Storage Basics: The Inside Scoop on Outsourcing

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“Outsourcing,” “utility computing” and “on-demand” top of the list of most-used phrases in today’s IT vernacular. But behind the buzzwords are some real benefits. After all, when it comes to storage, many companies want to reduce costs by shifting away from capital-intensive, often-underutilized resources. Outsourcing storage by enrolling in an on-demand, pay-as-you-go storage solution is one approach today’s enterprises are taking to control fixed costs.

In the last Storage Basics article, we reviewed the option of investing in refurbished SAN equipment. In this article, we look at another method to reduce storage costs: utility storage.

So just what is utility storage? Hemant Kurande, chief technology officer at Storability, describes it as follows:

“The utility storage concept allows internal IT to create a tiered storage paradigm where total costs of storage and management are aligned with the value of the data. Since all data is not created equal and it loses its value over a period of time, utility storage practices allows you to use the right infrastructure for the right data at the right time.”

Utility storage involves outsourcing to a storage service provider (SSP), who provide storage on demand to companies either remotely or on site. Outsourcing storage enables companies that don’t have the space, time, money or staff to build and maintain their own storage infrastructure to take advantage of a SAN.

“Utility storage provides companies with a scalable pay-as-you-go structure designed to accommodate changing business needs, without requiring large capital expenditures”

In addition, SSPs allow companies to purchase just the storage they need. As their requirements change, additional capacity can be easily purchased. SSPs not only provide storage on demand, but also offer the capability to backup and centralize data from different locations, allowing data to effectively be shared between locations.

The advantages are clear, according to Kurande: “Utility storage enables an internal service provider model where an infrastructure management group can provide storage on demand to various applications.”

This means that utility storage provides companies with a scalable pay-as-you-go structure designed to accommodate changing business needs, without requiring large capital expenditures. At the same time, it provides companies with unlimited access to computing resources across the globe and the capability to shift storage needs, up or down, on the fly without increased capital expense. It also reduces the issue of underutilized resources.

Who Are These Guys?
With so many advantages, it is little wonder that the concept of utility storage has gained recognition. There are, however, a few potential drawbacks. Many IT managers are hesitant to place their data in the hands of people they don’t know and they are also concerned that the data will be accessible when needed. To build confidence, IT managers must be assured that SSPs are able to protect mission-critical data and ensure secure and controlled access to data.

Examples of storage service providers (or SSPs):

  • Bluepoint
  • Navistar
  • ManagedStorage International

  • Despite these concerns, the idea of utility storage should appeal to fast-growing, but undercapitalized, companies allowing them to access storage and be charged for only storage used.

    Metered Plans vs Capacity on Demand
    When looking towards outsourcing storage, you have a couple of pricing options: metered and capacity-on-demand. Using metered storage, a company purchases software that monitors the storage array. The software will then send the usage results to the vendor for billing. One example of such software is Global Storage Manager (GSM) from Storability. Kurander explains how it works:

    “Global Storage Manager (GSM) enables internal IT to move from traditional storage management practices to utility storage management practices. The product provides discovery, visualization and analysis of storage infrastructure for various applications and business units. GSM also allows an infrastructure team to provide billing and charge-back reporting, a critical component for utility storage to various business units.”

    Using this type of metered storage model, a company can purchase as little or as much storage as needed and pay only for the amount used. StorageTek, EMC, HP and Sun offer metered storage options.

    In the capacity-on-demand model, companies purchase access to a storage array and tap this capacity in pre-negotiated chunks of data. You pay for all this data whether you use it or not. IBM is an example of a company that offers a capacity-on-demand solution.

    Company Storage option
    HP Capacity on Demand, pay per use
    IBM Capacity on Demand, managed storage service.
    EMC Automated billing program.
    Sun Metered, pay as you go
    StorageTek Metered, pay as you go
    Some examples of utility storage options from leading providers.

    Finding an SSP is easy — involving a simple Web search. Remember that SSPs offer different services and pricing. According to Kurander, the cost from SSPs can range from $8 – $15 per Gigabyte for a Fibre channel linkto $3.75 – $8 for Serial ATA and from a few cents to $4 to $5 for off-site tape storage. Such prices are more palatable for many small business operators.

    While it may not be for every business, utility storage enables companies to reduce the capital and operating expenses associated with purchasing, deploying and managing today’s storage infrastructures. By centralizing data storage, you get cost-effective, managed information services without sacrificing the capability to access real-time business information.

    See all articles by Mike Harwood

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