to spin up a compute instance in minutes and spin down when it is not needed is another example. The complexity of larger storage-as-a-service setup to serve hundreds to thousand of applications and workloads creates the translucent consumption charging that could rival the Gordian Knot. The cheap cost of storage data, and the agility to use what I want when I want it can be viewed as an entrapment of sorts.

Another peeve I often bring up is the creation of data silos because the ease of spreading data across many premises in the sexy attraction of multiclouds and digital transformation snips off many data compliance, governance and sovereignty efforts to consolidate data with better protection and security, and less data movements. There is always an exchange of advantages and disadvantages, desirables versus undesirables.

In the end, are the returns of being losing the control of confidential data, continuing to pay a cost beyond a CAPEX-type investment, large scale impacts of service unavailability and cybersecurity risks, the diaspora of multiple data silos that oppose the single source of truth model, and other less optimistic notions of storage-as-a-service with the vendor’s lock-ins worth the storage and information management journey?

Your choice – lock-in or freedom?

Given the premise and settings of storage-as-a-service, regardless of premises, customers have a choice to decide. With open storage services freedom, there are obviously alternatives when one does not work out. Can the customer decide on a storage services model that works? One with these 5 Storage Freedom salient points to think about:

  • OPEX cost management with a pay-per-use or pay-as-you-grow pricing mechanism
  • Capability to mix both an economic open source storage platform with with commercial storage platform with the capability of API-driven, storage-as-code “like” integration for automation and agility, without losing primary storage features and functions.
  • Democratizing storage services to the web and Internet whilst the data is physically secured in an on-premises or hosted storage platform
  • Non-proprietary storage technology that is open to the ubiquitous x86 architectures and not on big irons systems like the mainframe or other mainframe-class storage. And the ecosystem can scale from the single node systems on a consumer-grade desktop to the enterprise-grade scale-up or scale-out storage architecture without short changing on features and losing the vitality of the storage services offering.
  • Less proprietary storage technology lock-ins

I will do a shameless plug with an iXsystems™ TrueNAS® video here., not because I work for iXsystems™. Having been involved in many different roles and capacities in everything storage for almost 30 years (next year March 2022), with a little ingenuity and resources, I truly believe the Open Source Storage Economics is possible with the 5 salient points I listed above.

Yeah, we like Starbucks™ but not exactly for the best coffee in the world. But they are like magical sirens at sea, constantly luring, baiting, inveigling the customers to be “locked in”. Maybe their mermaid logo is a siren in disguise.

Starbucks logo. Mermaid or siren?

In the end, whatever will be, will be. Que sera sera.



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About cfheoh

I am a technology blogger with 30 years of IT experience. I write heavily on technologies related to storage networking and data management because those are my areas of interest and expertise. I introduce technologies with the objectives to get readers to know the facts and use that knowledge to cut through the marketing hypes, FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) and other fancy stuff. Only then, there will be progress. I am involved in SNIA (Storage Networking Industry Association) and between 2013-2015, I was SNIA South Asia & SNIA Malaysia non-voting representation to SNIA Technical Council. I currently employed at iXsystems as their General Manager for Asia Pacific Japan.

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