When Every Data Center Is Suddenly Lights Out

Reconfiguring an enterprise's IT infrastructure to support the wholesale relocation of a workforce from the cubicle farm to the home-office, without warning, and with only a limited ability to walk into a data center is an uncomfortable position in which to find yourself. Installing a rack of new equipment can be painful under the best of circumstances–a pain only amplified in the current world of social distancing.

Shawn Rosemarin has a deep appreciation of the pain that IT shops are experiencing, as nearly every data center unexpectedly becomes a lights-out data center. Rosemarin is the vice president of systems engineering at Pure Storage, where it is the job of his 500-plus systems engineers to help customers globally install, ramp and maintain their storage infrastructure. His customers are staring these challenges in the face every day.

I talked to Shawn about what Pure Storage is seeing in data centers across the globe, and how Pure Storage is stepping up to respond to the unique challenges that are unfolding. 

Supporting Critical IT Infrastructure

It’s not just the rapid deployment of remote virtual desktops that are driving increased demands on IT. There are critical sectors such as healthcare, pharma and social infrastructure that are having to dramatically ramp and reconfigure infrastructure in order to help navigate us all out of our current societal crisis. Addressing these needs often requires new physical infrastructure. A socially distanced world often also requires new solutions to deploying infrastructure.

"COVID-19 has brought to the forefront some genuine challenges for our customers," Rosemarin explained, "they may not have adequate PPE, or may not have direct physical access to the data center." Even in cases where physical access to the data center is possible, it's not always a comfortable situation engaging in-person with vendors. This is where Pure Storage has reimagined the traditional storage installation experience.

Even for a company whose simple user experience drives one of the highest NPS scores in the industry, installing an enterprise storage array can be challenging for end customers. Shawn explains that after Pure Storage put up a detailed knowledge base article earlier this year on remotely configuring its FlashBlade system, there was an uptick in remote configuration—but Pure could take things further.

"We took the remote installation procedures, and instead of 20% of our customers being comfortable using the procedure, we asked ourselves what it would take to make it 100%," Rosemarin continued. Pure Storage has since supplemented those remote installation procedures with a system engineer available to guide the customer through the installation. The goals go beyond simply getting new infrastructure deployed.

Using remote video, Shawn explained, “I can teach the customer how to do the installation, with our engineers looking over their shoulder to really help them do that.”

Pure Storage's remote installation service involves more than just remote video assistance in deploying storage infrastructure. Pure will also send its installation engineers to a customer's site, where allowed, to manage the installation directly, without forcing face-to-face engagement with local personnel.

Scaling with Storage-as-a-Service

A growing uncertainty of our current time is a lack of understanding of exactly how IT infrastructure needs to evolve over the long-term to both adapt to new realities while preparing for potential future crises. It doesn't always make sense to deploy expensive new equipment when you may not be able to understand the long-term implications of the decision fully. It's also difficult to justify capital expenditures in an economy that's as unpredictable as the one we're all experiencing today.

Rapid reconfiguration of the enterprise IT highlights the benefit of software-defined infrastructure. IT organizations that have embraced a flexible, software-defined approach have fared much better than more traditional approaches to deployment and workload management. Nutanix, VMware and Hewlett Packard Enterprise's HCI and converged infrastructure customers all have an attractive set of tools at their disposal.

At the same time, organizations embracing on-site infrastructure-as-a-service are seeing tremendous benefits in terms of both flexible deployments and flexible financial impact. Pure Storage launched its Pure-as-a-Service in 2018 and is seeing increased adoption.

A customer asked to scale new capabilities has three choices, Rosemarin said. "I can buy the infrastructure and hope that I will still need it in twelve months; I can stand up an instance in the cloud, but then I have a second operating environment to manage; or I can buy capacity-on-demand deployed inside my data center." 

It's an attractive model that the entire industry is embracing. Hewlett Packard Enterprise is making every one of its product offerings available as-a-service with its GreenLake efforts. Likewise, Dell Technologies is driving a similar model forward for both storage and compute. 

Pure Storage is taking things further by making its Pure-as-a-Service available for free for the first three months of a twelve-month contract.

Responding to a World in Crisis

Watching the technology industry respond to the needs of a world in crisis has been enlightening. The finance arms of Dell Technologies and Hewlett Packard Enterprise have both stepped up to offer flexible payment terms to help their respective customers keep critical infrastructure operating without the short-term pain of how to pay for it all right now.

IT practitioners, beyond financing, care most about how to safely deploy, manage, and scale infrastructure to serve the needs of the business. This comes down to working with vendors who have a stable supply chain and get products onto the loading dock promptly. Flexible installation options that remove uncomfortable face-to-face engagements have become urgent. Flexible deployment models, such as Pure’s Pure-as-a-Service, promise the sort of flexibility needed in this uncertain time.

None of us fully grasp the long-term effects of what we’re going through now, but there are some safe assumptions. The IT world is learning how to manage infrastructure when every data center is a lights-out data center. There are new models of deployment. Remote management tools are now indispensable. Software defined infrastructure is showing its true value.

Most critically, new operational practices are being invented daily by innovative IT organizations working innovative vendors, such as Pure Storage, to address the needs of a world in flux. These practices will make us all more efficient in the long-run.

Patrick Moorhead

Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.