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Is higher ed facing an IT house of cards?

In order to prevent an infrastructure collapse, here are 7 key characteristics that define data platform and storage requirements for the cloud era.

By Nick Psaki
Principal, Office of the Chief Technology Officer, Pure Storage December 20th, 2017

Twenty years ago, a connected college experience might involve cable television, rudimentary internet capability and the latest in flip phone technology. Fast forward to today, and students expect uninterrupted, lightning-fast connectivity from the device of their choice to support both their academic and community experience.

Is this quest for connectivity built on a virtual house of cards?

Technology proliferation has placed enormous pressure on the underlying IT infrastructure that keeps Wi-Fi operating, servers humming, videos streaming and data percolating. Within many institutions, one vital aspect of those operations–the storage foundation–is crumbling under the weight of growing demands. With budgets stagnant and resources limited, universities are stuck in a difficult position and finding it increasingly difficult to respond to student and faculty pleas for the latest and greatest apps.

Compute and networking operations have continually exploited the performance rewards delivered by exponentially more powerful silicon chips. Now it’s time for data centers to take advantage of the same potential in their storage systems.

So, are higher education institutions ready for a storage transformation? The short answer: they have to be, and the focus must be around creating a data platform designed for the cloud era.

Legacy storage systems‒those that rely on mechanical spinning disks‒have been around since the late 1950s‒long before the prospect of video streaming, online education, and the Internet of Things (IoT). While we’ve seen improvements over the years, the basic concept has remained the same‒while everything else in the data center has changed to respond to the need for scale and speed.

Traditional storage has become the weak link in the data center. From a speed and performance perspective, disk-based storage hasn’t kept pace with compute and network performance gains. Think of it as pitting a horse and buggy against an Indie car. This performance gap puts the entire data center stack out of balance. And, it will continue to progress until IT shifts its storage technology from traditional hard disk drives to exponentially faster solid-state disk (SSD) technology, commonly known as flash memory.

What does this storage performance lag mean for students and educators? The implications range from minor annoyances, such as the inability to load a last-minute homework assignment in time to a learning management platform, to strategic consequences, such as having to limit growth of online course offerings due to the inability to listen to video lectures without constant buffering.

Designed to Succeed

Today’s higher education institutions require a data platform capable of delivering data with speed, agility and intelligence, across increasingly complex workloads and applications. It also has to help them end the costly and perpetual rip-and-replace cycle for traditional systems.

What does a data platform for the cloud generation look like?

Seven key characteristics that define data platform and storage requirements for the cloud era:

  • Silicon-optimized versus disk-optimized storage, to support gigabytes/second of bandwidth per application. The performance of SSD technology exceeds that of hard disk drive-based storage many times over.
  • An application architecture that can support 1,000s to 10,000s of composite applications sharing petabytes of data versus 10s to 100s of monolithic applications consuming terabytes of data siloed to each application.
  • Elastic scale to petabytes that allow organizations to pay as they grow with perpetual forward compatibility.
  • Full automation to minimize management resources required to maintain the platform.
  • The ability to support and span multiple cloud environments from core data centers to edge data centers, as well as across multi-cloud infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and software-as-a-service (SaaS) providers.
  • An open development platform versus a closed ecosystem that includes complex one-off storage software solutions.
  • A subscription-consumption model that supports constant innovation and eliminates the churn and endless race to expand storage to meet growing needs and refresh every three to five years.

In a Flash

The use of all-flash storage is foundational to a data platform for the cloud era. It can introduce the same dramatic gains in IT service delivery previously brought about through virtualization and gigabit networks. It allows organizations to run all operations with the agility of the cloud, improve the economics of data analytics at high velocity and scale, and ultimately derive new insights to deliver data-driven customer results never before possible.

For years, organizations had to choose between the highest reliability (Tier 1 disk arrays) and storage purpose-built for the cloud era (modern all-flash arrays). Next-generation all-flash arrays are eliminating this compromise and unlocking new opportunities with Tier 1 reliability along with rich data services and native cloud integration.

Over the last few years, new enterprise-grade storage arrays that are purpose-built to take advantage of flash’s unique characteristics have come to market. These all-flash arrays (AFAs) are revolutionizing storage with cloud-like application consolidation that serves as a catalyst for both IT and business transformation. Flash media offers about 10 times the performance of traditional storage arrays with roughly a tenth of the power consumption.

In addition, flash media prices continue to fall, and, today, AFAs are typically less expensive in the long run than the storage solutions they replace, particularly when you consider the cost of maintenance and the down time associated with upgrades. They also can significantly increase efficiency, with built-in de-duplication and compression capabilities that reduce the hardware and power footprint in the data center. As such, flash is quickly becoming a strategic asset and the foundation for the data platform for the cloud.

When it comes to real estate, attention to curb appeal is important, but a strong foundation is paramount ‒and can’t be ignored. How do you balance the investment in each? Universities find themselves in a similar quandary when it comes to their IT ecosystems. By creating a data platform for the cloud era, however, universities can create a solid, sustainable and cost-effective storage foundation that frees resources needed for the innovation that students, faculty and staff expect from today’s higher education institutions.

About the Author:

Nick Psaki is principal, Office of the Chief Technology Officer, at Pure Storage.

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