Taking a Converged Infrastructure Approach Enables Business Innovation - HP’s Kyle Fitze Discusses Storage Trends for 2010

Enterprises that downplay the importance of storage management may be putting other key enterprise objectives at risk. That's the message from Kyle Fitze, Director of Marketing, Storage Platforms Division, HP StorageWorks.  With IT shops facing constrained budgets and data volumes continuing to escalate, Fitze says, greater efficiency in the IT infrastructure is a requirement so that more money and time can be targeted at IT projects that will drive business growth. "Today, we believe that most customers spend upward of 70% of their budget just keeping the systems running and the lights on and everything cooled, on maintenance and operations, and the remainder of their budget on innovative IT projects," he observes.  What HP would like to do, "is flip that ratio, so that customers, while they spend less on IT overall, are spending a smaller percentage of their budget on operations and the larger percentage then on innovation and business intelligence, and the kind of IT projects that can help them navigate these rough waters of economic decline."

Here, Fitze describes the challenges organizations are facing, and the storage trends that HP believes will have an impact in 2010, helping companies dedicate more resources to gaining competitive advantage as the economy rebounds from the turmoil of the past year.

DBTA: Describe the situation that customers find themselves in as they embark on 2010.
Fitze: The state that we find our customers in relates to their overall IT infrastructure challenges. Back about a year ago when the economy really started to decay, we performed some research with a group of IT customers and buyers and used that to help determine how we might shape solutions and launches in our technology strategies and investments to address what we saw as a very dynamic, very uncertain environment. We have now lived through this for four-some-odd quarters. In September, we refreshed that research, covering a little over 500 CIOs and CEOs across both midsize companies, and larger enterprises.

DBTA: What have you learned?
Fitze: The dynamic here is that even in these tough economic times when budgets are constrained and companies are cutting back on expenses and trying to shore up their profitability, we continue to see growth in information data. Even in tough times, companies continue to collect information about their business, about their customers, the transactions, and all that continues to grow. And, in times like these, companies really need to understand and improve their business intelligence. They can't not address that growth, but what they try to do though is more efficiently and effectively address it. And that's what we saw-a lot of interest in this past year and extending into this year, on driving greater efficiencies of their IT infrastructures.

DBTA: How is HP trying to address these challenges?
Fitze: At a company level, we are really trying to both ride and drive trends toward convergence because we think that infrastructure convergence, the convergence of storage and servers and networking, provides the opportunity to drive greater efficiency and leverage volume economics. Particularly at companies like HP, we can leverage our large supply chain as a way to drive down costs for customers, we can leverage technologies across those server, storage, networking domains to drive innovation and R&D more efficiently and effectively. But ultimately, we believe it can actually help our customers save a lot of their IT budgets as well.

DBTA: Looking at some of the key trends in storage, that are emerging or being reinforced in 2010, what role will virtualization play?
Fitze: Looking at the ways that customers can optimize their existing infrastructure environments, one of the key things that we think can aid in that is consolidating and virtualizing their storage and IT infrastructures. Virtualization on the server side has been a trend that has been growing even during this economic downturn. The main reason that customers virtualize their server infrastructure is to improve their provisioning, improve their server utilization, to be able to dynamically respond to changing business needs. But when they just virtualize their server environment, they end up constraining their network and their storage infrastructures in terms of scalability and performance;  backup becomes a very challenging task when you are trying to back up a greater number of virtual servers on a physical infrastructure. It creates a lot of performance and administrative bottlenecks and challenges that we believe can be addressed by end-to-end virtualization of the entire infrastructure. That is a trend that we have been driving this year with network-based virtualization  for storage, with products like  our SVSP, which is our SAN Virtualization Services Platform, and also something we are addressing with device-based virtualization either in our  large scalable file solutions like the Extreme Data Storage 9000 series network storage products,  or within our Virtual Library for backup applications-where you take a bunch of physical disks and make them appear to the applications and the databases like tape libraries. What you can end up doing then is lowering your administrative costs, and improving your efficiencies and utilization.

DBTA: What about cloud-based storage?
Fitze: It is not a one size fits all for customers or for applications. It really depends on the specific need. Some workloads and applications tend to allow outsourcing and cloud-based providers more than others. For instance, if you think about the business models that were created around remote backup and recovery operations - where you were offloading tapes for long-time archival - you can imagine that customers can transform that model into a remote backup service that is delivered over a cloud infrastructure pretty seamlessly. The trust factor has already been established there with the provider; you are just changing the delivery mechanism from tapes going on a truck somewhere to bits flying over the internet to a service provider. A lot of the encryption and a lot of the authentication and access - security issues - have been established. They  just need to perhaps be re-architected a little bit in terms of some of these cloud service providers but it is a workload and a business model  that I think customers are willing to try.

