Tiered storage tames data storage growth, says construction IT chief

Steve Shepherd of BAM Nuttall talks about how tiered storage tames data storage growth, the move to shared storage, why he's opting for cloud storage and his approach to working with vendors.

Tiered storage allows infrequently used data to be migrated to lower-cost data storage media. It's a key tool for Steve Shepherd, head of ICT services at construction company BAM Nuttall, who has to have project data readily available even if it hasn't been accessed for months. Shepherd spoke this week with SearchStorage.co.UK bureau chief Antony Adshead as part of our regular Storage Pro-File series.

Shepherd talks about how tiered storage helps him save money, the challenges of data storage growth, why he opted for cloud storage for a construction joint venture, as well as his approach to dealing with storage vendors.

Last year, BAM Nuttall tamed sprawling PST files and the mailboxes of 2,000 users using Mimosa NearPoint for Exchange, which also migrates files between the company's Dell EqualLogic iSCSI SAN and an ExaGrid Systems' NAS appliance with data deduplication.

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It could cost us money to have all data on the most expensive media, so we adopted a two-tier approach.
Steve Shepherd
head of ICT servicesBAM Nuttall
SearchStorage.co.UK: How did you get into storage?

Shepherd: I've been in IT close to 40 years, and like most who entered IT back then my career path was from programmer to analyst to management, which I got into about 15 years ago. I've been with the same firm for nearly 40 years and at some stages — with the effects of recession — we've ended up with quite a small IT team. So, it has been the type of job where you needed to know about all aspects of your systems. We've only moved to shared storage in the last two or three years. Before that we had all direct-attached storage [DAS] to servers.

SearchStorage.co.UK: How do you think storage is viewed by other parts of IT and the business, and what's the best way of bridging the gap between them?

Shepherd: Although we have put forward various policies and recommendations on how data should be managed, there has been no real uptake by the business, no real acceptance that departments have to manage data. What we get from them is: 'We need to store data x, y, z, but we've no idea when we'll use it again.'

At least when we had storage directly attached to servers the department knew when it ran out. But it's more difficult with shared storage, and it could cost us money to have all data on the most expensive media, so we adopted a two-tier approach, with a main SAN for production data and the Mimosa archiving tool moving older data off to the ExaGrid NAS.

SearchStorage.co.UK: What's the biggest challenge you face in storage?

Shepherd: Data growth is a huge challenge. We have no control over the company growing, project sizes getting larger and the consequent increase in data. Our biggest IT spend this year has been adding another 10 TB of disk capacity to the SAN, of which 6 TB will be useable.

For one project we will use cloud storage. It's a joint venture with another construction firm and the environment had to be completely separate from both infrastructures. We contemplated buying an entire storage infrastructure for it, but that would have needed support and management over the six or seven year life of the project, so we concluded it was an appropriate time to look at cloud storage.

The challenge here will come when it comes to migrating data from a cloud provider to our internal systems at the end of the project.

SearchStorage.co.UK: What is your advice to storage managers on dealing with storage vendors and new technologies?

Shepherd: The approach we have taken in a number of instances has been to come across as innocent as possible and explain our requirements to vendors and ask them how they can help us achieve them.

Naturally, we're not as innocent as we appear; we listen to the spiel and once we have increased our knowledge, we see how vendors respond to questions on the fly. You can sometimes get a dodgy salesman but a fundamentally good product, so you need to look beyond that if you have a belief in the product.

If a salesman comes in and just sells, it doesn't work. If they come in and have support from a technical team, that's a good thing.

When we're down to a shortlist of suppliers we always ask for an evaluation where we test a product and, if necessary, destroy it. We did that with ExaGrid and Data Domain where we had their kit in for three months.

Also, we nearly always use reference sites and listen to what we're told — although you do have to read between the lines sometimes.

SearchStorage.co.UK: What new storage technologies of recent years do you consider to be the most valuable innovations and the most overrated?

Shepherd: Although we use data deduplication and it's very beneficial, I do wonder how we'll get on if we need to do a restore. On the ExaGrid, we have a year's worth of daily 6 TB backups, so if we need to recover those we've got a big task on our hands.

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