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Strategies for Building Capabilities-Defined Infrastructures

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The weakening of vendor lock-ins is creating opportunities for CIOs to reevaluate assumptions that create inefficiencies and constrain their ability to allow applications to drive infrastructure design. This article delves into the implications of enhanced application and data mobility and AIOps on changing storage vendors, the planned service lives of storage systems, the value of infrastructure futureproofing, and software-defined data centers.

Actionable Advice

The recommendations listed below ensure that new technologies and purchasing models that may benefit the customer are not missed and empower the customer during acquisition negotiations. Whether following these recommendations delivers a positive ROI is an "it depends” moment. How many of the recommendations are already being followed; how long has it been since your last acquisition, how bureaucratic is your acquisition process, retraining and testing costs, lost opportunity costs, loss of license and maintenance waivers, etc. Other considerations include how strategic is the acquisition, how large is the acquisition, and skills shortages that make following any advice difficult to impossible.

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Changing Storage Vendors is Risky, Expensive, and Time Consuming

Changing storage vendors is often perceived to be riskier than changing server or network vendors due to storage’s tighter integration with applications, performance modeling challenges, and time- and resource-consuming data migrations. Nonetheless, virtualization, containerization, open standards and APIs, self-orchestration, AIOps, and advanced migration tools have significantly simplified the process. Near autonomic AFAs and modern hybrid storage systems further reduce the risks of subtle misconfiguration errors causing performance or disaster recovery problems that could be difficult to identify.

The availability of free data migration services from various storage and virtualization vendors further highlights the increasing simplicity of migrations and vendor recognition of CIO fears of failed migrations stopping them from changing storage vendors. Among storage vendors offering free on-premises to on-premises migration services are Dell, HPE, IBM, Infinidat, and NetApp. Reference checking migration customers and requesting guarantees that keep a customer whole should performance shortfalls or missed migration deadlines occur are two tactics that further bound the risk of changing storage vendors.

Organizations confronting perennial skills shortages should also encourage shortlisted storage vendors to include on-premises storage as a service (STaaS) solutions in their bid responses. They should also invite MSPs (Managed Service Providers) to bid their STaaS solutions because STaaS directly addresses skills shortages and allows organizations to compare in-house versus vendor storage admin productivity.

Rethinking the Service Lives of Servers, Storage, and Networking

The planned service lives of storage systems, and other infrastructure hardware, are generally not determined by hardware MTBFs, but by more mundane factors such as upgrade price premiums, maintenance costs, architectural obsolescence, parts availability, accounting practices, and environmental considerations.

Many CIOs consider staying within one generation of current technology a best practice. Storage systems generally have 3-to-5-year active marketing lives. Therefore most organizations generally default to planned 3-to-5-year service lives for their storage systems. Many organizations, particularly those with onerous bureaucratic acquisition processes, have embraced “green maintenance” for their storage systems because it allows them to avoid the need to issue RFPs and still stay within one generation of current technology1. Essentially, green maintenance extends the planned service lives of storage systems to 6 or more years.

CIOs with the ability to host workloads that do not have a need for the latest functionality on older AFAs can increase their planned service lives up to 7 to 8 years. Vendors always EOL support before aging hardware can damage customer satisfaction. Vendors EOL support to cope with the expense of maintaining compatibility engineering and the lack of spare parts availability. CIOs that are comfortable with using third-party maintenance (TPM) can go even farther, up to 10 years or more depending upon actual failure rates.

High growth rates and a deflationary market can make adding a new system to infrastructure more cost-effective than upgrading an installed system. Hence one should always compare upgrade versus new system acquisition costs, particularly on systems installed more than 2 years. The comparison should include acquisition costs, co-termed upgrade and base system maintenance costs, and environmental costs. For new systems, there are no co-terming costs.

The Value of Futureproofing

The value of futureproofing is inversely proportional to the ease of data migrations and the use of open APIs. Together these capabilities enable SDDC to in real time optimize application and infrastructure hardware associations as application needs shrink or expand. Nondisruptive VMware and Azure migrations further simplify infrastructure refreshes by potentially making hardware changes transparent to applications.

Infrastructure futureproofing is emotionally appealing because it promises flexibility and improved operational efficiency. However, imperfect foresight and asset management constraints often limit its value. Hence, most future-proofing strategies focus instead on selecting stable vendors, adopting modular scale-out architectures, creating software-defined data centers (SDDCs), and making virtualization and containerization the default environments for new application development.


The weakening of vendor lock-ins has made remaining long-term sole-source situations a choice, not a necessity. Hence restoring a competitive infrastructure environment ultimately depends upon dissatisfaction with incumbent vendor solutions, and forecasted improvements in capabilities and operational costs. Involving strong advisors in the process provides objectivity, reduces the resources needed to evaluate alternatives, ensures the use of best practice negotiation tactics, and insights into bid competitiveness.



1Green maintenance is maintenance that goes beyond break-fix and software updates to include hardware upgrades that keep the system architecturally current.


Stan Zaffos and Valdis Filks, Advisors at Lionfish Tech Advisors, Inc.