High Availability Storage Consulting Buying Guide

The subject of high availability (HA) appears to have taken on even more importance of late. As a result, several of the storage vendors have been repackaging their storage consulting offerings to highlight their high availability smarts. They are recommending solutions that combine hardware redundancy, disaster recovery and offsite replication to ensure data and systems never go down.

“Delivering 24×7 availability for applications is undeniably a mandate for anything important in enterprise IT,” said David Hill, an analyst with Mesabi Group.

EMC Continuous Availability Advisory Services

EMC has come out with Continuous Availability Advisory Services (CAAS), which are a set of services that work in tandem with EMC VPLEX storage. Delivered by EMC Global Services, the idea is to help organizations eliminate outages and restarts.

They achieve this goal via a thorough assessment of the infrastructure, a cost/benefit analysis and a roadmap detailing how to get from the existing situation to HA. EMC also rolls in a decrease in server count (courtesy of its VMware partnership, no doubt), and further storage hardware consolidation. EMC bases its recommended architecture on server clustering over distance and VPLEX functionality, which presents read/writable virtual volumes in two geographically separated data centers.

“CAAS is for any organization that is interested in transforming its information availability strategy so they can achieve greater service levels, uptime and /or fulfillment, at a lower cost,” said Mat Allen, Senior Director, Security & Risk Management, EMC Global Services. “None one of the other major infrastructure component providers have effectively married continuous availability service/product into a solution that rivals what EMC is providing with CAAS.”

Hill sees this as a merger of traditional single-site HA with dual-site DR to create a continuous availability architecture where transactions from the same application are processed in each of the two sites simultaneously. But due to the complexity, said Hill, EMC CAAS will be needed to smooth the implementation process.

“EMC CAAS can do a number of things, including performing application readiness assessments, cost analyses and implementation roadmaps,” said Hill.

Dell Storage Consulting

Whether prompted by EMC’s recent CAAS campaign or not, Dell is also in the midst of revamping its storage consulting website and offerings. The company offers a comprehensive Data Management Strategic Assessment, which is comprised of three parts – primary storage, data protection and archiving. Each has own metrics and each can be delivered separately or as one unified approach, said Jerry Winner, product manager, storage consulting services, at Dell.

The company likes to call these “accelerators,” and Winner added that the data protection accelerator was by far the most popular of the storage consulting offerings.

“Our customers often feel they have primary storage in hand, but the big issue for them is data protection, which encompasses areas such as setting storage tiers, aligning recovery and availability to those priorities and offering a roadmap to achieving the right architecture,” said Winner.

Far from focusing on technology, he stressed the need for business consultants to work with application owners and line of business heads to understand the relative value of the various types of data residing within the organization. That enables everyone to get on the same page with regard to determining the best architecture – one that will attain the desired levels of availability, while fitting in with financial realities.

On the data protection side, Dell storage consultants focus mainly on backup and recovery. They make recommendations around a wide range of equipment include tape arrays, specialty appliances, virtual tape, disk pools, deduplication and encryption.

“A big hurdle is the growing size of backup windows in the face of big data,” said Winner.

His group sets out to establish better tiering and data protection strategies to eliminate long waits for backups and restores. They review objective data on throughput, backup length, etc., along with gathered data on relative priorities. They then suggest a protection map based on storage tiering, application needs, the size of the data sets, recovery requirements and more. This includes how to make the most of the current environment, how to improve it via better workflows or more education, and what business requirements can’t be met by the existing infrastructure, as well as what else must be added to achieve those requirements.

“The first step is to try to maximize what they already have,” said Winner. “When it comes to infrastructure, they can leverage Dell or go to another vendor.”

SunGard Availability Services (AS)

SunGard AS has several services that address different storage use cases. For managed production applications, for example, there is Managed Backup Services and Managed SAN Services which address availability needs. For those requiring data protection for DR, it has Recover2Cloud – Vaulting (real-time replication of data from primary device on customer premise via NetApp, Data Domain, or Avamar). In addition, assessment and analysis comes via the SunGard AS consulting practice that can assist with Backup and Recovery as well as Storage Optimization assessments.

While EMC and Dell both emphasized their hardware-agnostic approach, both companies also admitted that they would prefer those being consulted to harness their specific equipment. SunGard AS, on the other hand, has very much a best-of-breed approach.

“We do not have specific technology or hardware, but rather leverage technology to deliver our services,” said Janel Ryan, the Director of Product Marketing, Managed Services at SunGard Availability Services. “For example, the underlying technology for our Recover2Cloud – Vaulting service is EVault. We wrap our services around the technology to deliver IT support to our customers.”

Drew Robb
Drew Robb has been a full-time professional writer and editor for more than twenty years. He currently works freelance for a number of IT publications, including eSecurity Planet and CIO Insight. He is also the editor-in-chief of an international engineering magazine.

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