Biggest Trends and Strategies in Storage Hardware and Maintenance

Today, technology leaders, managers and engineers are continually facing decisions around updating technology, sun-setting legacy infrastructure and maintaining their current arrays.

Biggest Trends and Strategies in Storage Hardware and Maintenance. Source: Curvature
Biggest Trends and Strategies in Storage Hardware and Maintenance. Source: Curvature

From the Internet of Things (IoT) to cloud migrations, this article uses analyst data and industry expertise to cover some of the biggest trends and strategies in storage hardware and maintenance.

Content Summary

The State of Data Center Hardware and Maintenance
Drivers of Independent Support
TPM Optimizes Maintenance Strategies
What About the Risks of TPM?
Evaluation of Current Workload
How to Identify Ideal Partners
Important Questions to Ask Potential TPM Partners
Profile of a Global TPM Provider

The State of Data Center Hardware and Maintenance

As the IT industry has rapidly evolved and expanded, one constant has emerged: change.

Today, technology leaders, managers and engineers are continually facing decisions around updating technology, sunsetting legacy infrastructure and maintaining their current arrays. Driven by a need optimize costs and equipment lifecycles, IT leaders are seeking out alternative ways to meet their evolving and complex hardware needs.

Increasingly, those decision makers tasked with data center hardware management and maintenance have turned to Third-Party Maintenance (TPM) for solutions and strategies that can address the need to optimize costs while extending the life cycle of their assets.

The problem is simple: manufacturers’ extended warranties are costly, often burdening an already stretched budget. Moreover, these support services come with a time limit, making it challenging to maintain hardware assets beyond a certain date. This leaves IT and Sourcing Managers, who chose to depend solely on the manufacturer, with hardware that could be left uncovered once the end-of-service-life date arrives. At worst, it also leaves them facing substantial and forced increases in CapEx to upgrade equipment, simply to satisfy the requirements of the manufacturer.

In addition to cost optimization, TPM providers are uniquely positioned to offer customers more flexibility, freedom and leverage. But not all providers are the same. This leaves only a very few TPM providers that can truly offer multivendor, international support.

Drivers of Independent Support

“By 2020, the number of TPM-related RFI/RFPs that are multi-platform/ multi-vendor will increase by 35% as TPM becomes more mainstream and is no longer considered a point solution for servers, storage or networking.” – Gartner

Large enterprises have already transitioned a significant part of their global IT infrastructure into a hybrid model by relying on TPM to support and maximize the lifespan of their existing IT equipment. TPM mitigates the risk associated with cloud migration by providing service after assets are no longer supported by their manufacturer. Furthermore, the cost savings provided by many TPM providers can free up capital for innovative IT projects.

IT support options are creating more complex IT infrastructure and enterprise clients are attracted to alternative maintenance providers that provide multi-vendor or vendor-agnostic support. More and more, decision makers are turning to TPM to free themselves from service restrictive manufacturer support contracts.

Five Drivers to Independent Support:

  1. Cost: Third-party storage maintenance is a much less expensive option than manufacturers’ (OEMs’) plans. Gartner reports, “TPM contracts will offer customers an average of 60% savings off OEM support list prices.”
  2. Flexibility: Many TPM providers are vendor-agnostic and able to adapt to various client needs, matching the best tech for the job, regardless of brand.
  3. Simplification: A TPM provider can handle a wide range of device types, removing multiple points of contacts and contracts for an IT team.
  4. Duration: Even a manufacturer extended-warranty will run out at the end-ofservice- life date (EOSL). But for TPM providers EOSL does not mean end of service. TPMs can support devices that are both post-warranty and post-end-of-service-life. IT managers can reduce costs significantly by using a dedicated maintenance partnership to extend life cycles much longer than manufacturers would normally allow.
  5. Value: This partnership can also give IT managers access to refurbished parts, help moving hardware around the data center or between facilities, migrating data, making component purchasing decisions and disposing of waste infrastructure. These secondary services combine to create incredible value and are increasingly important considerations for technology leaders.

