One of the more compelling trends occurring in the cloud is the emergence of new workloads. Specifically, many early cloud customers focused on moving data to the cloud (e.g. archive or backup), whereas in the next 12 months we’re increasingly going to see an emphasis on moving applications to the cloud; and many will be business/mission critical (e.g. SAP, Oracle).
These emergent workloads will naturally have different storage requirements and characteristics. For example, think about applications like Dropbox. The main storage characteristic is cheap and deep. Even Facebook, which has much more complex storage needs and heavily leverages flash (e.g. from Fusion-io), is a single application serving many tenants. In the case of Facebook (or say Salesforce), the owner has control over the app, end-to-end visibility, and can tune the behavior of the application to a great degree.
In 2012, cloud service providers will begin to deploy multitenant/multi-app environments enabled by a new type of infrastructure. The platform will not only provide block-based storage but it will deliver guaranteed quality of service (QoS) that can be pinned to applications. Moreover, the concept of performance virtualization - where a pool of performance (not capacity) is shared across applications by multiple tenants – will begin to see uptake. The underpinning of this architecture will be all-flash arrays.
This means that users can expect a broader set of workload types to be run in the cloud. The trend is particularly interesting for smaller and mid-sized customers who want to run Oracle, SAP, and other mission critical apps in the cloud as a way to increase flexibility, reduce CAPEX, and share risk, particularly security risk.
The question is who will deliver these platforms? Will it be traditional SAN suppliers such as EMC, IBM, HP, HDS and NetApp, or emerging specialists like SolidFire, Nimbus, and Virident? The bet is that while the existing SAN whales will get their fair share of business, especially in the private cloud space, a new breed of infrastructure player will emerge in the growing cloud service provider market with the vision, management, QoS, and performance ethos to capture marketshare and grow with the hottest CSP players.
For data center buyers, where IT is a cost center, the safe bet may be traditional SAN vendors. For cloud service providers, where IT is a profit center, the ability to monetize services levels by providing QoS and performance guarantees on an application-by-application basis will emerge as a differentiator.
Action Item: All-flash arrays will emerge as an enabler for new applications in the cloud. The key ingredients will be not be just the flash capability, but more importantly management functions that enable controlling performance at the application level. Those shops that view IT as a profit center (e.g. cloud service providers) should aggressively pursue this capability and begin to develop new value-based pricing models tied to mission critical applications.