Making Money with Data Storage
Save, save, save. Cut, cut, cut. Comply, comply, comply. Oh, and store more and more data while spending less and less.
There's got to be more to a storage admin's job than that.
Well, there is.
And the way out of the endless cycle can even be a little fun: Figure out how all that dusty old data can actually be used to make money for your company.
"Not my job," you say? If you don't embrace it, you might not have a job once the next wave of penny-pinching arrives.
"If you employ tools that drive effectiveness, such as dedupe and virtualization, you can directly deliver money back into an organization's bottom line," said Mark Peters, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group.
But such things as greater efficiency or 10 minutes of work time saved per day per worker are nebulous concepts, things to be doubted by ever-skeptical CFOs. So if you really want to make an impression, roll up your sleeves and find a way to generate hard cash for your company.
Mining Data and Opening Bottlenecks
As information is often tossed into a bottomless storage pit, never to be thrown away, it's a smart move for a storage administrator to have some clue as to what is lurking down there in the darkest recesses. Why? Chances are, nobody else has the foggiest notion what treasure lies hidden.
Case in point: an oil exploration firm had a fancy new system that provided 3D geological data in Nigeria, but didn't have too much of a database of files the system could use to conduct in-depth analysis. A storage manager remembered a vast store of older images and got with a business intelligence (BI) programmer to work out how to make that info useful to the new system despite major formatting differences. The result: Decades of old data available, which, when cross-referenced with newer material, served up several major new oil discoveries.
Things don't have to be on such a grand scale to impress the boss, however. Moosa Matariyeh, enterprise storage specialist at CDW, offers some simple suggestions for milking more value from what's on file. A big challenge in BI is generating data within a reasonable amount of time so a company can be first to market or respond quickly enough to keep customers happy. Storage administrators, then, can directly address this by eliminating bottlenecks and enhancing throughput.
"The typical assumption is that CPU and memory are the bottlenecks when, in fact, the majority of the issues in performance come from not having enough I/O throughput on the storage," said Matariyeh.
One easy action with database info, for example, is to separate logs and data onto two different sets of disk. The bigger performance demand is placed on the log set of drives. And a good way to expand the ability of this RAID set, he suggested, is to move it from standard spinning disk onto solid state drives (SSDs), as the cost for the high-performance drives has dropped dramatically.
"HP is making SSD available for internal storage on many of its new G6 storage line, and it is already available in HP and IBM blade servers," said Matariyeh, who said it can also be added to an existing server by using a PCIe expansion card from Fusion-io or on an external SAN from EMC (NYSE: EMC) and others. He said one SSD drive can produce up to a 30 times increase in performance compared over a 15K RPM hard drive.
BI reports at one insurance provider took 17 hours to be generated, which made the data already out of date by the time it was completed. The firm placed the logs onto SSD and cut the time it took to analyze and report by 13 hours.
Another data warehouse approach is offered by Asaf Somekh, vice president of marketing at Voltaire (NASDAQ: VOLT), in the form of the HP Oracle Database Machine. It leverages 20Gb/s Voltaire InfiniBand as the server-to-storage interconnect instead of Fibre Channel, resulting in query times dropping from 30 minutes to thirty seconds.
"LGR Telecommunications uses this technology to help clients process data between Exadata storage and Oracle database servers," said Somekh. "The network bottleneck that previously limited query performance has been removed. This enables them to gain rapid insight for BI, fraud detection and network performance monitoring."
Handling Big Files
Large files, such as medical imaging, multi-media and 3D graphics applications, are another area where storage savvy can be translated into an income boost.
New Hat, of Santa Monica, Calif., is using an xSTREAMScaler SAN, based on the S2A9900 Extreme Storage platform by DataDirect Networks (DDN). It is being used to power what is now the most technically advanced Mac and Linux-based color grading post environment in Hollywood. These services were employed for Super Bowl promotions as well as in commercials for BlackBerry Storm and Lexus. New Hat uses a 300 terabyte DDN xSTREAMScaler to achieve up to six gigabytes per second of uninterrupted bandwidth using just SATA disks, which allows several colorists and other professionals to work on such commercials simultaneously, which couldn't be done before.
"The SAN-based film scanning system we have architected enables New Hat to maintain a completely digital history of all of our clients' projects, significantly accelerating their time-to-market when updating or creating new content," said Darby Walker, managing director of New Hat. "We have completely transcended the days of the 'film-to-tape' process with this approach."
Storage software can also be used to save big on large files, or environments that have to deal with rapid interaction between Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) and Windows systems. Retirement Living TV (RLTV), for instance, established its broadcasting and non-linear editing systems on Apple Final Cut Pro (FCP), Apple Xserve RAID and StorNext data management software from Quantum (NYSE: QTM).
"With our Apple and Quantum StorNext platform, we're accomplishing five times as much at half the cost compared to a typical video tape-based channel," said Jamie Peebles, vice president of engineering at RLTV.
CRM and More
These are just a few ways that storage can be harnessed to boost the bottom line and ensure a friendly reception for future POs. CRM and other customer applications and databases present yet another fruitful area for storage cooperation.
Greg Schulz, senior analyst and founder of StorageIO Group, gives the example of how Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN) and other online venues do such a great job of predicting what you might like to look at. Behind all those Amazon suggestions is an awful lot of storage hardware and software.
"In fields such as travel, transport and hospitality and more, there are great opportunities for leveraging BI and customer profiles along with storage for loyalty and other programs directly aimed at making more money," said Schulz.
As well as Amazon.com, Jim Cates, senior director of storage development at Sun Microsystems (NASDAQ: JAVA), points to sites like Kodak.com, smugmug.com and Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) as some of the many examples of firms using storage to generate more revenue.
"Storage is the backbone that is being used to drive consumers to sites and to purchase services," said Cates. "As the cost of storage is dropping, creative companies are finding ways to extract data that provides high business value."
However, he says the best is yet to come.
"The algorithms in use today for data mining are really only in the early stages of development," said Cates. "But even today, you can afford to keep tons of data online and use the right tools to mine it or interface it with a vast satellite image repository, for instance, to make your information more appealing."
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