More than 10 million data center / network devices are being maintained by a TPM. – Gartner

As companies and consumers drive expansion in the Internet of Things (IoT), spikes in data growth will continue to reach unprecedented heights. With more data and more storage comes more hardware. I&O leaders are increasingly looking to maximize their ability to be agile and responsive. But most OEM service contracts are not designed to support this level of flexibility. Vendor-supplied maintenance is restrictive and limits customizable options. By forcing clients to keep costly maintenance programs on legacy equipment (that can ultimately end up costing more than replacing the equipment), OEMs are severely limiting their clients ability to expand their infrastructure by making it cost-prohibitive.

With TPM, continuous upgrades to the newest storage products can be reduced as well as the cost of maintenance on older equipment. Capacity can be added as needed through extending the planned service lives of existing arrays and adding additional used equipment. Forced array upgrades and budget busters can be avoided.

“A core value proposition of TPM providers is lowering the maintenance costs of older storage arrays. Client inquiries and bid reviews confirm that the cost differential between TPM and vendor-supplied support is typically in the 40% to 70% range.” – Gartner

TPM Optimizes Maintenance Strategies

There’s a lot to be gained from third-party storage maintenance. A key benefit is the ability to simplify how you support all of the hardware across your entire IT infrastructure, including your network, servers and storage. I&O leaders are seeking out providers that offer a single service contract that can streamline daily support task management.

Another key optimization area is extending the life of an asset. It isn’t a secret that it is in the manufacturer’s best interest for a client to replace an asset sooner rather than later. While manufacturers structure microcode updates and feature releases around the marketing life of an asset, TPMs empower companies to leverage the useful service life of an asset (see “Figure 1 Microcode Update Activity Versus Marketing Life”).

Figure 1. Microcode Update Activity Versus Marketing Life. Source: Curvature
Figure 1. Microcode Update Activity Versus Marketing Life. Source: Curvature

Lastly, TPMs can offer significant cost-savings. When utilizing a third-party maintenance service, an IT decision maker puts themselves in a better position to get the best pricing and support from their OEM. Here are three key areas of cost-optimization:

  • Lower the value of maintenance waivers by keeping older equipment: Forcing current vendors to put more discounting into their bids.
  • Create a balanced negotiation opportunity for other vendors: TPM customers can negotiate to save more as they’re usually able to drop annual software maintenance when they go to TPM because the microcode of their arrays is considered mature.
  • Delay equipment purchases: Using a provider that can service older equipment makes it possible to keep disk storage in production longer. Clients are able to keep disk storage arrays in production until they have outgrown them, their architecture has become obsolete or they simply become too costly or unreliable to run due to productivity or facility issues.

What About the Risks of TPM?

Despite all these advantages, there still exists an artificially inflated sense of risk around using a third-party maintenance provider. One of the top concerns is losing access to microcode updates.

Research into the availability of microcode updates revealed that the perceived risk is much worse than the actual risk. As many organizations quickly discover, practically all microcode updates take place within the first three years as software bugs and customer issues are ironed out. A recent analyst report highlighted that about halfway through an asset’s service life (the 3-4 year mark), the manufacturer-provided microcode updates reduce drastically or stop altogether. So ultimately, clients find themselves paying for the possibility of access to updates that are no longer being made. It’s also important to note that security updates will always be offered, regardless of who is handling current maintenance.

Executing a proper risk assessment typically includes an audit of historic microcode updates performed on key equipment over the last few years with a dispassionate evaluation of their importance. This kind of evaluation is the only objective way for organizations to understand if they are exposed to actual risk when they discontinue their access to microcode updates. Gaining a clear understanding of that risk can bring tremendous opportunity for more savings and a more custom service contract. Although “nobody ever got fired for buying IBM,” many organizations are realizing that playing it safe and sticking with the status quo can also lead to relinquishing hard-won IT flexibility and business agility.

Evaluation of Current Workload

Solid candidates for TPM typically are storage systems with the most stable microcode and hardware release levels, that are also compatible with the rest of their hardware/software stack, reducing exposure to software bugs and compatibility issues.

