Storage: Age of awareness

Companies are rapidly adopting a more mature approach to storage, focused on how to manage and protect data through its entire lifecycle, says Cliff Saran


Companies are rapidly adopting a more mature approach to storage, focused on how to manage and protect data through its entire lifecycle, says Cliff Saran.

Data storage has become increasingly important within businesses, supporting the growth of e-mail and databases and providing an archive for regulatory compliance. Business growth fuels demand for storage. Each new business opportunity puts a burden on the storage infrastructure of a company, and regulatory compliance calls for data to be logged, secured and easily accessible.

These requirements need to be achieved cost effectively. All of this neatly ties into the latest industry buzz around information lifecycle management - a term used to describe the processes and procedures for storing and archiving data.

Storage is a major expense within the IT department and IT directors need a handle on how to keep costs under control. A lot of the focus for the industry has been around storage consolidation: users want to make the most of existing assets.

Businesses and public sector organisations are storing more and more information, resulting in greater demand for storage and archiving technology. Some industries, such as financial services, are seeing their data requirements growing by about 40% each year, according to IDC analyst Claus Egge.

Given that the amount of data stored will continue to grow, costs will escalate unless IT directors can find a way to store information cheaply.

At the same time, enterprises are looking to improve how they protect data. Egge has also observed a shift in the way users are buying storage products towards a more mature attitude focused on the way storage is managed.

Storage area networks are now considered to be an essential foundation on which to start making savings. There is an up-front cost in building a San, but once it has been established, users can benefit from storage virtualisation, where several systems can access the same virtual pool of storage. This allows IT directors to consolidate older systems and save on the maintenance and IT management costs associated with supporting several discrete boxes.

Few would dispute, for example, that a standardised, consolidated, centrally-managed, appropriately tooled storage environment will be more efficient to run than a set of disparate, poorly integrated Sans, says Jon Collins, principal analyst, infrastructure and management at IDC. But few businesses are lucky enough to be able to start from scratch. Many organisations have a number of the pieces in place already, but are a long way off achieving anybody's definition of ILM, he says.

So IT directors build on what they already have, making the most of existing IT systems, by adding software, hardware and services to support a storage strategy.

In this special report, Jessica Twentyman examines how one business has been building a robust back-up strategy to support growth in storage. The system put in place has allowed the IT team to monitor application usage in order to anticipate future demand on storage, and has also improved back-up times. This allows end-users to retrieve data far more quickly than before.

Arif Mohamed's article looks into how proprietary or niche storage specifications are being eroded, in favour of widely adopted standards that provide compatibility from different suppliers' products and lower the total cost of ownership. Technology has been shifting towards lower-cost storage such as iSCSI as an alternative to Fibre Channel and standards to simplify implementing redundant disc arrays.

The industry has seen many changes with EMC, Sun and Symantec growing their storage businesses through acquisition. Antony Adshead finds out how the changes in the industry are panning out and what will it mean for users.

Storage cannot be ignored. IT directors need to look at the cost of their existing infrastructure and assess how to evolve it using products based on emerging standards to support the growing demands of business.

Read more on IT for small and medium-sized enterprises (SME)