How to have infrastructure on tap without diving into the public cloud

Dell APEX points way to consumption-based IT

Sponsored On the face of it, the answer to all IT infrastructure questions is simple: more. More workloads, meaning more servers, more storage, and more staff to service them. And more budget.

Yet, when they stop and think, most tech pros would admit that things are more nuanced. Yes, there are always new demanding workloads – machine learning and AI or real time, for example – but these are themselves highly variable. The storage and compute demands when developing and training machine learning algorithms may be quite different to the inference stage.

There is seasonality to consider as well. Retailers will clearly see spikes in demand at certain times of the year, an airline at others. A healthcare organization may be running at near full capacity most of the year.

And there’s always the unexpected, such as a pandemic putting a rocket up an otherwise stately transition to virtual desktop infrastructure or, alternatively, bringing your hospitality business to a halt because of lockdown.

Trying to cover all these bases, and predict requirements years in advance, inevitably leads to over-provisioning, tying up more budget in kit which might be rarely, if ever, fully utilized. So, a smart infrastructure strategy would not just prioritize the latest technology, but would prize flexibility and scalability, and ideally link expenditure to consumption. And a consumption-based model typically means infrastructure purchases become operating expenditure, rather than capital expenditure, which can mean a host of other accounting benefits.

This has been the promise of the public cloud. But there are many reasons why pure public cloud is unviable for many organizations – not least security, compliance, and data sovereignty concerns.

And there is always the possibility of unexpected costs. “Repatriation” of cloud workloads back to on-prem infrastructure is definitely a thing, with IDC’s Optimizing Workload Placement in your Hybrid Cloud whitepaper noting: “When workloads are repatriated from the public cloud back to on-premises locations, 82.1 percent of respondents identified cost as a driving factor.”

But that clear-eyed view of the downsides of public cloud does not dampen the enthusiasm of enterprises for subscription-based pricing. The same IDC report showed that 55.6 percent of IT leaders cited aligning expenditure more closely with usage or consumption as the key driver for subscription-based pricing. Almost 40 percent cited the desire to move IT infrastructure assets off the balance sheet. Just 6.4 percent cited lowering near term IT infrastructure costs as a key driver.

As a service … my way

It’s this desire for IT as a service that has inspired Dell’s APEX offering, which spans Infrastructure Services, Cloud Services, and Customs Solutions. The common element – apart from the fact they are based on Dell technology – is that they are offered on an Opex basis, with Dell managing the installation while the customer operates it.

Dell’s Regional Director for EMEA sales enablement for APEX, Ihab el Ghazzawi, says the aim is to offer simplicity, agility and to minimize risk while maximizing resources. Or, put another way, Dell manages the platform through the lifecycle, from deployment, through upgrades, through to end of life, while the customers’ people focus on their own high value work.

When it comes to agility, says el Ghazzawi, “we can be up and running in 14 days. If the customer decides to double the capacity, we can do it in less than five days.” This means that at the outset, customers can start with the capacity they need today, rather than sticking a finger in the air and guessing how much storage, of what type, or how much server capacity, they will need in the two or three years’ time, slashing the risk of over-provisioning.

The initial installation comes with a 25 per cent capacity buffer that customers can enable as and when they need it, adds el Ghazzawi: “This 25 per is something that customers are not going to be charged for.” Unless of course, they need to use it.

As well as on-prem installations, Dell will offer an edge location service for customers with access to suitable sites. “We go in, we assess and advise ‘okay, for our kit to be installed, this is what we need in terms of power, cooling, etc.,” he explains. “We manage everything. And they operate. “

Not every customer has data center capacity to spare, which is why a colocation option is also in the works, says el Ghazzawi, so customers “Can go to our partners, and we can install the kit for them there.” This will be coming “very, very soon”.

With all these options, the aim is to offer a “cloud-like experience” , says el Ghazzawi, via the APEX Console, which customers can use to source, spec and buy, and manage infrastructure and services. El Ghazzawi, “So they can look at the health and the performance of the APEX resources, they get to optimize the performance and utilization. And they get to grow.”

Integration with other systems is also via the APEX Console. “We provide an API library so that they can do that. And of course, we are more than happy to work with our customers, to make sure that we integrate into existing reporting systems, you know, tools like ServiceNow, and so on.”

It's early days for Dell APEX, but one early win is industrial giant GE, which is working with APEX Custom Solutions to increase automation and deliver cost savings across its business units worldwide. Part of the appeal, says GE, is to deliver a consistent way to support its business units that gets the right IT resources to the right teams, when they need them.

No need for speed and feed

Meanwhile, research by Forrester into APEX Data Storage Services showed that customers could expect return on investment of between 87 percent and 129 percent, and to reduce provisioning costs by up to 86 percent. Crucially, Forrester found that the service could enable the elimination of over-provisioned storage, which typically accounts for 20 to 45 percent of storage infrastructure. Forrester also found that the efficiency of storage professionals improved by 10 to 20 percent.

More broadly, El Ghazzawi says, the aim is to shift the debate from simply talking about technology to talking outcomes. Rather than obsessing about speeds and feeds, services are organized around different performance levels. For example, the data storage services are offered as capacity optimized, balanced or performance optimized.

Capacity-optimized data storage would be appropriate for archiving, data tiering, or medical imaging for example, while the balanced tier would be ideal for software testing and development, or big data. Customers looking to run streaming, real time analytics or AI, or to support autonomous driving would be looking at the performance tier.

“So when we talk to customers, we try to understand their business outcomes. So what are they trying to do to their customers? We also try to really understand their technical, operational, and financial challenges.”

Thus, he continues, “We find the best fit that addresses most or as much of their challenges as possible. It's sometimes a quick fix, sometimes it's not such a quick fix, sometimes, it's a journey.”

Additional services targeted at specific workloads will be part of the APEX line-up in time, he adds. The shift to remote working, for example, highlighted the case for virtual desktop infrastructure. Other drivers are ongoing digital transformation, and the reaction to climate change, he said.

“This is why we created APEX, and our intention is that going forward, there will be so much more APEX as-a-service offerings, for instance, APEX for database solutions, high performance computing as a service. All of these offerings are coming sooner or later.”

But although the offering will focus on performance levels and specific workloads where appropriate, he says, the conversation is not focused on technical minutiae. “Our R&D spend is one of the highest in the IT industry, we're constantly coming up with new products and new services,” says al Ghazzawi. The question is: “How do you take those products that our customers are asking for and make it easy for our customers to consume? It's not about a faster processor.”

As he points out, “When you go to the public cloud service providers, you never know what it’s running on.” He pauses, then adds, “By the way, sometimes it's running on Dell Technologies.”

Sponsored by Dell Technologies.

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