If experience is the new storage battlefield, what does winning look like?

Time to look at on-prem storage through the cloud, says HPE

Paid feature Let’s remind ourselves what the ideal cloud operational “experience” should look like.

This will include the ability to manage highly distributed, complex infrastructure from a single screen, thereby removing tedious manual tasks such as patching or configuration management. Provisioning should be straightforward, enabling the IT department to focus on innovation and agility, rather than constantly worrying about simply ensuring stability.

So far so great, but this experience may come at a hefty - and unexpected - price, as many businesses discover when the public cloud vendor’s monthly bill arrives in their in-box. And how does this experience translate into managing the on-premises server and storage fleet or maybe handling workloads and resources across multiple clouds?

The ideal cloud experience should be relatively easy to accomplish when a startup, say, goes all-in with a single public cloud vendor. But for most well-established companies, migrating production workloads to the cloud can be an almighty headache technically as well as eye wateringly expensive. Also regulatory requirements may mean that hosting sensitive data on a third party cloud platform is simply not an option. These are some of the reasons why hybrid computing is today the dominant mode of tech infrastructure, and will remain so for years to come.

So how can you deliver the “experience” of the cloud to enterprises that need to keep some or all of their infrastructure on-premises AND eradicate the suffering associated with cloud migrations AND keep costs predictable and under control? In a nutshell, this is the rationale for HPE GreenLake, which is the overarching brand name for HPE’s infrastructure products and services, from compute and storage through networking, AI and VDI and applications.

A large part of the philosophy behind GreenLake is to provide a Cloud Control Plane, separate from the underlying hardware. “We want customers that love the public cloud experience to have exactly the same experience managing HPE technology regardless of whether it resides at the edge or at the core,” HPE distinguished technologist for storage James Hall explains.

Data Services Cloud Console is the key component for managing data infrastructure within GreenLake. This is a cloud-hosted platform which lets customers manage, control, configure, patch, and lifecycle storage technology from HPE. It also offers continuous monitoring and optimisation, courtesy of HPE’s AI-powered Infosight technology.

Health and provisions

DSCC spans HPE’s Nimble and Primera ranges, and the follow-on Alletra 6000 and 9000 families. Coverage for the vendor’s SimpliVity and dHCI systems is on the roadmap. Hall describes the policy as “n minus one. So whatever the current model is today, we will support the model before.”

There are two key applications in the initial iteration of Data Services Cloud Console.

Fleet management covers system health issues, including patching and configuration, abstracting and automating what were previously largely manual tasks. Always a headache, the configuration burden has been exacerbated by the workforce disruption forced by Covid.

As Hall explains, a remote admin looking to apply log4j patches would have had to secure sign-offs for change control, then connect to their office network, then to the data centre, then to a jump server, and only then get to the console before beginning to download patches and applying them to devices - possibly one by one. With DSCC, the admin goes to one place and can then patch all the devices they are responsible for in one fell swoop.

Intent based provisioning is the second key element of DSCC. This allows an admin to specify a given workload, the required capacity, and the appropriate policies – for example, replication or snapshotting – with the provisioner telling them which of their HPE resources is a suitable match. The provisioner takes care of fine tuning and tells them if they are in danger of being oversubscribed.

“Configuration of a device typically takes about 15 seconds,” Hall says. “The time-consuming piece is understanding whether we have the capacity and the performance capability and which servers should own the storage.”

A policy manager application which will allow admins to set the guardrails for managing their infrastructure. It’s not hard to see how these applications will interact with each, for example, with fleet manager being able to detect whether systems have drifted out of line with policies, for example, regarding patching.

The company has an “aggressive roadmap” for further applications, all of which will be available through the same GUI, further simplifying management of HPE storage.

Consuming the console is also simplified. Hall says Data Services Cloud Console is embedded into the services contract for HPE’s storage products. “It’s a subscription because it’s tied to maintenance.”

It’s worth pointing out that the GreenLake proposition encompasses both traditional capex purchasing, and managed service, opex style, purchasing. Under the latter, the installation will include a capacity buffer, typically 25 per cent, which customers can burst into. They will only be charged for the buffer when they are over a certain proportion of it for over a month. A canny customer could even use the bulk of the buffer for a large part of a month without paying for it.

I can’t afford to wait…

This is all the more compelling as customers can face a period of months from ordering a server to having it on site, cabled up and ready to take on an application. And this lag could be stretched out further given current silicon lead times.

While this all promises the agility of the cloud across customers’ on-premise infrastructure, it doesn’t preclude them from benefiting from the world outside. This is even more of an issue as changes in business and working practices mean organisations are examining their real estate. HPE is working with the big colocation providers “to help those customers that potentially want to close real estate or a data centre, but still have a requirement for out of public cloud services. We can provide those customers with colocation space.”

Wherever their kit is, admins and managers gain the ability to manage their hardware without having to connect to the data centre or the individual piece of hardware, Hall explains, and “that is fundamentally different to how organisations have managed hardware from ourselves and our competitors for the last 35 years.”

This ability to manage and configure storage from anywhere is “huge”, whether we’re talking about a global enterprise, or an SMB running just a handful or racks. “There’s value for everybody within that stack in some way, shape or form.”

Apart from the access and automation benefits, the presence of HPE’s Infosight AI technology means the platform provides constant optimisation. “The 60 per cent of the time that you spend keeping the lights on, if we give you even half of that back, that's time you can go and sit with the business and really understand what the business is trying to achieve, and then go and architect what that looks like in the background.”

According to Hall, the impact is so dramatic that organisations with closed networks that would previously have rejected the “dial home” capability required by InfoSight are actively reconsidering their policies (think intelligence agencies and other sensitive government departments, or top tier finance organisations).

Needless to say, DSCC uses 256-bit encryption and is undergoing FedRAMP certification in the US. Even so, it’s striking that, as Hall says, “there’s so much value in changing the way in which they manage hardware from the traditional way to this new way, that they're willing to go up against the security team.”

Ultimately, that’s because customers’ prime concerns are no longer issues like speed, capacity or even security: “The new battleground is who can simplify my life by making the management of the technology more straightforward?”

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