“Vendors encourage the replacement of installed storage arrays with newer storage arrays. Users that are able to classify new features as ‘nice to have’ or ‘don’t care,’ rather than ‘must have’ features, have more flexibility in managing the planned service lives of their storage arrays and in considering the use of TPM.” – Gartner

Before using TPM, customers need to do their homework. According to Gartner, “Users with no experience using TPM should evaluate implementing the following best practices to maximize the value of that decision while minimizing associated risks — perceived, real and political.” Gartner then goes on to provide the following guidance for using thirdparty maintenance services:

  • Identify non-mission-critical workloads, stable workloads and/or business functions that can be hosted on systems using TPM. This avoids the political fallout of a failure to meet service-level objectives, and helps users to define clear boundaries between mission-critical and non- mission-critical workloads and business units. Good use cases for arrays on TPM include dev/test, data analytics and workloads that impact a minimal number of users.
  • Identify candidate systems to put on TPM and upgrade these systems to the most recent stable microcode and hardware release levels that are compatible with the rest of the hardware/software stack while they are still on manufacturer maintenance. This minimizes exposure to microcode “bugs,” and incompatibilities between microcode and hardware releases. It also increases a user’s negotiation leverage by sending a clear message to the user’s vendors.
  • Audit microcode update activity on candidate storage systems over the past two years to quantify the actual risks associated with potentially giving up access to future microcode updates.
  • This audit should measure both the frequency and scope of updates: Have there been bug fixes, stability releases, usability updates or the addition of new functionality? For the applications that will be hosted on these systems, were any of the updates “must haves?”
  • Monetize the value of informal on-site vendor support beyond contracted break/fix activities. Users should separate the hours that vendor personnel spend on-site socializing and collecting intelligence from the delivery of value in the form of unpaid-for microcode updates, staff augmentation, skills transfers, etc.

How to Identify Ideal Partners

It’s important to follow best practices and identify established TPM partners with the right variety of offerings that match a client’s needs. In reviewing potential TPM providers, make sure to review all current support offerings, pricing models, parts accessibility, SLAs and track records of business success.

For organizations with no prior TPM experience, a good first step is to identify non-mission-critical workloads that can be hosted on TPM supported systems, followed by a careful evaluation of prospective independent support providers. A few TPM’s offer their own tools to help in this audit. For example, Curvature’s ClearView℠ assessment is a proprietary analysis that provides a client with an unbiased audit of the risks associated with incorporating an independent maintenance service alongside or instead of manufacturer support into their IT environment.

The health of a client’s IT infrastructure and business depends on having a reliable partner. Choose a provider that has demonstrated experience, third-party validation, and truly understands business needs. A health check from a TPM provider is an important step in understanding where an organization’s IT infrastructure stands.

Important Questions to Ask Potential TPM Partners

After gaining a clear line of site into the health of an IT infrastructure and conducting a risk analysis of the impact of ongoing microcode updates on arrays, IT decision makers will begin vetting providers to ensure those providers can support their unique maintenance goals. Below are some of the key questions that should be answered during that vetting process:

  1. Does the provider have FSLs (Forward Stocking Locations) and sparing depots that can meet your global SLAs and provide access to round-the-clock support 365 days a year?
  2. Can the provider explain their sparing process in detail? Are all hardware parts under contract tested and spared at a location close enough to meet your SLA?
  3. Does the provider hold the certifications needed to support your specific security and compliance requirements?
  4. Does the provider meet the “multi” standard? Do they accommodate multi-generation, multi-vendor and multinational support contracts in one centralized portal?
  5. Will you have access to high-level engineer resources?
  6. Does the provider test to prove a 0.5% or less failure rate?

Profile of a Global TPM Provider

Many customers of all sizes, all geographies and all verticals are using TPM for some devices. Currently, Gartner estimates there are more than 10 million data center/network devices under TPM, and 71% of very-large enterprise customers leveraged a TPM for support of some devices in 2016.

TPM should be viewed as a hybrid or integrated approach to maintenance, not an alternative to manufacturer maintenance altogether. It’s important to identify the right partner and assess the workload before implementing. Finding the right TPM provider can simplify business operations and create significant opportunity for improvements across the data center landscape.

Curvature extends the lifecycle of data center hardware. We believe in giving customers new options and much-needed flexibility to manage, run, and expand their data centers and networks to best meet their business and technology needs. At Curvature, we maintain a robust inventory of equipment across geographies and ensure everything is tested and in working order.

We want to challenge established industry norms and empower clients to focus on IT transformations that drive business innovation.

Third-party maintenance provides I&O leaders with more than lower hardware maintenance costs. TPM may enable the safe extension of service lives of installed storage arrays, make changing storage vendors easier, and provide leverage when negotiating infrastructure refreshes with incumbent vendors.

Source: Curvature