New study exposes hidden costs of high-performance storage; downtime and labour costs are significant burdens that risk the mission

Total cost of ownership (TCO) now rivals performance as a top criterion for purchasing high-performance computing (HPC) storage systems, according to an independent study published by Hyperion Research.

While performance still ranked first (57%), TCO tied with purchase price at 37% as the second most important consideration cited by users. This points to an important shift, as HPC storage buyers have historically given less credence to ongoing operating costs, particularly millions of dollars lost due to downtime. Almost half of the surveyed respondents experience storage system failures once a month or more, with some outages leading to downtimes that can last as long as a week. A single day of downtime costs can range from $100,000 to more than $1 million.

The report, commissioned by Panasas, the HPC data storage solutions provider, surveyed data centre planners and managers, storage system managers, purchasing decision-makers and key influencers, as well as users of HPC storage systems. Hyperion surveyed organisations with annual revenues from less than $5 million (USD) to more than $10 billion (USD).

“A clear implication of this study is that to compete effectively, storage vendors need to deliver value far beyond the initial purchase price,” said Steve Conway, senior advisor, HPC market dynamics at Hyperion Research. “They must pay attention to the full range of buyer considerations, including reliability, cost of management, responsive support and uninterrupted application user productivity.”

In November 2019, Panasas unveiled its re-engineered PanFS parallel file system, delivered on the Panasas ActiveStor Ultra appliance. This turnkey HPC storage system maximises performance, boosts reliability, simplifies management, and offers the lowest total cost of ownership in its class.

“HPC storage buyers have come to expect downtime as the norm in HPC storage, trading off the lowest cost of acquisition for the inevitable headaches and lost productivity caused by system downtime,” said Faye Pairman, president and CEO at Panasas. “As a result, HPC storage vendors skimp on the development expenses associated with reliability, manageability and support; something we don’t do at Panasas. With the release of PanFS 8, we go beyond delivering the lowest cost of ownership that we are known for by offering our high-performance file system on commodity hardware to provide the lowest cost of acquisition as well – making the buying decision easy.”

In addition to the rising importance of TCO, the survey findings also challenge the accepted HPC storage narrative that cost-effective performance necessitates complexity and unreliability. Consider the following key findings:

Recruiting and hiring qualified staff, followed by the time and cost needed to tune and optimise the storage systems, were the two most often-named challenges for HPC storage operations - findings that go hand in hand with high levels of downtime.
More than three-quarters of respondents experienced reduced productivity in the past year due to storage issues. One in eight sites experienced this more than 10 times in the past 12 months.

When asked how long it took to recover from a storage system failure, 40% of HPC sites typically require more than two days to restore their storage system to full functionality.

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