Storage outsourcing gets mixed reviews from IT suits

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Storage has blossomed into a plethora of storage-only outsourcing services beyond the traditional off-site vault for backups. These services range from backup variations–desktop-only, server, and real- time replication–to on-demand virtual storage utilities. For example, StorageNetworks Inc., based in Waltham, Mass., has become the de facto resource for dot-coms looking for rented IT infrastructures–a line from their servers to an EMC temple–all in the same data center. This article discusses outsourcing services available today and how the business community is reacting to these offerings.

Dealing with excess storage
What should you do if you have an excess of storage capacity, as well
as other resources? Jerry Lynch, director of operations at OCLC in
Dublin, Ohio, says, why not outsource? OCLC, a not-for-profit,
provides online indexing and reference services to about 30,000
libraries in 65 countries.

The data center has a total of 20TB
scattered across three IBM S/39s, an IBM RS/6000, and a Tandem with
S70000 processor and several Sun servers–an E10000 and an E4500.
Although OCLC’s storage is growing at 50 percent a year, Lynch
says, We’re looking to lease about 15,000 square feet of our data
center to a startup. We’re also looking at making storage space
available to libraries. We have to make sure we stay within our not-
for-profit status.

Tony Merolle, the senior data center manager at Symbol Technologies Inc., the $1 billion bar code system manufacturer based in Holtsville, N.Y., doesn’t worry if the HP 3000 legacy system in the Bethpage, N.Y., data center has a heart attack. Hewlett-Packard Recovery Services Support’s trauma team has rehearsed the disaster recovery drill—-bring the backup tapes from Arcus Data Security’s vault to the hot site at Valley Forge, Pa., and begin restoring about 110GB of data on an identical HP system. HP’s dry runs have restored the production system in less than seven hours.

However, Merolle says that Symbol expects to beef up its storage infrastructure through some outsourcing arrangements. One plan calls for backing up the data center servers online to similar servers at a remote hot site–either owned by Symbol or maintained by a third party. Pay-as-you-go-storage also appeals to Symbol as a way to complement an 8TB EMC Symmetrix system. Merolle says, We’re talking to vendors, such as HP, Dell, and EMC, about storage systems that can be configured with the amount of disk space we need at a particular time. We’d just pay for what we use.

On the other hand, outsourcing for a SAP application didn’t show much promise. Merolle says that some of the IT executives have looked at Qwest Communications. He says, We require a response time of no more than 1.5 seconds per SAP transaction. I want to get it below a second. Qwest offered a six-second guarantee per transaction.

IT professionals, along with Wall Street, have definitely noticed storage outsourcing services. However, organizations with capital- intensive storage infrastructures, at least for now, plan to keep their precious data gems at home rather than in some electronic Tower of London. Glenn Jacobsen, a senior partner in the Trilliant Group,a Cincinnati, Ohio, vendor-neutral firm that helps organizations assess storage technologies says, We haven’t seen any movement or desire from our Fortune 500 clients to outsource any storage operations to a StorageNetworks. John Webster, a storage analyst with Illuminata Inc., of Nashua, N.H., says that a lot of organizations, regardless of their size, don’t want to give up total control of their data to a third-party wire miles away.

Some say yes, some say no

New outsourcing models

Some hardware vendors and startups plan to relieve an organization’s concern about control, trust, security, and privacy of their data. A new storage outsourcing model leverages system integrator tasks of supplying equipment with on-site, managed, pay-as- you-go storage. Starting at $35 per GB per month, Compaq Computer Corp. will rent you its Private Storage Utility–a Fibre Channel- based, ESA 1200 storage system, scalable to 3.5TB–and the internetworking trimmings. (You provide the servers.) Compaq will administer the SAN remotely from a base in Colorado using tools from HighGround Systems Systems Inc. and Compaq. For a service-per-GB charge, Storability, a startup in Southborough, Mass., will help architect, configure, and acquire an on-site storage system and manage it remotely using tools from vendors such as HighGround Systems. Neither offering has access to any corporate data.

Considering the options

Weighing the different outsourcing options may provide IT executives with some perspective on a nagging planning problem–how to mold an unruly band of disparate servers into a well managed, scalable storage infrastructure.

Like a lot of large, diversified companies, Sun Life Financial Services of Canada, which manages about $223 billion, has given business units carte blanche to buy storage on a least-cost basis. The end result consists of a 7TB combined collection of about 100 Windows NT and Novell file and print servers, and about 150 development servers. Storage growth for this distributed lot runs about 30 percent per year.

Working with executives at Sun Life’s home office in Toronto. Laurence McKenzie, Sun Life’s vice president of worldwide technology and strategy, has started to plan for consolidating the distributed servers into an a scalable enterprise storage infrastructure to be controlled by a central entity. He says, We need to have better data protection for backups and disaster recovery, as well as to cut the windows for these functions.

While McKenzie doesn’t want to go into detail about Sun Life’s plans, some of his research has focused on storage outsourcing. He says, StorageNetworks did a nice consulting job of helping us to understand our key problems. However, we aren’t ready to put any storage off site. McKenzie has also looked at Storability. He says, These folks say they can leverage part of my installed base with a new storage offering. This mix would make my mature storage more reliable. For now, McKenzie says he prefers to keep his storage options open.

Where the data lives can go hand and hand with the application to become a critical component of the IT infrastructure. So, keeping the storage systems together with their Sybase and DB2 servers will stay the norm for Blue Cross Blue Shield in Chattanooga, Tenn. Hugh Hale, the director of technical services, may help IBM to evaluate new its new products and services, but he says he won’t consider any storage outsourcing arrangements with IBM. He says, We have the staff to manage our database applications and storage better than anyone else. Outsourcing of any kind should be considered if you can’t get the resources to do it yourself.

Storage outsourcing, regardless of its built-in comfort levels, may offer more firepower than even a Fortune 1,000 has data to burn or just may not mix well with the way an organization does business.

Each year Wendy’s, the $5 billion a year fast-food chain, serves trillions of high calorie burgers, but its corporate data center manages a lean 550GB of storage. Ed Ohanian, director of enterprise technologies at Wendy’s International Inc. in Dublin, Ohio, says, We don’t have enough storage to warrant outsourcing any of it. It’s hardly growing. I haven’t bought any mainframe disks in 18 months.

R. R. Donnelley & Sons, the Fortune 1,000 commercial printing firm based in Chicago, Ill., maintains a symbiotic relationship with its publishers, including Harvard Business Review. In fact, 90%of R. R. Donnelley’s business comes from the U.S. Each step of the prepress workflow process at a R. R. Donnelley plant consists of having data readily available from on-site, high-performance storage repositories. Kirk Brauch, a corporate technology consultant, says, When we go to put ink on paper, time is at the essence. Taking the storage outside of a plant’s control would put us in a bad position. How would we meet a publisher’s requirement if something goes wrong? We’d be dead in the water.


Providers aren’t deterred

The reluctance of large organizations to embrace storage outsourcing hasn’t deterred storage system integrators like Integrated Archive Systems, of Palo Alto, Calif., from expanding beyond delivering equipment and installing it. For the past six years, Integrated Archives has done work for a mix of Fortune 1,000 companies, such as Sybase Inc., and dot-coms, such as Yahoo Inc. Amy Rao, Integrated Archives’ founder and president, says that later this year her firm plans to start managing storage area networks that customers plan to build. She says, We’ll be offering both hands-on services and remote monitoring services from data servers where we’ll collocate our servers. //

Elizabeth M. Ferrarini is a freelance author based in Arlington, Mass.

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