Customers express interest, doubts about Apex Flex on Demand
Dell touted its Apex Flex on Demand as-a-service offering at its annual user show. Customers seem interested in but hesitant about elastic capacity.
LAS VEGAS -- Dell Technologies is committed to flexibility, a message that company executives repeatedly delivered to customers on center stage at Dell Technologies World 2022. The annual user conference also highlighted that messaging away from center stage, in smaller sessions dedicated to existing products, including a session on its Apex storage-as-a-service portfolio.
The Apex offering includes Apex Flex on Demand, which enables customers to scale resources up or down depending on need, including compute, storage and hyper-converged infrastructure.
"Apex Flex on Demand builds off the whole Apex initiative," said Mark Mostaffa, senior consultant for Dell's Apex customer solutions, during the conference session. "It is about using proper resources in an as-a-service manner to give advantages beyond return on investment."
Finding savings and adjusting faster
Apex Flex on Demand's elastic capacity brings advantages to customers beyond cost efficiency, such as reducing risk.
Standardized infrastructure is ideal for standard workloads, but with a multi-cloud infrastructure, operating environments can have different storage requirements and different capacities at different times.
Apex Flex on Demand offers customers two types of capacity: committed capacity, which is always used; and buffer capacity, which may or may not be used. If there is a large demand for capacity for a few days, storage admins can tap into the buffer capacity before dropping back to the committed capacity. Dell expects to eventually see a demand that is 0% committed and 100% buffer capacity, Mostaffa said. Buffer capacity is there, but users aren't paying for it.
"[Customers] truly are paying for the usage that they have," he said. "The significant thing about the increase in capacity is that when a customer increases capacity, they can then lower the usage rate that we used to charge."
A majority of session attendees expressed interest in the agility to adjust capacity, but they also expressed concerns of buying too much committed capacity and changing performance metrics once they are locked in a contract.
Mostaffa, who believes services such as Apex Flex on Demand are the storage consumption model of the future, said concerns like these can be headed off with better information up front. He also said customers can sign up for shorter commitment periods to address changes when they do come up.
Buying on demand might sound appealing, but session attendees seemed reluctant to give up their current storage model.
The idea of creating Dell storage hardware in the cloud instead of having it physically in the data center is interesting, even if it is different from how storage has been deployed throughout his career, said Michael Sclafani, a multi-cloud Linux engineer at Corning Inc. Elastic capacity moves users away from traditional architecture and can lend itself to easier upgrades, but issues can arise.
"The promise of more space out of less space can be dangerous," Sclafani said. "IT departments can quickly oversubscribe the storage, throwing everything at it, and then the storage runs out."
Replacing on-premises storage with an on-demand model gives a false sense that storage is unlimited, but there is an upper limit to the buffer capacity -- and planning is a critical part of elastic capacity. Without it, companies can experience cost overruns or find themselves adding on-premises arrays to make up for the lack of storage.
Ken Boyer, director of global storage at IQVia, said elastic capacity might not be for everyone, and that companies should consider growth and future costs before investing in services such as Flex on Demand.
"If we sign up for, say, a petabyte, and by year three we have 10 petabytes, that is great for my company, but not so much for my storage contracts," Boyer said.
He added that IQVia, a life sciences IT company, has all of its storage on premises now, so the company would have to move a certain amount of data off premises to make elastic capacity work from a cost perspective.
"We may be able to do that, but it is something we would have to thoroughly look at first," he said.
Aside from costs, there were concerns about how Apex Flex on Demand would be packaged and sold, and what kinds of customers are investing in the service.
"If you listen to vendors, everything is the best, but we like to try it out -- and in order to do so, it must be available to us," said Hani Chaban, an executive manager at Ctelecoms in Saudi Arabia.
Dell clarified that Apex Flex on Demand is available in 34 countries, including Saudi Arabia.
Chaban followed up by asking who Dell considers the target customer for Apex Flex on Demand. "Ctelecoms services the midmarket where flexibility and agility are critical," he said.
Mostaffa said Flex on Demand is for customers with as little of a transaction as $100,000 and up.
Mostaffa said Dell recently added functionality to the service's monitoring to give customers the ability to drill down into their data usage better within the current month. Customers can look at how much storage they are using and other details like at which node level the data consumption occurs. This will be expanded, he said.
"[It] will be a multiyear journey to where we provide more information to customers [to] look at these assets that have been deployed in a flexible model -- that they can have more information on how they ought to monitor it and manage it," he said.