Lease vs Buy: How Clustered Data ONTAP Changes Business Economics

What does a lease vs buy decision have to do with NetApp clustered Data ONTAP (aka Cluster-Mode)? Yeah. That’s what I was wondering when I sat on a call with a member of our account team the other day to discuss one of their design wins. I was expecting to hear about how the many product benefits aided in the win. Benefits like, no planned downtime, massive scalability, and efficiency with a combination of different media and controller types for mixed SLA environments. Those reasons were recognized. But, for this particular customer, a different problem was especially interesting and justified the move to clustered ONTAP. They wanted greater financial flexibility in their data center. Specifically, they wanted to move some of their capital costs to operational costs. But, their IT procurement process was limited by their traditional storage infrastructure. In fact, for one of their storage systems they couldn’t schedule a large enough downtime window to migrate the data off the storage system and onto a new one. So, they kept the system online, for almost 10 years!


Traditional storage architectures offer redundancy against failure, but when you need to update software or perform a tech refresh, you must schedule downtime. Depending upon how many applications and users are accessing that storage, you may have one of two problems on your hands. Either you have to schedule lots of users  to go offline during your maintenance or upgrade window. Or you have to take a few mission critical applications offline, which can disrupt revenue. For most applications and users, late night and weekend downtime events are not a problem. But, what about your mission critical or high transaction applications? What about companies with an international clientele accessing information in all time zones? How about service providers hosting 100’s of clients?


When your IT has to be up 24x7, storing all of your data on traditional storage is typically not feasible. You might choose to deploy your storage in silos, each assigned to specific user groups, or departments or applications. But, this can be costly with plenty of excess due to over provisioning while creating an environment increasingly more difficult to manage. Creating silos is expensive. However, it may allow you to minimize some of  the burden of downtime, since planned downtime on one system wouldn’t impact another system. Only this approach doesn’t solve the problem of  24x7 operations for those applications that can't go down, even for planned outages.


And here is where the lease vs buy conversation comes in. According to at least one leading research firm, the top IT products that are commonly leased include mainframes, x86 servers and system infrastructure software. Storage is lower on the list. Maybe the reason is that we struggle to address this fundamental question. How can you move to a leasing model if you can’t forecast a convenient data migration window when the contract expires?


This is the challenge with many companies. Leasing just isn’t feasible if you have to respond to a predefined contract period. So, most companies choose to buy their storage hardware to give them the flexibility to age the hardware according to their schedule as opposed to a fixed lease timeline. Organizations must also hold on to the old hardware after they have purchased the new hardware long enough to do the data migration, which can sometimes take a while. I'm sure there are other reasons to own hardware, but technical limitations shouldn't be one of them.


Now, you might consider that data will age to the point where you can just retire the old hardware because the data is not important? Reasonable? Sure. But, in today’s world of data pack rats, there appears to be less and less irrelevant data? Weren't digital cameras supposed to address that? Keep only the good shots? It isn’t just the pack rats that want to keep old data. Think about customer purchasing behaviors and credit card transactions, or weather pattern research, genome analysis, or even legal case history? Maybe even that email from an old girlfriend or words of advice from your grandfather will become important to you someday?


So, think about it. How do you manage your storage infrastructure in an environment of silos, without effective load balancing between storage tiers (primary, secondary, different SLAs) or requiring scheduled downtime during maintenance or tech refresh events? And if you are hosting services for  external customers, how do you coordinate downtime in a world where for the customer cloud services assume 100% SLAs?


NetApp clustered Data ONTAP is the first unified scale-out storage platform that allows you to keep your data online, while you take your hardware offline. You can migrate workloads nondisruptively between storage systems within the storage cluster seamlessly to balance performance and capacity. Seamless data migrations offer you the ability to update or replace storage hardware resources within a NetApp storage cluster while your access to data is unchanged. No more scheduled downtime required. As a result, you can now upgrade your storage assets on a more regular schedule -- like say a lease contract. Which means you can move from a capital intensive asset model to more of an opex model. For many companies, moving to an opex model means lower cost, and increased financial flexibility. And it might even mean staying more current with new technology to keep up with the demands of your dynamic business.


So, does clustered Data ONTAP have anything to do with a lease vs buy decision? Yes, it does.


Learn more about how NetApp clustered Data ONTAP can revolutionize your business. And let me know how you can address your business challenges with clustered ONTAP.