How to upgrade storage on the cheap

Increased demands from the business, and in some cases from regulators, are driving an unprecedented rate of storage growth through a need to store more...

Increased demands from the business, and in some cases from regulators, are driving an unprecedented rate of storage growth through a need to store more information for longer, writes Scott Hunter, senior consultant at Morse.

This is exacerbated by increased complexity caused by the deployment of different storage technologies, from multiple vendors, over different eras, to satisfy a variety of evolving requirements. Retaining traditional storage management approaches will break the budget of most IT organisations, so adopting automated storage management, alongside storage resource management (SRM) systems, will be critical.

A recent client, for example, found themselves in the scenario of managing 500Tbytes of diverse (structured and unstructured) data, with an annual growth rate of 60%, utilisation levels of 50%, 25 Sans and storage provisioning taking between four and eight hours. The storage team were stretched by fighting fires day-to-day, never mind using their expertise to improve the environment and increase service value to the business. All this was taking place in an economic climate where capex was rare, at best, and opex budgets were being cut by 20%.

Managing storage with such accelerated growth and increased complexity is a serious challenge, particularly in the current economic climate, compounded by increasing regulatory requirements (such as Sarbanes Oxley and Payment Card Industry regulations). The traditional approach, of managing different types of storage and infrastructure in isolated silos (as was the case in the example above), simply does not work. Organisations need systems that provide a holistic view of the storage environment.

Traditionally, storage management tools were adopted from each hardware supplier. These tools provided similar capabilities (eg, configuration tracking, provisioning and capacity management) but the challenges involved in maintaining multiple toolsets, avoiding lock-in and providing a consistent view across the estate generally proved insurmountable.

Furthermore, it is widely recognised that management easily represents the largest proportion of an IT function's TCO. Storage environments in particular tend to be managed by highly skilled and valuable resources, so managing a large and/or complex storage environment can prove to be a very costly undertaking. Unfortunately, a significant number of the complex tasks undertaken are manual and repetitive (LUN provisioning, zoning, audits, and so forth).

Retaining traditional storage management approaches will break the budget of most IT organisations, so it will be critical to adopt automated storage management, alongside SRM, which provides a holistic view of your environment as well monitoring, analysing and reporting on usage

In the example above, adopting SRM enabled a single view of a massively heterogeneous estate - including its topology and configuration across different tiers and technologies. This facilitated increased storage service levels, with greatly reduced dependency on valuable but limited storage expertise. Identifying those server devices connected to the storage environment, as well as the resources they were utilising, made end-to-end infrastructure allocation a far more straightforward undertaking.

In conjunction with SRM, automation is delivering significant commercial benefits within several projects I am aware of today. This is primarily by abstracting the more highly skilled resources from the traditional operational activities, therefore reducing operational costs while also minimising the risk of execution error. In addition, compliance management is supported through internal policies and standards as well as external regulations. The savings in the effort required to execute manual audits should not be underestimated. Similarly, by integrating server and storage provisioning for example, organisations can pragmatically break down traditional management silos.

Returning to the example above, by initiating a cost-neutral datacentre automation programme (integrated with SRM) the client has reduced the annual rate of storage growth to 30%, increased utilisation to 80% and reduced provisioning of storage to 15 minutes. The storage team now spend less than a quarter of their time on operational issues and are focused on more valuable activities, while compliance (including patch control) is regulated and reviewed on a monthly basis.

Automated storage management has the potential to address many of the challenges thrown up by the storage growth and complexity seen today.

However, a word of warning: I have seen a number of storage management programmes fail to produce any benefit. In each case this can be associated with an over-emphasis on the SRM and/or automation tools themselves. Two clients I spoke with recently had been convinced by the marketing claims of different vendors to invest in technologies - only to end up with some rather expensive shelf ware. It is vital to consider changes to operational processes to leverage benefit from these tools.

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