Oxford Archaeology CIO not buying dedupe hype; finds open storage more valuable technology

Oxford Archaeology CIO Chris Puttick talks about why he believes data deduplication is an over-hyped technology, and why open storage is the most valuable technology in storage.

SearchStorage.co.UK regularly interviews data storage managers as part of its Storage Pro-File series. This week, bureau chief Antony Adshead speaks with Chris Puttick, chief information officer at Oxford Archaeology, which last year implemented a 7 TB Sun Storage J4200-based NAS setup for persistent data in addition to its EqualLogic iSCSI SAN.

Puttick talks about how he has 'solved' storage, why users need to take more responsibility for their data and why data deduplication is the most over-hyped technology of recent years.

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Q. How did you get into storage? 

A. I'm not convinced anyone can go through an IT career without having some involvement in storage. I've never been in a solely storage role -- but as you move from a support role you become likely to take a direct interest in it. I did when I specialized in Microsoft Exchange, an application that's very mean and hungry in its storage requirements.

 Data deduplication is the most overrated technology of recent times. It addresses a problem that shouldn't be seeking a technology solution.
Chris Puttick
CIOOxford Archaeology

Q. What's your advice to storage managers on dealing with storage vendors and new technologies? 

A. There's one key thing you need with a supplier and that's trust. If you don't have it, you should look for another. When it comes to new technologies, I suspect that many wait for salesmen to bring them new ideas. My approach is to always be keeping up with new technology and doing the research so you're ahead of the game. I make sure that all the people I employ do this.

Q. What new storage technologies of recent years do you consider to be the most valuable and the most overrated? 

A. I think data deduplication is the most overrated technology of recent times. It addresses a problem that shouldn't be seeking a technology solution. If someone can show me three copies of a file in an organization, then they've done something wrong. There should be a production copy and the backup and that's it. It's a very expensive way of resolving a problem that shouldn't be there.

The most valuable technology in storage is open storage -- the ability to manage cheap disk from different vendors is brilliant for us as we have to keep data available for a long time that won't be accessed very often. We use the EqualLogic iSCSI SAN for production storage, but for the infrequently used persistent data that doesn't need to be on the main storage, we have the Sun setup, which runs ZFS and can present to clients as they need it in NFS, CIFS or whatever. In theory, we can use commodity disk, though we haven't actually had to go down that road yet. Ten years ago, all this would have to have been on floptical disk or nearline storage, so it's an advance that's very valuable for us.

Q. What's the biggest challenge you face in storage?

A. The biggest challenge I face is getting people to take responsibility for their files. Before the ubiquity of the PC, individuals were responsible for customer files and if they were lost there would be trouble. Now, much of IT's work -- perhaps the overwhelming bulk for some in the department -- is restoring work because of user mistakes, and it's not what backups should be there for.

Our solution is to bring in a document management system. It switches the existing model on its head. The user works locally and checks it back in when they're finished. It also means that those actually involved in the project can set up the project and the roles of those taking part. In other words, the people with responsibility for a project have it, rather than the IT department, which was always the wrong way round.

Q. What's the biggest frustration you face in your job? 

A. One of the biggest frustrations is that IT is the one part of an organisation in which everyone else thinks they're an expert. We're well on the way to achieving a situation of open storage with no vendor lock-in, but what has stood in the way of that has been resistance from people saying, "But we can only use this technical solution in archaeology. It's what everyone else does." And the answer is, well, yes, there's another way to achieve this. I'm not an archaeologist so I wouldn't dream of telling them how to do their job.

Apart from that, we've largely 'solved' storage. We have a low-cost, high-capacity infrastructure that stores our data as we need it to be stored.

Q. What would you like to have done if you hadn't been in storage? 

A. Nothing else. It has been an aim from childhood to be in IT and I'm satisfying that interest. I've followed an IT career in which storage has formed a major part, and now I'm a CIO, so the only move open to me is to move on at some point.


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