Ten Ways to Save on Data Storage Costs

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Data storage has been a major and growing part of IT budgets for many years, so it’s not surprising that cost-cutters have been taking a hard look at storage costs in the worst economic downturn in more than 50 years.

We’ve compiled a few tips and technologies that can help in the new era of frugality. Some are free but may require some investment in resources, while others promise a rapid return on investment (ROI), in some cases offering a payback in less than six months.

All Aboard the Dedupe Express

Two areas tend to dominate discussions about storage costs — flash-based solid state drives (SSDs) and data deduplication.

Starting with the latter, dedupe has become almost a badge of honor among storage vendors. While Data Domain (NASDAQ: DDUP) popularized the technology and remains one of its leaders, it’s hard to find a storage vendor that doesn’t offer the technology these days. Quantum (NYSE: QTM), EMC (NYSE: EMC), IBM (NYSE: IBM), NetApp (NASDAQ: NTAP), FalconStor (NASDAQ: FALC), Permabit, Sepaton and Copan are just a few of the names lending their weight to the dedupe express train. The likelihood is that this technology will eventually become standard for storage and backup purposes.

“Data deduplication means you can squeeze a lot more data into a lot less space,” said Mike Sparkes, product marketing manager for entry disk systems at Quantum. “It helps you save money in numerous ways.”

He gives the example of a small software development company with a single site. By installing a dedupe appliance for $12,000, it saved that amount alone in tape media costs in its first year. When you factor in a reduction in backup management efforts by 250 to 300 hours per year, shorter backup windows (33 percent) and time to restore reduced by 75 percent, this makes dedupe a relatively easy item to sell to even the most tightfisted CFO.

A Data Domain customer, Great River Energy of Maple Grove, Minn., reports data compression rates as high as 100 to one on some applications. As a result, restores are done in half the time and backup administration has been cut down from one day per week to ten minutes, said Joe Gleason, IT Systems Engineer for Great River Energy.

The savings occurred on many fronts, such as a 45 percent reduction in wattage.

“Compared to a scenario in which we would expand on our legacy tape library platform, this solution has provided us with significant power, cooling and data center footprint advantages,” said Gleason.

Flash in the SAN

Like dedupe, flash drives are constantly in the news these days. While they don’t match up on a capacity/cost basis against Fibre Channel(FC) disk, prices are dropping rapidly.

“The price of flash is down 76 percent in the past year,” said Ken Steinhardt, vice president and CTO of customer operations at EMC. “Every day that goes by, it keeps getting cheaper.”

According to Pat Wilkison, vice president of marketing and business development at SSD maker STEC (NASDAQ: STEC), the most obvious value proposition is to use SSDs to reduce the amount of memory needed by a system. Flash works out at orders of magnitude cheaper than RAM and has enough capacity these days that an entire database can be saved on flash for super fast I/O.

“Flash offers an immediate and tangible ROI, as you gain high performance and require less memory,” said Wilkison.

Tiering up over Flash

Some vendors, like EMC, Compellent (NYSE: CML) and Sun Microsystems (NASDAQ: JAVA), have taken SSDs a step further as a new high-performance storage tier (see Compellent Adds ILM to Solid State Drives). This reduces the need for Fibre Channel disks and speeds performance for the most mission-critical applications.

Steinhardt suggests placing the most heavily utilized data on flash, then offloading it to FC for medium utilization, and running the bulk of data on low-priced SATAdrives.

“This new kind of system tiering is being driven by flash and low-cost, high-capacity SATA,” said Steinhardt. “This cuts your power, cooling and space costs, and reduces reliance on a large pool of expensive FC drives.”

SATA-fied Storage Customers

Moosa Matariyeh, an enterprise storage specialist at CDW, takes things a step further and advises those looking to save on storage costs to dump FC and SASfor SATA.

“Migrate data from Fibre Channel, small computer system interface (SCSI) or SAS storage to less expensive SATA,” he said. “This also saves on cooling and power costs as well as rack space, as the SATA drives you would be migrating to have more density.”

He offers an example — costs reflect only the drive street price and do not include any enclosure or additional equipment needed — SAS storage can be as low as $1.25 a GB, while SATA drives from the same manufacturer cost as little as 15 cents per GB, or nearly 90 percent less. Add in power and cooling costs and the total cost of ownership (TCO) can be dramatically less.

