Enterprises are at the mercy of ever-increasing amounts of data that need to be stored and as a result continually require more effective ways to store and maintain this data. This makes it critical for companies across the globe to better understand and address key storage issues.
In part one, we examined some of the pressing issues and technologies in today’s storage environments and how these issues can have a critical impact on the overall business. Part two continues on this theme and explores additional areas where storage technology and management impact enterprise viability.
— Bob Guilbert, NSI Software
Understanding storage needs as they relate to business goals and requirements
The basic starting point that many companies fail to consider is to simply understand their actual storage needs as related to their business goals and requirements. According to Bob Guilbert, vice president of marketing and business development at NSI Software, by first assessing their business needs with regard to availability, manageability, scalability, and regulatory requirements, IT managers can determine what the acceptable service levels are for their business and their customers.
“Once this information is gathered, it should be used to determine the hardware, software, application solutions, and processes needed to ensure all service levels and legal requirements are adhered to.” Guilbert also says that this planning strategy can help to ensure that the appropriate solutions are deployed as well as prevent overspending on unnecessary purchases.
Implementing better solutions to protect data
With widespread power outages, potential threats of terrorism, and natural disasters fresh on the minds of IT departments, IT planners can better protect their organizations by assessing the logistics associated with disasters and developing a solution that provides the necessary recovery to deliver business continuity. According to John Joseph, vice president, marketing at EqualLogic, Inc., IT planners need to determine which services must be recovered, the maximum time tolerable to recover each service, and how much of the latest record history associated with a service they are willing to lose if a recovery is required.
Joseph points out that since the core protection strategy for data is backup/restore, storage vendors should seek ways to provide better integration of replication technologies with backup and restore. “A sophisticated, automated deployment of replication and snapshot technology with highly flexible user-defined intervals can make restoration to a particular point-in-time easier and resumption of business-as-usual less painful, regardless of the type of failure,” he says.
According to Kevin Wittmer, director of technical marketing at Maxtor Corporation, IT planners can also look at off-site disk-based storage and disk-to-disk-to-tape (D2D2T) backup solutions as part of their disaster recover plan. “Backing up to disk prior to tape has performance benefits and addresses the problem of shrinking backup windows,” he says. And off-site mirrored storage allows for real-time replication of mission-critical data. Wittmer believes that a key technology for these solutions is the ATA hard drive, as parallel ATA and Serial ATA-based RAID solutions are cost-effective and can improve backup and recovery performance.
Vendors play a role in creating efficient and effective storage management practices
According to some industry experts, the single most helpful strategy that vendors can implement to help customers effectively manage storage is to offer complete solutions rather than the “erector set” projects so prevalent today.
— John Joseph, EqualLogic
“Fewer components in a storage system means fewer components to manage — leading to better management,” says Joseph. He also points out that vendors need to provide enterprises with the necessary technology for building scalable storage grids that behave and that can be managed as single pools of storage.
Guilbert says storage vendors need to make sure that they are partnering with their customers, not just selling them a packaged, pre-set, universal solution. “Before selling a solution, storage vendors first need to make sure their customer understands that they [the customer] alone have the most to lose from a disaster and that they [the vendor] are committed to the process with sufficient executive buy-in — if not, deployments could falter, “says Guilbert.
Wittmer believes that storage vendors can help enterprises improve efficiency by helping them understand the appropriate solution for their application. “Organizing data into pools of storage allows IT managers to maximize their storage resources based on requirements for cost and performance.”
Traditionally, Wittmer continues, enterprises have stored all their data online on SCSI or Fibre Channel hard drives; however, by using ATA drives for fixed-content, non-transactional data, IT professionals can take advantage of higher capacities and lower costs.
Business viability dependant on sound business continuance plan
With competitive pressures from industry deregulation, many businesses are being judged on their business continuance plans more closely than ever before. And storage vendors are the folks in the best position to help IT planners better position themselves to recover quickly from an unplanned outage or from data corruption.
According to Joseph, one of things that storage vendors can do is provide IT managers with multiple layers of disaster recovery capabilities, combining synchronous mirroring with snapshot replication. For example, he says that synchronously mirroring a data-corrupting virus from an organization’s primary site to its secondary site will result in both sites failing; therefore, a more comprehensive solution such as snapshot replication is required to provide multiple layers of protection. “Most importantly,” says Joseph, “setting up and configuring the data protection process must be simple — and the recovery process even simpler.”
According to Guilbert, business continuance is based on two factors that storage vendors should ensure their customers understand: off-site data protection and data availability/access. He explains that at a bare minimum IT planners need to ensure that their data is protected at an off-site location — out of the building, in case of any common disaster like a fire, earthquake, or local power outage. “This can be out of city, out of region, or out of country, depending on the company’s budgets and resources,” says Guilbert.
The second basic factor is data and application availability. “Users have to be able to access the protected data in a timely manner, to ensure the disruptive event doesn’t cause a loss of productivity or revenue multiple times the length of the event — for example, from having to retrieve tapes and rebuild servers while users are waiting to work,” says Guilbert.
Competency in storage management critical to enterprise success
Competency in storage management is a requirement for any IT organization that hopes to provide a cost-effective and highly available environment for an enterprise’s critical applications and business processes. Joseph believes that storage vendors need to offer complete, intelligent solutions that are ready to deploy out of the box and that automate the more mundane storage processes, allowing the IT organization to focus on the broader issues of critical applications and business processes.
— John Joseph, EqualLogic
“The leading vendors’ storage products require administrators to spend way too much time on the details of storage provisioning and capacity forecasting,” says Joseph. “Wouldn’t it be better if administrators could focus on disaster recovery procedures and policies, instead of on RAID types, capacity management, and I/O performance bottlenecks?”
As most IT departments have heterogeneous hardware and software products from numerous vendors, the implementation and use of these unique and often proprietary solutions adds tremendous complexity to the deployment and management by system administrators. Guilbert says that specialized training is often required, which can be costly and timely and often requires ongoing training as personnel changes occur.
However, Guilbert continues, by adopting common management standards within products and user interfaces, storage vendors can greatly reduce the complexity and confusion in managing large heterogeneous data centers.
“While some storage vendors may feel this would open the door for customers to look elsewhere for products since they aren’t so ‛locked in,’ customers generally only change vendors when their existing vendors can’t or aren’t providing the service and/or products they require.”
Guilbert concludes by saying that maintaining exceptional products and services and increasing competencies with their products while also simplifying customers’ lives will go far in retaining customers.