GovDataDownload recently had the opportunity to sit down with Bob Burwell, Chief Technology Officer for NetApp U.S. Public Sector State, Local Government and Education (SLED). Bob shared his insights on what he’s seeing in the SLED marketplace with regard to storage trends, implementation of flash storage in those markets, and how he sees the adoption of flash within those verticals going over the next few years.

What have you seen in terms of flash adoption trends in the SLED marketplace over the past few years?

Over the past 18 months, flash/solid-state solutions have taken off with most customers. This increase in flash adoption has changed the way we’re architecting environments, especially in SLED. The main driver with flash has been the ability to drive higher performance with fewer drives. Driving further efficiency for our SLED customers continues to help them meet the daily challenges of managing their IT environments. I typically see three factors SLED organizations need to balance when it comes to IT – 1) budget and the ability to make do with a finite amount of CAPEX, 2) people and the challenges of a dynamic workforce, and 3) new projects coming down the pipeline that must be managed. Pressures inherent in an ever-changing IT environment can become burdens and figuring out how to juggle these priorities is a challenge SLED organizations face. Solid-state and flash are really helping to address these concurrent but sometimes competing priorities.

Projects that have the most to gain from SSD/flash include VDI, video and big data/analytics. And the great thing about these applications is that they can benefit from storage efficiencies. In some VDI environments we are seeing storage requirements reduced by up to 90%. So not only do I get the reduction in storage by using SSD or hybrid (SSD/SATA) for my applications, I can further reduce the number of drives I need to purchase by having storage efficiency applied. Fewer drives to purchase and fewer drives to manage, power and cool. It’s a cool win-win.

And these are just a few examples of how flash and sold-state solutions help customers meet budget requirements while also reducing administrative burden for staff and accelerating IT projects.

And other technology is right around the corner. As TLC and QLC SSD technology is brought into the architecture, I expect additional architecture improvements as well.

How has the reduction in prices for solid-state storage affected the SLED market?

Historically, the price-point per GB made solid-state an option that was simply too costly for most SLED customers to implement. Newer technologies in solid-state have brought costs closer to being in line with high-speed spinning disk, which has enabled customers to start considering it as an option. Customers can now start asking, can I replace 40 spinning disks with one solid-state disk? I would reduce costs as well as the amount of rack space, cooling, power, and administrative burden on staff in terms of management; it begins to make sense to consider solid-state.

We are also seeing more customers applying efficiencies like compression, deduplication, thin-provisioning and cloning. Hybrid use (SSD as a caching medium for traditional spinning disk) is another efficiency that has firmly taken hold and is driving down CAPEX.

It’s similar to the discussion around hybrid cloud—how do I lower costs while preparing for future projects? We’re right at the inflection point where solid-state is starting to become top-of-mind for all organizations moving forward. As solid-state drives move to the same price as high-performance SAS drives, I fully expect the near future to be a hybrid environment of both solid-state and SATA drives. SSD/flash will be used for high performance. Hybrid (SSD/SATA) will be for mixed use and SATA and cloud will be architected for longer term retention. Security and cost will drive the architecture on the latter.

What do organizations need to consider when thinking about implementing a solid-state or hybrid flash storage infrastructure?

In the past, the discussion was purely about price – customers had performance and storage requirements and spinning media, from a CAPEX perspective, was the most cost effective approach. It made sense for organizations to be able to buy more drives which would enable more space, even though that also increased management costs as well as power and cooling costs. With SSD/flash and hybrid storage, customers now have solutions that help reduce CAPEX and OPEX but do not impact Service Level Agreements (SLAs).

The bottom line is that solid-state is a tool and the way organizations properly deploy that tool continues to be as important as ever. Storage is a big part of IT and storage can contribute anywhere from 25 to 50% of an IT department’s budget. Conversations around reducing costs typically focus on applications, server and the network. Given that storage is such a large portion of IT’s budget, IT should look at whether SSD/flash can be used by itself to deploy high-performance applications or in conjunction with spinning media to address tiering or a hierarchical storage management. IT also should be looking to drive storage efficiencies into their environment. Deduplication, compression, snapshots and replication should be a part of every conversation. We need to be looking at the data center as an ecosystem. With all the discussion around hybrid cloud currently happening in the SLED space, what we really need to be thinking about is not just cloud but hybrid infrastructure and how the efficiencies today’s storage technologies can enable.