If you compare that to something like your  transactional ERP database that you are running  your mission-critical business operations on, I think customers are a lot more cautious about offloading that, both for security concerns - obviously, there is a lot of sensitive information, there are a lot increased regulation applied to how that information is kept and retained overtime, and so that crates challenges - but even more of an issue is just establishing that trust factor that this infrastructure and service that you are getting over the cloud can support this very demanding mission-critical application for your business.

DBTA: Are you finding that data deduplication is becoming a core component of companies' storage strategies in order to increase capacity and drive efficiency?
Fitze: Absolutely. Because you are dealing with a problem about how much physical storage you have to provision to support the data that you need to store. Here the problem can be addressed both by provisioning less storage up-front with technologies like thin provisioning, or efficient storage tiering and the like, but also looking at the number of copies that you have across your enterprise. It is an interesting challenge because in some ways data protection strategies require copies. But the question is how many copies of each type of data do you really need to support your business? If you look, for instance, at a backup workload, here it is all about creating redundant copies for recovery and for restoring downed systems. But if you are able to do that  more efficiently by reducing the duplication in those data streams as they are being archived or backed up,  then you can actually get more return on your backup infrastructure investment by being able to cover and support more applications and more data with fewer disks and fewer tape drives. Because of the nature of backup workstreams, in that it is often highly sequential, it is often scheduled, and it is not a random write and read kind of environment that needs high performance and frequent access, it is a really good place for deduplication technologies and that is where we led our innovation iaround dedup at HP.

DBTA: What are customers' attitudes about the use of solid state storage technology?
Fitze: It is very much emerging today. It is still a very low percentage of the overall drives shipped in the industry and within HP. We began offering solid state disk drives both in our servers, like our Proliant and blade servers where density and power efficiency was needed and we started offering solid state technologies in caching appliances, in stand-up cards within those servers to improve performance and then this last year, we introduced solid state dives as a performance tier within our arrays like our Enterprise Virtual Array and XP array family of products. We did that to address the need for efficient storage tiering where customers are looking to optimize the capacity deployed to more closely match the needs of the application. Where they have database transaction logs or high performance needs,  they might take that off of an enterprise disk drive and put that onto a solid state drive for greater density, greater  power efficiency and greater performance  and then take large files, rich content, less frequently accessed data, maybe even clones for data protection, off of those enterprise drives and put that onto high capacity ATA-based disk drives. In doing that, they create three tiers of capacity and drive technologies within their array and they are able to reduce the overally capacity deployed, they are able to get greater performance for applications that need it, and get greater utilization or lower cost per gigabyte for those kinds of applications that need that with ATA-based disk drive technology. SSDs are really part of an efficient storage tiering strategy but still as I said it is a small percentage of the overall drives shipped, but we are seeing customers increasingly adopting that in high performance applications.

DBTA: Green initiatives have been sweeping the IT industry, both for the environmental impact and of course the cost reduction. How is that impacting storage environments?
Fitze: There is a tremendous amount of interest in driving down your operating cost for your infrastructure.  Power is a big component of that. Often, we find that customers are over-provisioning their data centers' power infrastructure and cooling infrastructure because it is so difficult to predict their future needs.  Technologies like SSDs, like efficient storage tiering, and frankly, like the more efficient power supplies and industry standard infrastructures within the data center can greatly drove down the power consumed and cooling required for your environment.

With the EVA, for instance, where we have storage tiering with SSDs and high capacity drives we have demonstrated that we can actually reduce the power and capacity utilization by roughly 45-50% as well in those environments. It is something that we see customers very much interested in, it is something that we are delivering with new storage technologies like SSDs, but it is also something that we are innovating in across HP as we look at some of the intelligent power management capabilities - sensors and software for data center management that we are adding into our environments as well. It is not something that you can solve just from a storage perspective.

DBTA: Going back to the convergence of IT infrastructures, why is  a key strategy for HP now?
Fitze: We think we can drive efficiencies both within our company in terms of how we deliver solutions to customers, how quickly we can innovate and how we can leverage R&D innovation across servers and storage networking but also because we think that ultimately customers can benefit by having a standardized, industry standards-based modular infrastructure that they can deploy more effectively and efficiently in their IT environment. 

If you take a look at some of the recent trends within storage for instance whether it is virtual library systems or file-based storage systems or even increasingly just application storage systems and arrays, those systems under the covers are really increasingly an industry-standard server running  a storage application so we plan to continue to drive that convergence of servers and storage and do that in a way that lets our customers provision their storage more efficiently, but more importantly their  data center and applications more efficiently going forward. That is a trend that is not specifically storage focused but one that we are certainly driving across servers and storage networking here in the coming years.

Interview conducted and edited by Joyce Wells.