A step-by-step guide to designing an effective data management strategy

These four steps will help achieve an intuitive data management strategy and improved performance from a virtual environment.

Most IT professionals are well versed in the server virtualisation sales pitch. The potential benefits -- ranging from capacity, operational efficiency and performance -- make for a compelling proposition, not to mention one that's a relatively straightforward "sell" back into the boardroom.

When it comes down to it, though, calculating server virtualisation benefits like the potential return on investment (ROI) and actually implementing a successful virtualisation strategy are poles apart.

Virtualisation can enable significant business change, such as contributing to carbon reduction and efficiency strategies, but without careful planning, many of the immediate challenges it resolves can easily reoccur.

Virtualisation's white elephant
The fundamental problem with virtualisation is that it allows you to put more of what you have onto less. Whilst this helps to free up physical space and shrink your energy bill, having access to seemingly endless capacity does not mean you should take the landfill approach to company data. It's easy to slip, or be pushed by overzealous compliance officers and anxious accountants, into a just-in-case mentality, meaning "keep everything, just in case."

In a virtual environment, the volume of data is still very real. Without rules and policies, it will continue to multiply and eventually clog the arteries of a business. Over time, you'll need to procure more capacity, suffer the same document management complexity and potentially impact the performance of your networks -- particularly if you have branch and remote offices.

In the interests of ensuring the success of your investment and delivering business change, the IT department has to therefore prioritise its data management strategy.

Getting started with a data management strategy

Realising the ROI of any virtualisation project requires a pragmatic and collaborative approach that considers the impact on the entire business. This means finding the right times to look beyond the technology.

The following will help you develop a step-by-step project plan and guide the business toward achieving an intuitive and automated data management strategy. In turn, it will enable you to better utilise and enhance the performance from a virtual environment.

Audit and Monitor – A 360 degree view of your data estate will enable you to put into perspective your current capacity and areas for improvement. Try to identify the volume of data you currently have in storage, where it is hosted, its archiving lifecycle, and how often and by whom is it retrieved. This will enable you to make informed and intelligent decisions about the tiered and on-site/off-site storage strategy you hope to pursue.

Educate – It is essential that all employees view data management as a business issue. Each department needs to understand why data management is a crucial procedure in ensuring business performance. Dedicate some time to educating your colleagues and they'll become far more understanding, and supportive, of the next step...

Ownership and Classification – Whose data is it, anyway? Each department will place varying degrees of value on the data it produces. It is essential to understand how they (finance, HR, legal, etc) uses their data, and any challenges or external pressures that could impact the data lifecycle. This will help you to prioritise and tier data archiving and accessibility -- is it needed in the near, long, or never-term? It could mean you're able to outsource some of your storage needs. This classification process is the most important stage of the plan and, if done correctly, will mirror the needs of the business.

Policies – Once you've classified your data, implement and automate data de-duplication and archiving policies according to applications, individuals, and departments (it's also important to communicate these policies back to your colleagues). This will significantly reduce the volume of data stored and ease the complexity of meeting compliance and legislative measures. Furthermore, it will allow you, the IT department, to focus on innovation.

Regardless of where an organisation is at with their data virtualisation strategy, efficiencies in capacity utilisation and operational costs can always be found in order to continue to extract as much value out of strategic IT investments as possible. This plan provides a good starting point, but it's important to continually assess and evolve your data strategy as the business changes.

Implemented properly, virtualisation can deliver fantastic benefits back into a company, and help ease the day-to-day mundane tasks IT departments are burdened with. It allows you to spend more time innovating, rather than operating, which not only makes for a more interesting job, it also makes you indispensable and able to demonstrate the value-add-ability and profit margins that clever IT can deliver.

Chris Gabriel is the director of marketing and solutions at integrator Logicalis UK and a contributor to SearchVirtualDataCentre.co.uk.

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