Time to Conflate Storage with Data Services

Around the year 2016, I started to put together a better structure to explain storage infrastructure. I started using the word Data Services Platform before what it is today. And I formed a pictorial scaffold to depict what I wanted to share. This was what I made at that time.

Data Services Platform (circa 2016)- Copyright Heoh Chin Fah

One of the reasons I am bringing this up again is many of the end users and resellers still look at storage from the perspective of capacity, performance and price. And as if two plus two equals five, many storage pre-sales and architects reciprocate with the same type of responses that led to the deteriorated views of the storage technology infrastructure industry as a whole. This situation irks me. A lot.

Stacks, Platforms, Services

The landscape has changed. Capital expenditure (Capex) has significantly changed to an operating expenditure (Opex) model. Storage is consumed on a per-usage basis, and the storage services are measured in terms of service level objectives (SLO), services recovery and resumption speed, services latency, and secured access to these services. Yes, we still talk about capacity in TBs, uptime of 99,999% and IOPS over a million, but those metrics are in the secondary chatter group now. It’s all about the storage services as a utility. It is Data-as-a-Service world now.

The consumers of storage services from the infrastructure level are the applications and workloads (A&W). Different components to amalgamate the services has formed technology stacks – alliances of applications, services and infrastructure component where frictionless integration is achieved through software development, API calls and up and coming industry formats. And with the working technology stacks acting as a cohesive unit, comes the services platform. As the technologies mature and grow, management and automation are scaling these services platforms.

Like it or not, the inevitable digital transformation revolution is powered by the technology services. And storage infrastructure should, must become part of the Data Services Platform.

Data driven and Devops

Both data driven and devops are becoming clichés. Overused by technology marketing and obfuscated. Underneath them, what is happening is the application (should I say services) developers and architects are summoning storage infrastructure as services. The data storage services they wish to conjure at scale do not involve about which RAID level to use, or what is the IQN of this iSCSI target LUN. Infrastructure-as-Code (IAC) is very much part of Devops as it becomes the data services, storage-as-a-service trivialized, virtualized and exposed, to help these application architects to build, automate and scale data-driven insights and initiatives. All these should lead to outcomes such as better customer service, new product development, more secure services integration and more.

From horizontal to vertical

In my time with Sun Microsystems®, NetApp®, Hitachi Data Systems®, EMC® (before Dell®), the tasks a storage architect cared about were pretty much across the storage infrastructure itself. There were requirements of understanding the network layers of TCP/IP and Fibre Channel, and the storage protocols of iSCSI, SMB, NFS and FTP. Object storage, and now NVMe are some of the newer storage technologies thrown into the mix, but the mindset of the storage architect stretched horizontally. The domains of knowledge and expertise were horizontal, pretty much confined to the infrastructure layer.

The better architects went into better understanding of applications and workloads, mostly because the path to have a better, stickier conversations were with the application people. Understanding databases, email servers, web servers, file servers, virtualization, backups and in recent years, HPC, AI/ML and data streams processing applications became new bullets in the storage architect’s Batman utility belt. Alongside came containers and Kubernetes, and the requirement to understand the integration of these services to the storage infrastructure layer, and inevitably part of the storage  technology stack space. Adequate knowledge of an application developer or a services architect is a must now. The universe of a storage architect expanded further.

In my description of the journey of a storage architect, the knowledge and skills have been steadily moving upwards in the technology services stack. This shifting of the sands, this evolution has coerced the horizontal mindset into a vertical one. A storage architecture must now be equipped with many more technology knowledge beyond his or her layered realm, and required to make breakthrough vertically into other layers above storage. Storage infrastructure has become a Data Services Platform.

Data Services Ops is coming

In addition, there are other factors to consider when a storage architect moves up vertically. Data services are now evolving as code and the race to secure, manage and automate storage services without friction is on. Forward thinking storage technology companies are already building Data Services Ops Center, a central nervous type of data storage and services platform that ties and orchestrates all these data services together and deliver them congruently to the applications and services of the organization.

Data services lifecycle, the scaling up or scaling down, or even termination of unproductive data services will become part of the Ops Center. Data protection and data adherence to regulatory compliance laws will be there as well. Data services observability and the ability to predict and remediate possible disruption, improving services in real time will be a compulsory essential feature.

This is the change that is happening now. And we have to start having a better storage conversation beyond capacity, performance and price. Time to conflate and combine storage infrastructure conversations into a Data Services one is now.

Change we must with the storage stories

It is time we change the narratives. It is time to speak a more inclusive language and involve storage infrastructure holistically with data services. It is time to have a truthful story about storage services for the industry to grow.

I leave you with a great quote from Wayne Gretzky. We do not lie on our backs of our esteemed past. We bring up the vision of where we are going to be. Know where the hockey puck is going to be and be there with the new mindset. A data services mindset.

The great Wayne Gretsky’s quote

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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 that is my area 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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