By Adam Stern
A common goal of IT departments across organizations and industries is to maximize performance and speed of their performance and infrastructure. But, of course, it’s not only IT that is affected by this goal, and HR professionals must realize that they depend on this infrastructure as well.
Applications are driving the enterprise, whether it is a relatively simple application used by millions of customers or a complex, scalable database that drives an organization’s back end. These applications, and the users that count on them, expect rapid response times. In a world that demands “instant gratification,” forcing a customer, prospect, or employee to wait for a response is the kiss of death. —George Crump, Lead Analyst, IT consulting firm Storage Switzerland, LLC
For most data centers, Crump suggests, “the number one cause of these ‘waits’ is the data storage infrastructure, and improving storage performance is a top priority for many CIOs.”
It may be challenging for Human Resources (HR) executives who live well outside the IT glass house to think in milliseconds (ms), or to recognize how much speed—which translates directly to application performance—matters. It’s tough enough to wrap our heads around the fractional advantages that accrue to Olympians like Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps, much less grasp the arcane benefits of sub-millisecond flash storage to human resources applications.
But matter it does. Here’s a look at why, how we got here, and what HR executives need to know as they work with technology professionals to tune their IT infrastructures for maximum performance—and optimum profitability. (Hint: It’s not speed for its own sake.)
I’ve got a flash for you. If you’re part of a Human Resources department—paraphrasing James Carville—it’s the storage performance, dummy.
For years, the IT establishment has been telling businesses that faster performance can be achieved through more memory and more CPU power. The problem with that is simply this: At some point, you have enough processing power and memory capacity for your HR applications, and you’re still not satisfied with how your apps perform.
Even within the storage business, the mantra has been “large enough storage” Only the very savvy have been recommending faster storage for the office network. Now, with the advent of inexpensive SSD/flash disks for the office, everyone can get very fast storage within a network environment. How does this translate to the data center and the cloud? Not all that well, as it turns out. Even as you add more CPU and memory to the cloud, apps (and not only HR apps) are still sluggish.
The reason is that most cloud providers have opted for larger capacity—but slightly slower and less expensive—disks. High-speed flash storage has become feasible in the cloud environment only recently, but even SSD drives have their limits in the cloud.
The industry hasn’t done an adequate job equipping businesses—HR departments among them—with the vocabulary they need to understand storage speed. The key is latency: As StorageSwiss puts it, how long it takes for a single data request to be received and the right data found and accessed from the storage media. The norm used to be storage latency of 5 milliseconds—now, it’s 1 to 2 ms latency across the board. And that’s not even fast enough. Sub-millisecond performance is just around the corner—and Human Resources specialists need to start asking their providers for that kind of capability. Before long, if providers aren’t hitting sub-ms latency, they won’t even be in the ballpark.
This quantum boost in storage speed would seem to be one of those technology breakthroughs of interest mostly to those who actually make or sell the hardware, but that would be a misreading of the trend.
Industry analyst Technavio has identified high-speed flash storage as among the three most significant emerging developments in cloud computing, noting that flash storage offers business users greater efficiency compared to the traditional HDD storage device. “Currently, the cost of flash-based network-attached storage (NAS) is several times larger than that of HDD-based NAS storage,” the firm reports. “With the increased user access needs, flash-based NAS storage arrays offer 40 to 45 times better performance than hard disk input/output (I/O) performance.” New York-based 451 Research concurs: “With the inclusion of solid-state drives (SSDs) in arrays, performance is no longer a differentiator in its own right, but a scalability enabler that improves operational and financial efficiency by facilitating storage consolidation.”
The “need for speed,” then, is neither an extravagance nor a distraction; it’s an opportunity for Human Resources pros to take stock of what they have, what they’re using and how their IT infrastructure—whether in-house or administered in the cloud, through a third party—is supporting the business.
“The problem is that the storage industry often misleads IT professionals as to where they should direct their attention when trying to eliminate wait time,” says StorageSwiss’s Crump, intimating that IT’s confusion isn’t doing business users any favors. So, not only is it “the storage performance, dummy,” it’s also “the latency, dummy.”
When it comes to recognizing the importance and impact for sub-millisecond storage performance, then, there really is no time to wait.
Adam Stern is the Founder and CEO of Infinitely Virtual in Los Angeles, California. Find him on Twitter: @iv_cloudhosting.