In the not so distant past, physical storage was dedicated to individual servers, and storage management was a part-time job for system administrators. Because of this, storage could not be shared across applications, and the amount of storage that could be managed by one employee was extremely limited. Companies began to address this problem through dedicated storage teams, a concept that has continued with the complexity of networked storage. But are dedicated storage teams for everyone?
Many larger enterprises have found that they can deal with constant storage tasks by attacking them with storage-only personnel, but owners of small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) have fewer resources and understandably have doubts whether the concept of a dedicated storage team could work for them. IT generalists tend to be where it's at for SMBs.
Richard Martin, director of EMC's Technology Solutions Group, says many small to mid-size enterprises face a difficult time obtaining economies of scale when managing a storage environment, making training and support for IT personnel a critical requirement.
"It is important for these companies to train and support their IT personnel and provide the appropriate management tools so that they can enhance storage management efficiencies," says Martin.
John Joseph, vice president of marketing at EqualLogic, says SANs have been a good solution for consolidating storage resources at large enterprises for years now, but the SAN solutions developed for this market have been complex, expensive and time-consuming to manage.
"It is no wonder that only the largest and wealthiest companies could afford networked storage," says Joseph.
But a move toward easier-to-manage storage holds promise for smaller enterprises.
David Scott, president and CEO of 3PAR, says that while having skilled people in place is an important aspect of any IT strategy, to be competitive, enterprises must apply advanced technology rather than an overabundance of highly skilled and platform-specialized expertise to create cost and service-level advantages. This, he believes, is especially critical for SMBs, where IT departments may not have the luxury of being able to maintain a dedicated storage team.
Many companies don't have dedicated storage-only staffing because they must utilize all of their technical staff on a rotating basis to cover on-call requirements.
Ron Trautwein, executive director of IT at Seagate, says this means that the technical staff must have a working knowledge across many areas, rather than just being dedicated to one task. He believes that small and mid-sized companies would find the cost of a dedicated storage staff too expensive.
ILM, Simpler Architecture Hold Promise
Trautwein believes that companies that manage large amounts of storage can reduce the effort required by utilizing tiered storage and emerging software technologies that allow for the automatic movement of data to lower-cost "near-on-line storage" arrays, and ultimately, off to tape.
Martin believes that as storage management technology and software become easier to use and the functionality becomes more robust, dedicated storage teams won't be needed to implement automated storage management practices.
Trautwein agrees, and says he believes that implementation of automated storage management practices no longer requires a dedicated storage team. "However, it does require expertise in the storage technology being implemented and the allocation of project time to successfully implement the solution," he says.
There are those who believe that a dedicated storage team is needed to implement automated storage management practices. Scott, for one, disagrees with that assertion; an easier architecture is what's needed, he says.
"Utility storage deployments incorporate many automated storage management features as a way of alleviating ongoing storage management and the need for storage expertise," says Scott. "A true utility storage deployment should not require a dedicated storage team. In fact, it may not even require a dedicated storage expert."
As an example, he points to 3PAR customer MySpace.com. The utility storage arrays at MySpace support all dynamic content for all services offered by the online community (profiles, mail, forums, blogs, events, classifieds, etc.), amounting to almost a petabyte of storage. And yet all of this storage is managed by just two DBAs spending one-quarter of their time administering the storage systems.
Scott says these DBAs are not storage experts, and the time they spend managing the utility arrays also includes tasks related to data recovery, including taking multiple snapshots each day. Scott says this is possible simply because the data recovery solution at MySpace features built-in automation and therefore does not require a major time or resource investment to implement or manage.
Scott says enterprises need to choose storage technology that is designed specifically for utility services. "This means carefully considering the solutions available and choosing the one that helps them deliver great service responsiveness while simultaneously cutting the TCO or achieving more with less," he says.
Scott says the solution must be simple to manage, must improve storage capacity utilization and must be easy to scale. He says the mistake many organizations make is that they attempt to use traditional or legacy storage products as the foundation for a new utility storage environment, which can create major problems.
In practice, says Martin, storage utilities are enabled by a combination of equipment, software and onsite staff for a price per unit consumed per time period.
There are only a few true storage utility environments, Martin says, but there are steps that companies can take to reduce the major challenges, including: increasing storage management monitoring and metering capabilities that enable organizations to better track and manage usage; implementing a service catalog to enhance alignment of storage infrastructure to business requirements; and having a chargeback model it is important to be able to track storage usage to specific users and then have the ability to charge that user for that usage.
Dedicated storage teams may be here to stay, but there are those who believe that dedicated storage teams are a luxury many companies can't afford. Fortunately for them, the list of alternatives appears to be growing.
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