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The concept of dedicated storage teams has been catching on in large enterprises in recent years, driven by the belief that such teams can deliver the benefits promised by modern storage technologies, including better cost control and greater flexibility and agility.
According to an ongoing Gartner survey, in 2000, fewer than 1 percent of respondents said they had a dedicated storage team in place, and in many cases that "team" consisted of one person.
But by mid-2002, almost one-fourth of respondents had implemented a dedicated storage team, and last year, the number of respondents stating that they had a dedicated storage team in place jumped to 70 percent.
That said, Gartner found that the teams typically were not empowered to address broad storage issues, limiting their ability to deliver potential benefits.
Analysts say creating a dedicated storage team can deliver many advantages. System administrators barely have time to administer servers, let alone tend to storage networks, they say. This neglect can lead to storage outages and under-utilization. A dedicated storage team can develop storage-specific best practices and focus activities that lead to improved availability and utilization.
Some analysts have suggested that the future of storage lies in the storage utility concept, which they say will require a dramatic shift in how enterprises organize, staff, and manage their storage infrastructures. To be competitive, companies must have a well-established storage team in place by 2008, they say.
Having the Right Technology Matters Too
That said, not everyone in the storage industry thinks a dedicated storage team is necessary. They say that while having skilled people in place are important to any IT strategy, there is too much focus on having a storage team. To be competitive, they say, enterprises must apply advanced technology to create cost and service level advantages, not an over-abundance of highly skilled and platform-specialized expertise.
According to Eric Schott, director of product marketing at EqualLogic, there is a presumption that specialized best practice knowledge is available only with a dedicated storage team. However, he notes, most IT departments do not have a dedicated storage team, yet they regularly deploy solutions.
David Scott, president and CEO of 3PAR, points out that utility storage, by definition, should be simple to manage. Scott says that a true utility storage architecture provides a simple, efficient, scalable infrastructure that reduces the need for a large scale or specialized storage management team.
"Utility storage architectures have been proven to reduce storage administration time and the associated costs by 90 percent or more, allowing the talents of senior administration staff to be leveraged more broadly," says Scott. "A storage utility can scale massively without requiring a massive increase in storage management staff."
Scott says the reason analysts suggest that dedicated storage teams are necessary is because they presume the use of legacy storage technologies that require a large variety of skills. He believes this is not the case with true utility storage architectures that are built from the ground up for utility computing. And some storage customers appear to agree.
"Utility storage has been a relief for our organization," says Larry Sikon, CEO at Thomas Weisel Partners. "We can now apply 95 percent fewer resources to storage administration, and we are rid of the high price premiums associated with monolithic arrays."
Keep It Simple
Scott says hosting providers that depend on a streamlined infrastructure to make money are a leading market for utility storage technologies. Some companies have realized that keeping the storage infrastructure simple and efficient is critical to their competitive advantage, he says.
"These companies have turned their backs on traditional complex storage solutions and have instead invested in newer utility storage solutions that are helping them deliver a real-time-infrastructure without requiring a whole new team of storage experts within their data centers," says Scott.
Rob McCormick, chairman and CEO of SAVVIS, agrees.
"Our new utility computing platform is a key differentiator, enhancing our competitive advantage in the market for hosting, network and application services," says McCormick.
McCormick says the company's computing model has created a 50 percent cost advantage over its competitors, leading to 400 percent growth in its hosted storage business while maintaining a nearly 80 percent capacity utilization rate.
Empowering Storage Teams
In the Gartner poll, while 70 percent of respondents had a dedicated storage team in place, the teams were typically not empowered to address broad storage issues, nor were they able to deliver the potential benefits. So what can be done to change this dynamic?
Departments and lines of business are reluctant to yield control of their environments to meet broad cross-enterprise storage initiatives. The brittleness and complexity of traditional and legacy storage infrastructures has taught them that desired service levels and cost optimization are compromised by attempting to "share" these infrastructures with others, perpetuating silos of infrastructure.
Scott says utility storage can address these issues by providing a simplified and consolidated infrastructure that provides assured service levels across departments and lines of business. In this way, the storage team regains control of strategic storage initiatives, yet can tactically meet the demands of the business.
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