NetApp Keystone – How Do you Want It?

Disclaimer: I recently attended Storage Field Day 21.  My flights, accommodation and other expenses were paid for by Tech Field Day. There is no requirement for me to blog about any of the content presented and I am not compensated in any way for my time at the event.  Some materials presented were discussed under NDA and don’t form part of my blog posts, but could influence future discussions.

NetApp recently presented at Storage Field Day 21. You can see videos of the presentation here, and download my rough notes from here. This post is focussed on the Keystone presentation, but I recommend you check out the Oracle performance analysis session as well – I found it extremely informative.

 

Keystone? What Is It?

According to the website, “Keystone provides a portfolio of payment solutions and storage-as-a-service offerings for hybrid cloud environments to deliver greater agility, financial flexibility, and reduced financial risk that helps you meet your business outcomes”. In short, it gives you a flexible way to consume the broader portfolio of NetApp solutions as a service on-premises (and off-premises).

 

How Much XaaS Is Too Much?

According to NetApp’s research, no amount of XaaS is too much. The market is apparently hungry for everything as a service to be a thing. It seems we’re no longer just looking to do boring old Infrastructure or Software as a Service. We really seem to want everything as a Service.

[image courtesy of NetApp]

Why?

There are some compelling reasons to consume things as a service via operating expenditure rather than upfront capital expenditure. In the olden days, when I needed some storage for my company, I usually had a line item in the budget for some kind of storage array. What invariably happened was that the budget would only be made available once every 3 – 5 years. It doesn’t make any sense necessarily, but I’m sure there are accounting reasons behind it. So I would try to estimate how much storage the company would need for the next 5 years (and usually miss the estimate by a country mile). I’d then buy as much storage as I could and watch it fill up at an alarming rate.

The other problem with this approach was that we were paying for spindles that weren’t necessarily in use for the entirety of the asset’s lifecycle. There was also an issue that some storage vendors would offer special discounting to buy everything up front. When you went to add additional storage, however, you’d be slugged with pricing that was nowhere near as good as it was if you’d have bought everything up front. The appeal of solutions like storage as a service is that you can start with a smallish footprint and grow it as required, spending what you need, and going from there. It’s also nice for the vendors, as the sales engagement is a little more regular, and the opportunity to sell other services into the environment that may not have been identified previously becomes a reality.

No, But Really Why?

If you’ve watched the NetApp Keystone presentation, and maybe checked out the supporting documentation, you’re going to wonder why folks aren’t just moving everything to public cloud, and skipping the disk slinging middle man. As anyone who’s worked with or consulted for enterprise IT organisations will be able to tell you though, it’s rarely that simple. There may indeed be appetite to leverage public cloud storage services, for example, but there may also be a raft of reasons why this can’t be done, including latency requirements, legacy application support, data sovereignty concerns, and so forth.

[image courtesy of NetApp]

Sometimes the best thing that can happen is that there’s a compromise to be had between the desire for the business to move to a different operating model and the ability for the IT organisation to service that need.

 

Thoughts and Further Reading

The growth of XaaS over the last decade has been fascinating to see. There really is an expectation that you can do pretty much anything as a service, and folks are queuing up for the privilege. As I mentioned earlier, I think there are reasons why it’s popular on both sides, and I certainly don’t want to come across as some weird on-premises storage hugger who doesn’t believe the future of infrastructure is heavily entwined with as a service offerings. Heck, my day job is a a company that is entirely built on this model. What I do wonder at times is whether folks in organisations looking to transform their services are really ready to relinquish the control of the infrastructure part of the equation in exchange for a per-GB / per month option. Offerings like Keystone aren’t just fancy financial models to make getting kit on the floor easier, they’re changing the way that vendors and IT organisations interact at a fairly fundamental level. In much the same way that public cloud has changed the role of the IT bod in the organisation, so too does XaaS change that value proposition.

I think the folks at NetApp have done quite a good job with Keystone, particularly recognising that there is still a place for on-premises infrastructure, but acknowledging that the market wants both a “cloud-like” experience, and a new way of consuming these services. I’ll be interested to see how Keystone develops over the next 12 – 24 months now that it’s been released to the market at large. We all talk about as a service being the future, so I’m keen to see if folks are really buying it.

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