For many companies, storage has been an out of sight, out of mind thing. But efficiencies and cost savings abound for CIOs willing to take the necessary steps towards a rational storage plan.
- Why it's essential to develop a storage strategy
- How a storage area network can reduce costs and complexity
- What attributes are key in a storage management team
Before you can even think about getting more value from your storage dollar, you need to have a strategy in place. That became clear to David Corwin, senior director of technology services at Yellow Technologies, the IT division of transportation company Yellow Corporation.
During the past 18 months, his group has worked to recast existing storage policies into a strategy aimed squarely at future corporate needs. For Yellow, that meant understanding where storage needs were growing, which were growing fastest (collaborative environments such as e-mail and file/print services, as it turned out) and what business needs were growing, which were growing fastest (collaborative environments such as e-mail and file/print services, as it turned out) and what business needs were driving that growth. One result of the strategy was the decision to consolidate three storage area networks into one. "Three SANs is three times the administration [costs]," says Corwin. Sometime before the end of 2003, Yellow will further define its policies for retaining data as part of its overall strategy.
Jamie Gruener, a senior analyst at the Yankee Group, notes that in the 90s many IT execs bought storage infrastructure without a master plan to guide them. "We're no longer in a period of time when you can't have some sort of strategic planning initiative in place," he says. That means assessing what you have, doing an annual forecast that includes capacity needs, figuring out what department or unit is consuming what amount of storage, having a backup and recovery plan, and deciding on the best management tools.
create A DEDICATED TEAM
Two years ago, execs at Alliant Energy, an energy provider in the US midwest, challenged a group selected from its Intel server and Unix and database administration teams to find common solutions to storage problems. The team consolidated disk space using its SAN and developed processes for managing the company's backup and recovery. "Before, all server administrators needed to be storage experts. Now a few people manage all storage, and they're the experts," says Gregg Lawry, Alliant's IT managing director. The result has been a reduction in the number of server admins who need to worry about storage from 15 to three and, thanks to disk space consolidation and other money-saving decisions, a reduction of 58 per cent in Alliant's unit price for storage.
At Paccar, a global truck manufacturer, storage responsibilities are being shifted from server teams to a two-person storage management team. "You've got to peel somebody off and say: 'Your job is to manage storage across the whole organisation'," says vice president and CIO Patrick Flynn. At Paccar, project managers know they need to sit down with a storage resource manager to think about file sizes, backup frequencies and data security issues. With common processes in place, Paccar has saved money by consolidating servers, reducing the amount of direct-attached storage (DAS) and utilising capacity more efficiently.
DAS connects storage resources directly to a single server. Storage area networks provide pooled storage connected to a LAN. And increased asset utilisation can be a quick SAN benefit. "So if you go from a 40 per cent rate on DAS, by pooling storage on a SAN, you may get a 60 per cent utilisation rate. When dealing with terabytes of storage, that's a lot of money," says Phil Goodwin, senior program director at Meta Group. He also says SANs can help increase organisational agility by making it easier to redeploy storage resources from one application to another.
Another benefit of SAN technology is faster application development testing. Alliant's Lawry says that in his company's previous DAS environment, after running a test, it could take a day or two to restore the data attached to the server and set up the environment again. With a SAN, multiple versions of data can be replicated in a short period of time so that developers can run parallel tests without having to restore data.
At Denver Health Hospital Authority, which provides care to 30 per cent of Colorado residents, CTO Jeff Pelot uses two SANs from EMC and LeftHand Networks, to maintain system availability - which can mean the difference between life and death. He says that with its old DAS setup, the medical records system once went down for 36 hours. "The restore was incredibly difficult," he says. "With SAN, our data is pretty well protected at any given time. If there's any outage, we can get back to a point in time, say an hour before the failure, where the data was synched."
SANs aren't perfect, of course. DAS can be superior for high-level security purposes (a nuclear power plant might want to physically isolate data on DAS) or if a data warehouse is attached to a single server (in which case SAN connectivity doesn't buy you anything). And, of course, SANs still require an up-front investment, which may be a hard sell given tight IT budgets.