There has been a paradigm shift in the Indian storage market, in terms of maturity of the buyers and operators, which is now at par with the global market. Speaking to CRN India, Milan Shetti, GM, Storage, HPE, shares the evolution journey, what are the current market trends and how uniquely HPE is positioned to cater to the changing consumer trends
Please tell us briefly about your observations of the storage market
The storage market is changing dramatically. With the portfolio we have today and the lead with technologies, the focus area is AI driven, cloud ready and includes as-a-service experience – both financially as well as in terms of cloud like experience. These have been the key pillars that customers want. Interestingly, customers, both in US as well as the rest of the world, want the same thing. A decade ago, there was always a little bit of a digital divide in the trends which would happen in the western world and Far East. There was a time delay in the adoption of storage technologies and cloud technologies, etc, however it doesn’t exist anymore.
In the past, we would have different technology pitches and business value proposition pitches for developing economies – especially in storage area – versus the developed economies. That difference doesn’t exist now. The trend in India is just as equal and just as fast as the trends in the western world. Especially in the storage domain, it’s all about data. Hence, the portfolio which we have for HPE from 3PAR, Nimble and StoreOnce, has facilitated our growth. The Indian market is vibrant and eager to adopt new technologies.
Has the Indian market matured in comparison to some of the other global markets?
I see a distinct change in the maturity of buyers and operators, which is at a world-class level. There is the same dialogue, buying patterns, sophistication and maturity of buyers in India. The Indian economy and Indian buyers are truly global, especially in the storage space.
What are the common challenges facing customers from across industries; how do you address them?
There are three major issues that customers are looking to address. The first being, managing and operating at scale, because data sets have grown rapidly and the need for data from the Edge to the core, to the cloud is vast. Secondly, customers have realised that it’s a hybrid world, so everything needs to be connected to cloud – whether it is the Edge or the core. The third challenge is around the CapEx and OpEx discussion. It’s a subscription economy, wherein customers want to pay only for what they use. These three are the top three pain points of customers across the world.
We have aligned our strategy exactly to these three big pain points. Managing and operating at scale cannot happen by just assigning people to solve the problem. Automation, machine learning and AI are needed. Thus, the first pillar of our strategy is AI driven. This is where technologies such as InfoSight and predictive analytics step in. It’s about knowing problems before they occur and advising customers on what environment they should be using.
To address the challenge of cloud connect, anything we do – from a storage portfolio standpoint – has a cloud connect today. This is important for customers, so that they know that mobility exists. The third pain point is the CapEx and OpEx transition. GreenLake and our flexible capacity services allow customers to pay as they grow.
You have been the architect of some of the recent acquisitions made by HPE. What did you keep in mind during these acquisitions and how have you redesigned the offerings?
I was the architect for the 3PAR, SimpliVity and Nimble acquisitions. These have been thoughtful acquisitions, because we kept trying to figure out customer needs, and ensure that these acquisitions fit into those segments. With Nimble, we got the InfoSight technology which was critical for us to perform predictive analytics. We could have probably done it in-house, but machine learning and AI is about making sure you have processed historic data. Nimble, from its inception, has collected enough datasets, making the algorithms much more sophisticated, robust and industry leading.
SimpliVity, alongwith the HyperConverged market, was going to take off, so we also brought that into our fold. Prior to that, acquisition of 3PAR – which has big data stores and high-end systems – was essential.
Our vision is get InfoSight across all the three platforms and the other platforms. We do predictive analytics not only on Nimble, but also on 3PAR and SimpliVity. We have also wrapped it all together with StoreOnce and data protection. We are very thoughtful about any acquisition, and we perform intense market research. We also look at the analyst and customer communities and then we process the data to figure out what are the top three pain points for today, and what is the sustainable differentiation we can have.
Generally, some of the pain points or some of the hype cycles have a shelf life. It is crucial to have a sustainable differentiation. AI was that big sustainable differentiator for us. Nobody comes close to it from any of the infrastructure providers, and large or small competitors. That’s why we spent US$ 1.2 billion to acquire Nimble. Now we also have good storage stack from it. With this portfolio, we have been able to make strong inroads into the market.
For the longest period of time, the storage industry was getting aged. The technology sets were not improving from some of the competitors. Now, with a fresh portfolio and as we tie it to the compute infrastructure, Synergy Composable Architecture, it is a breath of fresh air for customers who are looking for management at scale, cloud connect and as-a-service experience.
How have new capabilities such as hybrid cloud data protection and copy data management further strengthened your storage portfolio?
When we announced StoreOnce hybrid cloud and the copy data management portfolio, it was a massive product refresh. With this, we can have 3PAR and Nimble connected for data protection through StoreOnce and also to the cloud connect through StoreOnce. This provides another way to do data protection and backup to the cloud, in addition to Nimble.
Today’s world needs 100 per cent availability at any given time. Data protection and copy data management have become strong features of the primary storage portfolio. You shouldn’t keep too many copies of data, where you’re spending more money; and at the same time, your backup and recovery should be aware of the application and primary storage. If you do not know the context of what you are backing up, your restore time gets longer.
