"The Infra Innovation Circle" was released in December 2015, and if you haven’t read it yet I encourage you to take a look. Over the last few week’s I have been spotlighting some of the feature articles.

Here is the one from our experts Hans van Heffen, Neil Draper and Marcel Kolkman that talks about the future of storage technology and how to keep pace with the rate of technology innovation.

The pace of innovation in the storage market is fast and increasing. Technology cycles that once played out over three-to-five years now take 18-24 months. A recent arrival is software-defined storage (SDS), which presents opportunities for businesses to be more agile and grow quickly.

Storage technology is now in its third generation. The first was a direct relationship between the server and the storage. The second generation connected multiple servers to one storage environment. The third generation, software-defined storage (SDS), is a many-to-many solution. It makes better use of storage assets, increases agility and allows companies to deliver the modern products their customers want.

Change is now happening so fast that for some businesses it may pose a threat. We would argue that recent innovations in storage technology offer benefits that outweigh the upheaval they may cause. Nevertheless, the concerns of senior executives are real and it’s worth taking a moment to consider them.

Paying the price

In the past the CFO could follow a Capex strategy that involved buying technology and then depreciating it over 3-5 years before upgrading to the next wave. That strategy no longer works, which creates uncertainty. Over the last few years further uncertainty has come from the shift to cloud-based services, with a commensurate shift from Capex spending to an Opex model, involving regular payments for services rather than one-off equipment purchases.

CFOs have responded by looking to spend less and seeking more on-demand services, transferring more of the risk and responsibility back onto the supplier. However, there is a limit to how cheap a service can be and still be powerful and flexible enough for the enterprise. CFOs must beware of false economies, such as moving to a cheaper public cloud service that is not suitable for their needs.

Think ‘hybrid IT’

It isn’t just the CFO who is unsettled by the increasing speed of innovation. The CIO faces challenges too. The most significant is being able to reorganise the IT department to deliver products and services within the new cycles. It is no use being able to deliver a project in two years if the new technology is obsolete by the time it has rolled out.

The problem is that the CIO cannot shift the entire team over to supporting cloud services or working on short-cycle technology delivery because all of the other stuff still has to be supported. More data and applications will move to the cloud but it won’t be suitable for everything. The CIO has to learn to live in a hybrid environment and it is likely that IT will remain in such an environment for the foreseeable future.

Focus on agility

SDS has really only developed as a product over the last year, which is why there is some nervousness around it. It puts software and hardware on different lifecycles, which causes some of the CFO’s uncertainty.

However, the CFO can still replace hardware on a traditional 3-5-year cycle while taking advantage of software innovations that keep the hardware working at its hardest for longer. Another advantage for the CFO is that SDS benefits from real-time analytics that monitor storage usage and performance, offering constant scope for improvement. In an environment where budgets are tighter than ever, this alone can be a competitive advantage.

For the CIO, SDS inevitably brings some complexity. It pushes the IT department into a hybrid environment where multiple data solutions must be maintained, though, in truth, cloud storage has already put this pressure on many teams.

The increased complexity is offset by the on-demand nature of the service. With well-defined SLAs, the CIO can be confident that responsibility for the entire storage estate is shared. However, that makes finding the right partner absolutely imperative.

It is early in the life cycle for SDS but what is certain is that the next technology cycle will come around even sooner. The businesses that continue to focus on technological agility, that do not allow uncertainty to paralyse them, are the ones that will thrive in the years ahead.

(About the authors: Hans van Heffen is senior vice president, lead global data services, Infrastructure Services. Neil Draper is global head for storage & data protection services, Infrastructure Services. Marcel Kolkman is storage SME, Infrastructure Services.)

(About this author: David Blackwood is global CTO at Capgemini Infrastructure Services. This post oiginally appeared on his Capgemini blog, which can be viewed here)

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