Don't let storage become a bottomless pit

Hardware prices are falling but the total cost of ownership for storage is rising. Savvy IT chiefs are using storage resource...

Hardware prices are falling but the total cost of ownership for storage is rising. Savvy IT chiefs are using storage resource management to rein in spiralling costs.

The price of discs may be plummeting, but the growing number of non-hardware costs is seeing storage make increasing demands on companies' hard-pressed IT budgets.

Storage currently accounts for about 12% of datacentre costs and will more than double over the next three years to 26%, according to analyst firm Gartner. With rapidly rising e-mail volumes and the development of new applications and websites, storage is in danger of becoming a bottomless pit for IT budgets.

"Storage may not be a massive item in the IT budget but a company with 15Tbytes of user data, paying £2 per gigabyte per month, will be spending £60,000 a month on storage," said Neil Barton, director of global consulting at benchmarking specialist Compass.

Storage sprawls across a company's IT infrastructure, covering hardware (disc drives), tapes and storage area networks. However, the answer may have arrived in the form of storage management software that can police your storage needs.

To get any kind of handle on storage costs and how to manage them will require storage resource management software (SRM) - a powerful emerging technology.

SRM software collects not just traditional storage metrics such as capacity, but also more complicated measurements such as the number of times data is copied and the number of days needed to run storage inventories.

SRM software, which costs about £25,000, could give IT managers a quick payback on their investment.

"The amount of private data, from music to photos, on corporate storage can be a ticking bomb," said Krischer. "One company in the UK issued a memo saying it was going to install SRM and it recovered 10% of its storage in one week - which was more than the cost of the SRM software."

While the hardware costs of storage have steadily decreased, the total cost of ownership has not. Experts estimate that owning storage can cost four times as much as the purchase cost of storage hardware.

The hidden elements of storage TCO come predominantly from storage software and storage administration.

Consolidating distributed storage into a centralised architecture with technologies such as storage area networks will help improve both utilisation and availability, but it will also push up the cost of maintaining the software. Centralising storage can increase the amount of data a storage administrator can manage from 500Gbytes to 800Gbytes.

Storage software is the other great hidden element of TCO - software packages can cost between £150,000 and £300,000. Companies should be careful not to become too dependent on one supplier, for example by buying storage software from their disc drive manufacturer.

"Pay attention to software features that create lock-in," said Krischer. "We have seen locked-in companies pay twice the market price, and one UK bank paid four times the market price.

"Do not buy anything just because it is 'nice to have' and change your requirements so you are free to choose between suppliers."

The other decision organisations have to make is how many copies of their data to back-up. Firms in regulated industries such as financial services have more stringent requirements to meet but other companies will have to work out whether the data is important enough to justify the cost of backing it up. Firms can mirror software by using storage management software to maintain copies of data as it is updated.

"Do you really need to offer a Rolls-Royce service to everyone?" asked Barton. "One company I know used disc mirroring everywhere and said that one advantage was that there was no downtime when upgrading a server, but you do not need that if it is just a mail server you are upgrading over the weekend."

Also, look at why you need the software in the first place. If it is used for mirroring and creating back-ups and redundancy, check how much of that you really need to meet actual business requirements.

Mirroring not only doubles the storage capacity you require, it also adds to costs for management software, communication between sites and human administration.

Evaluating the cost to the business of the unavailability, and for how long, of particular data is an essential exercise of good storage management. This, said Dawson, means turning the issue of TCO on its head and looking at it from the point of view of service delivery. Some parts of a business will have heftier data storage demands than others.

"You should package storage services at different costs to users," he said. "It is up to users to choose which level of service to have - and pay for it.

"One US company told me it managed 25Tbytes of data with one third of a person - but it took it 12 days to supply an end-user when they requested more storage," said Krischer. "That is not good."

Barton warned that there will also be "rogue data" generated legitimately that needs to be brought under control, owned by users who do not like to pool their data centrally. The worst offenders, he said, are the marketing department, engineering department and IT itself.

Top tips for managing storage

  • Appoint a storage manager. Don't just make it a part-time add-on task to another job
  • Understand that the most costly aspect of storage is not hardware, but software and administration
  • Consolidate distributed storage to decrease administration costs, but allow for the cost of the consolidation project itself
  • Learn the lessons from the ordered mainframe environment and apply them to the chaotic distributed Unix/NT environment
  • Adopt single-console multi-platform software management
  • Avoid software lock-in. Don't buy proprietary "nice to have" features
  • Have multiple suppliers to keep them in price competition with each other
  • Never buy storage in a hurry - you will have no room to negotiate good prices
  • Take time to do storage capacity planning
  • Ban or minimise end-user private storage of photos, music, etc - make sure you are not backing-up personal files
  • Aim for 80%-85% disc utilisation as best practice.

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