RMC 6.0, which was a release in StoreOnce and has strong tie with Nimble and 3PAR portfolio, has got applications aware of context, primary storage, backup and restore. By architecting it that way, we can achieve unbelievable speed in terms of backup and restore, which now has 10x improvement in the backup speed and similarly bigger restore speeds as and when needed. The context driven, the app context and primary storage context are very important, because backup should be a part of primary storage workflow. Hence, the secondary storage with the StoreOnce and RMC 6.0 is an integral part of the storage.
Many companies have been adopting cloud-first strategy. How can customers leverage the benefits of cloud through StoreOnce?
Couple of years ago, customers stated that one of their strategies was cloud-first. Interestingly, HPE was the first vendor to say that cloud is going to be hybrid. This year, more and more customers are acknowledging a hybrid cloud-first strategy. This is a great validation of HPE’s strategy on the big element of its corporate strategy, which was to make hybrid IT simple. The StoreOnce and the RM6.0 announcements are perfect, because they are about making hybrid IT simple by making data protection as hybrid cloud-first.
Most customers in India are hesitant to adopt a hybrid cloud strategy. What is your message for them?
We ask customers to try our portfolio and see what we can deliver on hybrid cloud-first strategy. We associate with our partner community and jointly approach customers as trusted advisors and demonstrate how hybrid IT can get simpler. People want to see the proof first, though we have enough proof and enough references on making hybrid IT simple, including the new announcements of StoreOnce and RM6.0.
We are also seeing the concept sales cycle shrinking to months, even in cases of the most sceptical customers. The deployment cycle has also shrunk to months, so I think the adoption is actually getting faster. For example, InfoSight and StoreOnce Cloud Bank is a SaaS portal rather than application which the customer has to deploy. This is valuable because customers don’t have to install anything in their environment. They can just use this portal and observe first-hand, the benefits of hybrid cloud. Conversations with customers are now getting simpler, because they don’t have to install something brand new to reap the benefits. Hybrid cloud adoption in India is going to be faster than any other technology and that’s why the gap between the global trends and those in India is shrinking.
How are HPE’s as-a-service offerings, especially in the storage space, changing the market dynamics?
HPE is well positioned in this area, because of the as-a-service offerings and its financial services arm. Storage is consumable and it can be metered. Compute can be metered too, but it has transitions. In storage, there is a predictable capacity that you consume. Inherently, with that property of storage – if done right, which is what HPE does – you can predict your spend cycles.
You can predict what your consumption is going to be, based on the workload, and how you should plan for it. This is going to be a strength for HPE; we call it Intelligent Storage. We are adding intelligence into the storage infrastructure and that intelligence comes from AI and business transformation and as a service. We will not be in a world where people are just buying upfront storage. It is always going to be based on capacity consumption. Also not many customers will delete data, so the consumption is going to be always bigger than what it was before. The only thing which is different is the rate of consumption. In a flex capacity model, you pay as you grow, which is the only way I see the industry will ever consume storage, going forward.
What sort of innovations in your storage portfolio will create a new wave in the market?
There is an ability we have in InfoSight, called Recommendation Engine, which does predictive forecasting or warning of any problems in the environment – it’s about managing and orchestration. We believe that InfoSight is going to be that data browser or data management browsers and we are using this position to not only make the predictions and the recommendations on what is happening in the environment, but also to provide insight into what architecture and what products you should buy, or how you should use the technology. That tool informs customers not only about their IT infrastructure, but also about their workloads and what process changes and workflow changes they need in the workload. That is what the next wave is; and that’s what we are bullish on.
Based on your interactions with Indian system integrators, what message do you have for them in terms of your storage portfolio?
There are many customers who are at different points of the digital transformation journey. At the end of the day, people still buy from people, people still deploy with people and people still trust people and that’s where the global SI community and HPE come together. We have the tools, expertise, deep technology background. Whereas, SIs can provide the people, the relationship and trust, so jointly we can provide the intelligence about storage. SI partners work with us to help customers jump on the digital transformation journey and accelerate success.
The more intelligence we have in storage, the more we partner with SIs, the more they can have a trusted advisory with their customers and an intimate relationship. This results from the trust and that trust comes from the automation and intelligence which we provide.
The amount of workload which exists with customers is massive. For instance, there is an on-premise workload which we call the traditional workload. Then there is a second set of workloads, which is around scale out storage. The third set of workloads is cloud native. Whereas, the fourth set of workloads include IoT related services. These are different workload characteristics, and every customer has all four.
At the same time, when we talk to SIs, we lead the conversation with workloads, because management of the vast amount of workload is not humanly possible and it is going to need intelligent storage to figure out what workload goes where. Furthermore, these workloads also have a life cycle. You can have data generated by IoT, go to the cloud, go to on-premise cloud and to the traditional storage, because they are all tied in. A good example would be of a point of sale for a retail shop, which happens at the Edge. The expansion of the workload is the area where we partner with SIs. There needs to be an intelligent storage to make sure that there is the right workload, right mix and the right flow.
This is unique about our offerings to our SIs. They like the workload led conversation and have realised the need to have intelligent storage. The intelligent storage, predictive analytics, primary storage, StoreOnce and RMC as the workflow, make a lot of sense from that standpoint, but the tip of the spear is explosion of the workload.