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Flash: talk about service, not performance

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There comes a time in the lifecycle of every technology when vendors need to give businesses more than benefits such as cost savings, increases in productivity and ease of management, writes Gary de Menezes, country manager at NetApp South Africa.
Advantages such as these have become base-level expectations in the eyes of IT buyers when investing in new technologies and services – perfunctory functions rather than services which add value. Any technology solution needs to reach a point when it goes above and beyond these requirements – unlocking the power to improve the service a business provides, change employee behaviour and enable the creation of new lines of business and revenue streams.
Given the pace of growth in the all-Flash array market – with Gartner predicting a CAGR of 37% last year, increasing from $1.43bn in 2014 to $7bn by 2019 – Flash is a technology that needs to reconfigure its own perception in the industry. Traditionally, the value proposition of Flash is high performance, low latency and low power consumption. All-Flash arrays are generally equipped to deal with the most performance-intensive applications, from databases behind websites and trading platforms to the heavy lifting involved in supporting a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI).
However, the so called myth of the all-flash data centre is set to become a reality. Demand for high-performance applications that sit outside the traditional sweet spots for flash is rising and Gartner predicts that while no data centres use only all-flash arrays for primary data today, 25% will by 2020. Therefore, the rhetoric around flash needs to change.

Flash’s iPhone moment
While at an operational level, technology experts still obsess over performance when talking about Flash, the conversation needs to be about service.
All-flash arrays generally deliver a high enough level of performance for any end-user data set, and leading vendors are competing more aggressively on cost with every passing year. It’s about the watershed moment when Flash is no longer a technology that makes the IT teams’ life easier but one that offers strategic value and potential to the wider business.
An overused but appropriate example of a very different technology is that of the Apple iPhone. The early smartphones enhanced the user experience of using a mobile phone – with features such as a camera, music and Bluetooth turning mobiles into a toy as well as a means of communication. The iPhone, however, did not just enhance the smartphone experience but changed the way humans interact with the Internet, consume content and carry out financial transactions.
As an enterprise technology, smartphones were transformed from a device employees carried so that they were contactable on the move to one that has enabled new business models which have revolutionised the taxi, hotel and entertainment industries to name a few.
As an enterprise tool, for Flash to achieve its iPhone moment vendors and IT buyers need to start viewing it as a means of supporting a level of service that defines the entire business in terms of its commitment to customers, partners and employees.
Returning to the emergence of all-Flash data centres; one of the key drivers for the rapid rate of growth in the all-Flash market is that more and more applications are viewed as critical to business continuity and success.
hanks to a concept I refer to as the expectation economy, which is driven by the evolving relationship between humans and technology, businesses are under immense pressure to deliver experiences that are absolutely seamless. The simple fact is that if they fail to do so, a competitor or a disruptor will.
So, whereas Flash has enjoyed a solid market in performance-intensive applications such as web hosting, finance and CRM systems or Virtual Desk Infrastructure (VDI), the hunger for consistent high performance is being replicated throughout the enterprise.
Statistics from KISSmetrics tell us that 40% of people abandon a website that takes more than three seconds to load and that a one second delay in page response can result in a 7% reduction in conversions.
Employees do not wish to be held back by technology in the workplace, particularly millennials who have pre-set expectations of how technology should enhance rather than restrict. And data has become one of the most powerful assets a business has to personalise the service it provides and deliver new experiences that exceed expectations, positioning them positively against their competitors.

The element of predictability
Flash solutions are renowned for delivering consistent, predictable performance, but it must also integrate seamlessly with an enterprise’s data storage, management and analytics ecosystem.
An example of this evolution in practice can be seen with the combination of NetApp and SolidFire. As well as scale IT operations, automate entire operations and enjoy the guarantee of completely predictable performance associated with SolidFire – enterprises can access, move and manage data across their entire storage environment easily thanks to NetApp’s Data Fabric.
This translates into business value as IT decision makers can focus their energy on finding new ways of making technology support the business and at a strategic level the enterprise becomes more invested in using data more intelligently.
The Flash buyer’s journey has changed. It is no longer a case of making a trade-off between price and performance, but an investment in a level of service that will define and differentiate you as a business. As more businesses make the psychological leap from seeing IT as an infrastructure for enablement to a foundation for innovation, the path towards the all-Flash data centre will become clearer.