On January 22, 2013, the Wikibon Community participated in a Peer Incite discussion with Cleversafe around the concept of commercial applications and hyperscale storage. It was an intriguing discussion about the challenges that face providers as they grow up to and beyond the petabyte scale, a scenario that is taking place with more companies more often.
I will admit that I was initially skeptical of the direct lessons that mainstream CIOs could take away from a discussion on hyperscale storage, a problem that initially seems to be confined to the very large enterprise and very large provider space on the scale of Facebook, Shutterfly, and Zynga. After all, those companies have massive storage and architectural requirements that most mainstream CIOs will never see.
However, after a discussion with my Wikibon colleagues and a couple of days to ponder the question, there are some clear lessons and benefits that CIOs can take away from the kinds of hyperscale projects on which companies like Cleversafe work.
Most importantly, CIOs must maintain an open mind as times change and as new opportunities and offerings make their way to market. Further, CIOs are constantly looking for ways to improve the services they offer, whether such improvements come from lower costs, higher availability, or simply more capability and capacity. Lessons learned in the hyperscale space can be leveraged to assist making these items a reality in the midmarket. Case in point: The drive toward commoditization of hardware. It has been partially through lessons learned by the likes of Google and Facebook that commodity server-based availability mechanisms have come into being. As a result of these educational efforts, we’re also seeing a drive toward hyperconverged architectures (i.e. Nutanix and Simplivity) that don’t have any single point of failure, but that embrace failure as just another operational event through the deployment of redundant hardware. We’re seeing similar trends as storage companies (i.e. Tegile, Tintri, Pure Storage and many others) embrace commodity hardware in their designs. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that processors have become insanely powerful in recent years.
In keeping an open mind about the future, it’s also important to remember that the way things work today is not necessarily the way things will work tomorrow. After all, in 1999, who would have thought that we could run 100 servers worth of workload on just 5 physical hosts with room to spare? Hyperscale architectures are harbingers of the kinds of workloads that many more CIOs may be running in the future, particularly those who are running data-intensive workloads. Today, for example, many organizations rely on replication-based performance and availability management mechanisms, but as organizations approach hyperscale-level workloads, this management method becomes untenable. There is a point at which the workloads simply become too great for this operational paradigm and need to be shifted to leverage operational methods inherent in the hyperscale space. CIOs must keep an eye on their environments and ensure ongoing understanding of workload needs.
Politically, CIOs need to understand that their CxO partners keep watch on their industries to ensure that they’re staying current, and many will continue to hear the virtues of “cloud” and “scale.” Even if they’re not 100% certain about how to interpret what they hear, they will understand the benefits, and CIOs will be encouraged to consider these options as time goes on. Therefore, CIOs must remain abreast of trends that may be leveraged.
Larger organizations will probably find it easier, ultimately, to take advantage of hyperscale opportunities and be able to compete at that scale. Mid-sized and smaller organizations, though, will find it necessary to partner with a service provider that is already at the hyperscale level, since getting there on their own will prove too costly.
Action Item: In essence, the primary takeaway for CIOs with regard to hyperscale is to keep an eye on the market and the trend and ensure that the organization is always leveraging tools that are appropriate for the business at the present time. However, do so with caution. If you jump too soon, you risk bearing the cost of too much trial and error, but if you never jump, you become a roadblock in the eyes of many. For smaller organizations that need to partner with a provider, always make sure that you choose carefully and understand thoroughly any service level agreements, contracts, and security arrangements that are put into place by your provider.