Complexity, Legal Demands Plague Storage Users

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Storage complexity and interoperability continue to be big concerns for end users, according to storage managers at last week’s Storage Networking World conference.

Interoperability, managing in an age of complexity and diminishing resources, and establishing stronger communications with peers and manufacturers were just some of the concerns expressed by storage users both in a survey and at the conference.

The survey of more than 300 users by the Storage Networking Industry Association’s End User Council (EUC) released at the conference found that only 5 percent did not value interoperability, and 62 percent of respondents indicated they would be willing to pay more for a supported interoperable multi-vendor solutions than for single vendor proprietary solutions.

EUC survey chair Norman Owens said in a conference session that interoperability issues affected all respondents, although specifics varied by business size or type. Users worried more about upgrades than about integrating new hardware or dealing with outdated management software. They said that only half of vendor upgrades fix problems, and a quarter of the time make the problem worse. Forced upgrades for legacy systems plague large businesses, while medium businesses are concerned with software upgrades and small businesses struggle with firmware upgrades.

Users cited a number of other technology obstacles: heavy reliance on vendor roadmaps; lack of support between operating systems and hardware vendors; certification and testing; and vendor/product consolidations. A new 2007 EUC survey launched at SNW will revisit these barriers and other issues as part of a “Top Ten Pain Points” survey, available at the EUC Web site at

The survey results also highlighted the increased complexity of the IT environment. A majority of respondents indicated that one or more vendors were added to their fabric infrastructure tier in 2006, and the survey found an increase in the average number of vendors across all tiers. The increase in complexity perhaps explains why sessions on technologies that can help simplify IT environments were some of the best-attended at the conference.

Several sessions outlined emerging technologies such as virtualization to streamline complexity and outlined best practices to manage storage in a virtual world.

Keynote speaker Mark Douglas of eHarmony cited his company’s storage virtualization solution of ONStor’s network attached storage (NAS) gateways and 3PAR arrays as a factor in running his entire 100TB storage environment with no dedicated staff.

A Comcast case study illustrated how an Acopia file virtualization solution managed a 30TB video content environment to expedite deployment of storage solutions from multiple vendors.

Manoj Sharma of VMware told a tutorial audience experienced in virtualization technologies to leverage the existing infrastructure when choosing a virtual protocol and to keep in mind the physical environment when configuring performance, I/O requirements and storage choices.

EUC member Akira Robinson, consulting computer scientist for Navy-SPAWAR, offered the best practices of the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) as a framework to support storage managers with IT service processes in configuraiton, change, incident, problem and release management.

SNW attendees also took advantage of unique “hands-on” labs in virtualization to learn about dynamic expansion and allocation of resources, replication and data migration in a virtual world, while other labs examined how to build storage area networks SANs), utilize iSCSI, implement storage management and data security and protection techniques, and classify data.

Meeting Legal Demands

The data classification session revealed a more practical approach to information lifecycle management (ILM), a buzzword at previous SNWs.

The need for data classification is growing, with electronic discovery and records management coming together to address the costs and complexity of gathering requested and subpoenaed information, a need that has become urgent with new federal e-discovery rules. Experts from areas not traditionally part of the IT ecosystem stressed the need to keep retention guidelines up to date and provide policy guidance to peers.

In a panel session, records information managers and storage managers offered their perspectives on the lifecycle of managing information. Records information managers (called “RIMs” and virtually unknown to the majority of IT personnel in attendance) see ILM as a focus on the record from cradle to grave, from its creation, receipt of information, use and maintenance through its disposition. IT managers define ILM as the way records are taken and accessed to determine what type of media to place them on.

Attendees sought specific answers on questions such as when to archive information, how to improve information integrity, and how to manage growing e-mail requirements. They wanted to know how to determine what information is a record, how to manage records created to answer business requests for information, which records need protection, and what technologies should be used to access, store and retrieve records.

Panelists agreed that finding their RIM peer in the organization should be a top priority for every IT manager. Introductory conversations can then morph into cross-team discussions that lead to a better understanding of the roles of each, and creation of practical information on reaching the best merger of technology and information protection and dissemination.

The four panelists, representing education, manufacturing, business process outsourcing and media, also agreed that understanding the business side and the technology side of information and linking them to an understanding of outside regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), Sarbanes-Oxley and specific state laws, are essential to develop a successful ILM strategy.

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