Storage strategy

Buying leading-edge products is not the best option for most businesses, but make sure you do not get caught out as your needs...

Buying leading-edge products is not the best option for most businesses, but make sure you do not get caught out as your needs expand or technology takes a change in direction. To get the most from storage technology, a business should develop a strategy which details where it wants to be in the next three years and how it is...

going to achieve this position. A data storage strategy should be based on sound capacity planning procedures and a good knowledge of business directions. Why is this important? A firm should avoid having to buy storage in a hurry. Time should be taken to put storage requirements out to tender to at least two suppliers. Capacity planning can give an indication as to how much storage will be needed for the next 12 months, but it is difficult to predict beyond that. A business should plan its storage requirements based on its business plans. For example, if a business wants to increase its turnover by 200% next year, a storage plan must be able to cope with the growth.

If the business plan is to consolidate after previous high growth, the storage needs will be different. If a business is planning to replace a room full of paper documents with electronic storage next year, fixed-content storage options should be investigated now.

Businesses need to be aware of technology directions. It is always tempting to buy the latest storage server, but what is really needed is technology that meets storage needs. One good strategy is to be tucked in just behind the leaders. The latest and greatest storage devices will be expensive, but suppliers are usually keen to cut deals and to sell older technology.

However, beware of shifts in technology that could leave you moving forward while the rest of the world turns right. Similarly, any storage product that leaves a business locked to a particular supplier should be avoided - there will be less room for bargaining when it is time for an upgrade.

It is tempting to simplify storage provision by adopting a "one size fits all" strategy. This can be expensive as it means all data will have to satisfy the most exact requirements before it can be stored. The data storage pyramid is still appropriate. Data that needs very fast access at all times needs to be on top-quality mirrored disc.

A middle class of data which needs to be accessed in tens of seconds can live on slower discs."Stale" data that has not been accessed for several weeks can be migrated off to tape.

This hierarchical structure is well established in mainframe systems and is just starting to mature on open systems. However, remember that data on tape is still primary data and two copies of it is needed, which should also be factored into a cost justification equation.

Large companies with a substantial growth rate could benefit from bulk-buying by purchasing a year's worth of storage at once. These purchases could coincide with suppliers' end-of-quarter or end-of-year sales periods as these are usually the best times for negotiating discounts.

Storage purchases can also be "bundled" with server purchases for maximum bulk discounts. A typical storage controller can support 20 or more terabytes of disc capacity, but if this is not bought in one go, a maximum upgrade price can be negotiated and written into a contract.

Remember to include cache, connectivity and software upgrades as well as disc. Maintenance costs can be high, especially for open systems disc.

Try to negotiate a "free" three-year maintenance deal as part of the purchase, and get future maintenance charges capped. Smaller companies may find storage on demand deals more appropriate.

Remember that technology is just part of the cost equation. Consider how much effort will be required to run and manage the storage or any extra effort end-users may have to put in to make it work. A few thousand pounds might be saved by running the storage at 90% full, but end-users will spend time coping with resultant space issues.

Finally, an exit plan is needed when older storage becomes too unreliable and expensive to maintain. If hardware is being replaced that is less than three years old, a business has not got full value for money. A replacement plan for storage could also form a consolidation exercise, with software included. Check your software to ensure it is still adding value and its function is not duplicated elsewhere.

Jim Armstrong, storage architect at Standard Life, is speaking on "Instant back-up, five terabytes in five minutes - how to enhance efficiency of your storage strategy" at Storage Expo 2003 on 15 October

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