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Storage Strategies - Thursday, March 04, 2004

Aligning Storage Costs with Business Priorities
By Jon William Toigo

A proposal for a "three dimensional approach": automating storage
provisioning and device management, data movement, and data
replication.

It occurs to me that it must be difficult to work for a storage vendor
and to be Australian -- to tow the party line and to be true to your
Aussie compunction for the unadorned truth. Perhaps that is why I have
a personal affinity for folks like Marco Coulter at Computer Associates
and Rob Nieboer from StorageTek, both of whom originally hail from Down
Under. (Story continues below)

When mail arrives from either of these guys, I tend to open it
immediately. Rob recently sent me an e-mail that struck me as a kind
of manifesto for clear-headed storage architecture. I have chosen to
reprint much of it here.

Nieboer begins with insights about the kind of storage planning
companies require. Citing the failure of FC SANs to deliver on their
business value proposition, he says the time has come to stop looking
for panaceas and solve problems for ourselves.

"Clearly, there is a need for people to think strategically about
storage. I have been urging the creation of an Information Strategist
function within IT, and this person may very well also be a Storage
Architect. These people ought to be thinking about the information
needs of the business for next year, 3 years from now, 5 years from
now, 10 years from now. The architect ought to translate these needs
into some fundamental architectural building blocks that can form the
foundation of a sustainable storage infrastructure that supports
business goals and objectives, and which aligns storage costs with
business priorities and value."

Based on years of observation and work with client companies, he
concludes, "Today, I believe many (most) IT shops have a broken,
unsustainable storage model. Information is growing faster than disk
cost is declining, and faster than our ability to manage storage is
improving. All this is happening when IT budgets are flat to declining,
and while information has never been more critical to the survival of
the business."

Tactical storage hardware purchases are a major component of the
storage cost explosion today, says Nieboer. "The tactical behaviors of
storage managers are bringing storage in these shops to the brink of
breaking. They run out of storage, they buy some more of what they
have, or what's cheapest. Yet, every new storage decision simply adds
to the problems they already have, rather than begin[ning] to set the
foundation for a sustainable infrastructure."

He calls for a new alignment of "storage costs with business
priorities" and suggests that a "three dimensional approach" is
required: we must automate storage provisioning and device management,
data movement, and data replication.

First, organizations need to attack the labor costs associated with
storage provisioning, he says, who clicks off the key questions to be
answered almost by rote: "Where do I store the first copy of the data?
What performance characteristics does this data need? How long should
it stay here before I move it somewhere else? How and with what human
resources and with what software do I manage it?"

Nieboer offers a straightforward answer: "Find every avenue you can to
automate storage management! Act opportunistically and tactically and
seize upon tools and technologies that automate various management
functions."

He cautions against a silver bullet mentality, especially as it
pertains to the multi-tiered architectures being advanced by most
storage vendors today. "Clearly, there are some compelling reasons why
we should exploit multiple tiers of storage. The cost benefits are
clearly there. The only caveat is that you had better find an automated
way of managing the movement of data across a storage hierarchy,
because we don't have enough people to do this."

Second, Nieboer urges the automation of data movements wherever
possible, understanding that tactical selection and deployment of
automation technology may lead to some dead ends and the requirement
"to abandon investments a year or two down the track."

Nieboer's third target is data replication, which he says "is becoming
the real craft behind the broader backup/recovery and business
continuation problems." Technologists have been largely remiss in
analyzing how many data copies are needed, whether copies need to be
hosted on the same type of platform as originals or can be adequately
handled by cheaper Serial ATA platforms, and how much data needs to be
replicated synchronously versus asynchronously. He says there is
little attention being paid to addressing the nagging issue of how best
to leverage "the absolute low cost of tape for both long-term retention
of backups and for the archiving of data which is under some kind of
regulatory oversight, while eliminating the impact on applications and
application servers of potential mechanical failures."

Adding intelligent self-management features and virtualization
capabilities to tape platforms is inevitable, in Nieboer's view, to
eliminate the direct connection of applications to tape technology, to
address the data restore requirements of contemporary business
continuity requirements, and to compensate for the data management
shortcomings of technologies such as FC SANs.

Treading a fine line between his beliefs and his employer's line,
Nieboer summarizes, "[The industry] has created two intersecting
worlds. The first is the world created by the application servers and
the buffered appliance. In this world, no physical tape exists, backups
almost always work, and recoveries are fast and predictable. The second
world is the one created by the buffered appliance and real backend
tape. In this world, which operates independently of, and
asynchronously with, the application servers, data are migrated from
the disk buffer to tape under policy, maybe with multiple copies both
local and remote, data may be recalled back to the disk buffer, and
outboard migration can occur independently of application servers from
older tape technologies to newer higher capacity technologies as a
background task."

If companies adopt this unassuming outline of strategic planning goals,
they may well begin to bring their storage challenges (and budgets)
into alignment with business priorities. Then, "Bob's your uncle" --
as one might say in Sydney.

Copyright 2004 101communications LLC.
 

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Last Modified: March 9, 2008