Storage gain minus pain

The pressure to cut storage costs is stronger than ever in response to the burgeoning volume of data. Danny Bradbury investigates...

The pressure to cut storage costs is stronger than ever in response to the burgeoning volume of data. Danny Bradbury investigates the best ways to ease the burden of data management

Are your executive users stalking the corridors with a hunted look these days? It could be because they are straining under the weight of too much information. A 2003 study from the School of Information Management and Systems at the University of California revealed that five exabytes of new information was created worldwide in 2002. Of that new data, 92% is stored on hard drives - and companies produce and consume most of it.

"Only 20% of your storage cost is hardware," says Derek Lewis, sales manager for IT reseller Morse. "The other 80% is management such as user administration and archiving." According to IDC, the market for storage management software in Q1 2004 had jumped 23% compared with Q1 2003.

With management such a key issue, consolidation is a prerequisite. The more central the data, the easier it is to control. But although increasing your overall capacity usage is the most obviously quantifiable benefit, it may not be the greatest, says Hamish Macarthur, founder of analyst firm Macarthur Stroud International. "The big thing is that applications which crash unexpectedly in a distributed storage environment suddenly work again because they can scale better," he says.

Consolidation is possible regardless of business size. Even a very small business can install a network attached storage device, pulling storage away from servers and desktops to make it more manageable. Sans, in which collections of disc arrays are connected using high-speed pipes such as Fibre Channel, are affordable and manageable.

The next step towards reduced storage costs is virtualisation, says Lewis. Even though devices in a San can be accessed from different servers and applications, they are still independent of each other and must be addressed physically.

Virtualisation software, which often sits on a dedicated machine connected to the San switch, creates a logical view for applications which hides the physical devices, enabling you to store your data in the most efficient way possible.

Just as suppliers want you to use your San for virtualisation, they also want you to use a virtualised San for information lifecycle management, which is split into data and content.

Data lifecycle management is simply re-badged hierarchical storage management. The idea is that data can be transferred automatically to less expensive media as it becomes less critical to the business.

With the introduction of cheaper serial ATA disc drives, it is now possible to introduce more levels of storage in a HSM environment, so that data could be moved from fast SCSI drives to serial ATA and finally to tape, says Craig Nunes, senior director of marketing for storage supplier 3PAR.

The smart money is on content lifecycle management. Using policy-based storage management software, you can decide how to relegate data to cheaper media depending not only on when it was last accessed, but also on other criteria such as who created it.

For smaller firms suppliers offer flexible storage licensing using pay-as-you-go deals. Hewlett-Packard's pay-per-use option for its Storageworks disc arrays allows customers to pay a fixed monthly fee, plus a variable fee based on how much disc space they use. Metering within the disc array calculates your monthly usage and transmits it back to HP.

Macarthur says this creates lock-in to one supplier but, if you flood your disc drives with data from a large project one month and archive it to tape the next, a pay-per-use arrangement would enable you to modify what you pay for expensive tier-one storage.

Some companies choose to outsource to a managed service such as InTechnology. Pricing for online back-up to the firm's network rests in the sub-£10-per-gigabyte range. Costs for the 100mbps connect are amortised over three years and 10% of the total cost is normally paid up-front in consultancy fees as the firm models your data structure and hooks your current storage system to its own.

Charles Cameron, InTechnology chief executive, sniffs at concerns about customer privacy, pointing out that giving back-up tapes to a motorcycle courier to take them to a third-party location is just as dangerous. "You have to factor in the cost of recovering files when they're lost, and managing tape back-ups in a distributed environment," he warns.

If you want to cut your storage costs, don't concentrate only on the hardware. Think consolidation and management, then the opportunity for further savings will follow.

Information lifecycle management is the subject of one of the seminars, run by Hewlett-Packard, at Storage Expo on 14 October

This article is part of Computer Weekly's Special Report on storage produced in association with Cisco Systems

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