“Migration can be done manually, or a software package can be implemented to automatically monitor the age of files,” said Matariyeh. EMC, Symantec (NASDAQ: SYMC) and CommVault (NASDAQ: CVLT) “are among those offering software packages to manage this functionality.”

Bargain Shopping

Storage vendors are willing to deal like never before, so shop around for surprise deals and you might get lucky. For instance, until June 30, SunGard Availability Services is holding a special offer of up to $15,000 for its AdvancedHosting enterprise managed services and colocation solutions. This offer is available at SunGard’s facilities in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Toronto and New York. What this means is that if you sign up, they either waive setup fees up to $15,000 or get one month’s complimentary service up to that value. Variations of this apply to new or existing customers.

“Our AdvancedHosting promotional offerings demonstrate commitment to helping customers achieve the highest levels of information availability at a competitive price point,” said Dave Colesante, senior vice president at SunGard Availability Services.

Hardware, maintenance and services deals have also been reported, and some vendors are even offering satisfaction guarantees.

Keep Consolidating

Consolidating has been a staple in IT now for most of this decade. And it just keeps right on going. The more you get rid of data center sprawl and Indiana Jones-esque warehouses full of endless rows of servers, the lower your management, power, cooling and space expenses will be. With one caveat: don’t throw out perfectly good equipment to consolidate, as that delays ROI considerably. Wait till gear is at or beyond end of life and then bring in the consolidation cavalry.

“In storage, it is all about consolidation, consolidation, consolidation,” said Shaun Walsh, vice president of corporate marketing at Emulex (NYSE: ELX). “In addition to extending the life of current hardware and lowering administration and storage costs, one of the hidden benefits of aggressive consolidation is saving on the ongoing cost of service and maintenance — service contracts on many older systems often cost more annually than purchasing new storage.”

Use the Windows Storage SIS Feature

CDW’s Matariyeh offers one free tip for controlling unstructured data, which he regards as the biggest issue in storage because it contains so many file types, is coming from different sources and is growing at the fastest rate. Estimates are that 70 to 80 percent of the data in data centers today is unstructured and growing at more than 65 percent a year.

“One simple way to help free up space is to activate a currently existing function in your Windows Storage Servers,” he said. “Single-instance storage (SIS) is a feature built into Windows Storage Server 2003 which will take a look at all the data within the volumes and reduce duplicates to one file.”

For example, if a department sends out a 1 MB PowerPoint document to 30 people and each one saves it in their “My Documents” directory, that is 30 MB of space from a single file. WSS will reduce this down to one copy and point all users to the one copy. That is a 29 MB savings in space from activating a feature already available in the system.

Get Rid of Certain File Types

Sometimes, it’s the simple things that can make daily work experience easier. Storage managers can focus on the easy items that provide the biggest payback, either in reclaimed storage or data protection for business continuity. For example, it isn’t difficult to spot and remove any personal, unnecessary, or large file types from expensive corporate storage resources.

“Such work is often already mandated as part of compliance directives that outlaw files whose name ends with .mpeg, .mpg, .mp3, .wav, .pst, .log, .bak, and so on, said Stefan Kochishan, director of mainframe product marketing at CA (NASDAQ: CA). “These files can then be deleted to increase usable storage space.”

Leasing, the Cloud and Open Source

While these last three technically make 11 ideas, since we mentioned SSDs twice, we’ll call it 10 for the sake of a nice round number in the headline.

Leasing is making a comeback as a way to stretch storage dollars, says Chip Nickolett of Comprehensive Consulting Solutions of Brookfield, Wisc.

Open source storage technologies have also been catching on in the weaker economy. Sun has built its Open Storage line on open source software and commodity hardware, while vendors like Zmandahave used open source technologies as a way to break into the storage market.

Nickolett suggests a modest open source implementation as a good way of getting your vendor’s attention.

And lastly, while cloud-based storage services have been slow to catch on in the enterprise space, this year has seen the arrivalof a new startup that claims its service can make primary data storage in the cloud a reality.

One of the more interesting uses of a cloud storage service has been Twitter, which uses Amazon’s (NASDAQ: AMZN) Simple Storage Service (S3) to store avatar icons. Perhaps finding well targeted uses for online storage services is an avenue worth exploring.

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Drew Robb
Drew Robb
Drew Robb is a contributing writer for Datamation, Enterprise Storage Forum, eSecurity Planet, Channel Insider, and eWeek. He has been reporting on all areas of IT for more than 25 years. He has a degree from the University of Strathclyde UK (USUK), and lives in the Tampa Bay area of Florida.

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