It’s been said that applications run the world, because decisions about buying – or building – new applications have the power to drive new infrastructure deployments. For the user community, the business need comes first —and the “how” of deploying it comes second. Certainly, applications are at the top of the technology stack – above the middleware, and the databases, and the hardware platforms that support them. But they are at the “opposite” end of the stack from the infrastructure.
The relationship between the apps and the infrastructure is illustrated by the traditional OSI technology stack. In networking, the OSI stack has been around for more than three decades – and shows how the physical layer supporting the stack is underneath lots of other software, ending up at the presentation and application layers.
Viewing the World Through the Lens of Applications
This view of the world can be likened to looking at a telescope with two lenses—with one lens at each end of the instrument. Viewed from one end, the world looks like infrastructure – for servers, storage and communications gear. Viewed at the other end, the world looks like an application for business – with the chief concern being: How can it be accelerated to bring about business results faster? Of course, infrastructure remains important – and it’s one of my favorite topics to write about. It’s just that business users don’t focus on it, for the most part. Rather, they focus on price and functionality. Which is precisely why so many cloud-based data services took off in recent years – with just a few examples mentioned here: Salesforce.com, Concur’s Expense systems, SuccessFactors (SAP-owned HR data services), and Oracle Cloud services.
Within a business unit, or organizational department, the application is all that the end user sees, or inquires about. The rest is left to the IT department to build, deploy and maintain. But system OEMs are, indeed, paying attention to optimizing the technology stack. They are working with each layer of functionality—and building, partnering or working with ISVs and open source communities to make those stacks work faster and more seamlessly with each other. The amazing thing is that all of the OEMs and ODMs recognize the importance of the stack – and of making it work more efficiently for end user apps.
Making the Apps Run Faster
Many IT techniques can be used to make this process of acceleration happen. Faster processors, better networking gear – and, now, there is the option of adding more flash technology to the infrastructure to accelerate the applications and databases accessed by business users.
At SanDisk®, our testing of a variety of workloads, from Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), to email, to databases and analytics, show a consistent pattern when solid-state drives (SSDs) are added to that technology stack. We’ve done literally dozens of tests that show that systems outfitted with solid-state drives (SSDs) can accelerate workloads, compared to the same systems outfitted with hard disk drives.
Business users see a performance benefit from running apps on infrastructure that has been enabled by solid state drives (SSDs) – whether the SSDs are housed in the server, or the storage array. The users may not know “why” this is happening – but they will observe that “it” is happening.
In the case of virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), the relationship is clear: using SSDs provides easier and faster access to a user’s desktop applications, with better quality of service (QoS).
For enterprise users, SSDs enable faster processing “inside” the servers or storage arrays that leverage the solid state drives. They are present in those systems but, for many end users, not yet top-of-mind when it comes to evaluating the system-level products in which the SSDs reside.
That perception could well change in coming years, as business users seek to optimize enterprise workload performance – and learn more about SSDs. That has certainly been the case for users of flash storage in consumer product categories, like digital cameras, smartphones, tablets and wearables.
Who’s Paying for the Apps?
Business people are the ones who ultimately fund the IT department projects – and approve the adoption of new applications and new software. Those end users, and business unit managers, are focused on the business—not on the infrastructure that makes the apps run smoothly.
Because end users have little idea about the mechanics of how their app is supported in the data center, it’s up to the IT industry to explain that relationship. And, it’s up to IT departments to show the business benefits of updating aging architecture to make apps run faster. The storage layer of the data center has long been characterized by storage I/O bottlenecks, causing end user frustration about app performance – even if the end users did not know why this was happening.
One way to explain the connection between the apps and the infrastructure is to start with what end users already know, based on their use of PCs and smartphones. The users buy their smartphones in retail stores – and are asked how much on-phone storage they want to buy. They ask IT for more memory, as they find their PC apps slowing down. So, they see the connection. From those experiences, they know that adding more memory and more storage allows them to run more apps, to store more photos, and to do business faster and better.
The Cloud as a Model for Change
The trend toward cloud computing increased after the 2009 economic downturn, as businesses moved to contain costs. For selected apps, that adoption of cloud computing showed the power of end users to pay for data services directly – without asking their own IT departments to host their apps.
Outsourcing apps to cloud providers, especially Software as a Service (SaaS) providers, demonstrated users’ frustration with the pace of technology change – and rising costs of one-off app implementations inside their organization. The customization wasn’t worth the cost. Paying for services that were already hosted and optimized made economic sense. Their takeaway: making app deployments faster, while reducing or containing business unit costs, is a winning combination for businesses today.
Moving to New Platforms
That brings us up to the present – specifically, to the post-Labor Day timeframe, when businesses are once again thinking about 2015 budgets – and how to fund IT to support their apps.
The fall season is an important time for the IT world: There are more conferences, more product launches (e.g. new Apple iPhone announcements, Intel Developer Forum (IDF), Oracle Open World and the late-summer VMworld) that get widely covered in the press and media. This annual cycle is a good jumping-off point for spurring discussions about the Cloud Computing, Big Data/Analytics, Mobility and Social Media megatrends that are placing new demands on the data center.
No matter which “end” of the telescope you use to view the world – the apps lens of end users or the infrastructure lens of IT departments – it’s clear that new technology must be added to the infrastructure we already have to make sure that apps run faster, and better, in 2015. Without that technology refresh, apps are likely to slow under the pressure of too many demands on the data center. Those megatrends of Cloud Computing, Big Data, Analytics, Mobility and Social Media will make demands on data centers that require faster end-to-end application performance – precisely why end users should care about SSD enablement – and, as a result, empowerment.
For end users and business managers, communications about these IT issues must start with “How is this going to help my app?” Whether it’s on the desktop or in the smartphone, the connection between infrastructure and business results must be made clearer to a wide spectrum of end users who only want to get their work done faster, and better. So, it’s time for all of us to start talking more about the business results when pausing for a hallway conversation about how our apps are running – and where they are running. It’s time to think more about the way things look from the end user’s point of view.