Playing for keeps

Organisations can no longer just add more disks to manage escerlating volumes of business critical data. It’s time for local enterprise organisations to bite the bullet and invest in comprehensive storage management solutions

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By  Greg Wilson Published  May 5, 2002

I|~||~||~|The dilemma facing the Operations & Maintenance Division of the Saudi Bin Ladin Group isn’t an uncommon one. The division’s business is growing faster than anticipated, both in terms of projects, employees and data. The production environment that IT manager, Amr Taher went live with in October 2001 is based on Dell server clusters running the business critical Maximo materials maintenance application. HP UX machines are used to host the Oracle database. However, the IT infrastructure has come under considerable strain as the number of users has scaled from 400 to 1000 users in just a matter of months. “We had predicted that would reach 1000 users, but not in a year’s time. We thought that would take place in three or four years from the installation date,” says Taher.

“The business is growing much faster than we anticipated, we have been getting new project requirements from the division that were not expected… [Consequently,] we have very rapid data growth,” he adds.

To cope with the company’s data explosion the IT team has entered into a continuous upgrade cycle to the direct attached storage (DAS) machines that support both the Dell/Windows 2000 and HP UX/Oracle systems. “We only installed the [Maximo] application about a year and a half ago… but we are always upgrading the storage, we are always adding extra disks,” comments Taher.

The Operation & Maintenance Division has already begun to assess possible solution to its growing storage headache. Although the current storage configuration provides the group with a high level of redundancy, a centralised heterogeneous storage environment capable of supporting both Windows 2000 and Unix platforms offers management and cost of ownership advantages.

“At the moment every [server] has its own storage and that makes the environment less vulnerable to downtime. But it is much more expensive to maintain multiple storage [devices] rather than one storage [environment,]” explains Taher.
“It is much more expensive to have separate storage for each server rather than having network storage, both in terms of the running costs and in terms of maintenance and manpower costs,” he adds.

The Operation & Maintenance Division’s need to rein in control of its rapidly expanding business critical data is endemic of many other organisations in the Middle East. On the recent ITP Storage road show that covered five locations across the Middle East during early April, attendees were asked to fill out a survey detailing their current storage environment and their future plans.

Of the 250 respondents to the survey 71% stated that they expected their data requirements to double in the next 12 months. A further 11% of respondents predicted that their storage requirements would treble over the next year. An additional 4% predicted that their storage requirements would more than triple.
The deployment of enterprise resource planning (ERP), operational/analytical customer relationship management (CRM) and e-business applications, appear to be the main driving factors behind the region’s increasing storage appetite.
However, the dynamics of the storage market are changing — organisations cannot continue to just add disks or people to manage their business data. Although applications may drive the business, it is centralised information management, delivered through the software layer, that ensures the data is in the right place, when the company needs to use it.

||**||II|~||~||~|“IT management must come to understand that applications drive the business, but information is the heart of the business,” says Tom Burns, director, sales & support, EMEA, EMC.

“If strategic applications are going to be truly efficient they need to be integrated and that means that the information needs to be integrated, consolidated and consistent, so [the business] can make the use of it… [Businesses] need to have a bullet-proof storage infrastructure that allows [them] to grow, manage [and protect] that information,” he adds.

Although 61% of survey respondents stated that DAS was their primary storage method, the survey also hinted at a strong move towards the deployment of centralised storage. According to the survey, 44% of organisations are making a centralised pool of storage a priority in the coming 12 months. A further 8% said it was a priority within the next 18 months.

However, a significant minority of respondents — 32% — ‘were not sure’ when they planned to implement some form of centralised storage. Survey respondents pointed overwhelmingly to the substantial cost, not only of the storage kit itself, but also of the training required, as the largest prohibiting factor to storage infrastructure deployment.
“Everyone is cost driven here [in the Middle East]… the region is very cost sensitive,” Jeff Maslen, storage sales manager, Middle East & Pakistan, IBM.

“[Companies are] not taking into consideration the total cost ownership. There is the initial purchase price and then there is the ongoing software cost, maintenance costs and so on. They don’t watch for that and they get burnt,” he comments.

Training, particularly for the high end storage environments doesn’t come cheap. Although all storage players can provide a certain amount of local training, the more advanced courses — for partners and end users — tend to take place in well-equipped and expensive labs in Europe.

“The cost of training people is very high and technology is advancing at a very rapid pace,” says Bosco Moraes, product marketing manager, enterprise storage group, Compaq Middle East.

“Constantly upgrading skills is becoming a very big cost issue… Compaq is trying to get the training [for] our channel done locally,” he adds.

Etisalat, the UAE’s PTT, has invested heavily in training its storage team as part of its IP Data Centre project. The data centre, which has primarily been constructed to sustain the growth of sister business units Emirates Internet & Multimedia and Comtrust, includes a sophisticated storage area network (SAN).

“Once you run into large scale storage with something like a SAN it becomes very difficult… and you have to have very skilful personnel,” says Nasser Salim, senior manager, Internet & e-Solutions, Etisalat.

||**||III|~||~||~|“Etisalat is highly dependent on internal resources for its services. We have trained a team of people to be experts in every single element of the infrastructure. We have sent a team of mostly locals to the UK for training. We have invested a lot in them and they are becoming the core operation team on storage,” he explains.

Although training remains a fundamental element of a storage solution, the region is still exhibiting its historical fear of investing in human resources. This situation has been compounded by market jitters caused by the global economic slowdown.

“I have seen a slowdown in training investments in the last six months… I think it is general nerves as the economy takes a bit of a slow down,” comments Maslen.

However, organisations have to wake up to the need for training, says Adel Safar, director of information technology with Kuwaiti-GSM service provider, Wataniya Telecom. “It is a two way street and you need to take care of the people that take care of your organisation,” he says

Wataniya, which was one of the initial businesses to deploy a SAN in the Middle East has invested heavily to train its people both locally and aboard. “IT skills in the storage area are not that hard to come by, but just like everything else you need to compensate it properly,” he adds.

The strong focus on cost displayed by many companies illustrates low awareness to the fundamental data management issue. Few organisations have yet to fully align the storage strategy with the company’s business objectives, and subsequently appoint a data manager.

Historically, it has been the larger organisations, such as telecos, banks, and some oil & gas companies that defined data management strategies. “In the past there was the network manager, server managers and now we’re starting to see the evolution of the data manager,” says Maslen.

Andrew Calthorpe, sales director, for enterprise storage provider, STME, adds “IT managers are becoming more aware, partly because this market is playing catch-up, but also there has been a lot education going on. Smart IT managers are reading into this and seeing what it means to their organisation.”

The region’s cost sensitivity could explain the high number of survey respondents — 42% — that have deployed network attached storage (NAS) devices. As NAS solutions can quickly, easily and cheaply be deployed on the network, they offer immediate relief to storage management headaches.

“[Companies] have realised that they need something more complex, but they haven’t been able to articulate to their board members the investment of a minimum US$60,000 in a SAN, but they can justify a NAS solution,” says Alastair McFadzean, enterprise business manager, emerging markets EMEA, Dell.

“Also, from a training and education point of view NAS is much simpler, when you take on a SAN you have to be trained how to install it and manage it,” he adds.

||**||IV|~||~||~|Despite all of the major storage players reporting increasing interest in network attached solutions over the last 12 months, they all warn that a NAS devices will not solve all of an organisation’s data management worries. “NAS is not going offer the software services that the SAN vendors are providing,” says Philip Dawson, programme director, infrastructure services, Meta Group.

More sophisticated management functionality, such as integrated back-up for live file systems, backup recovery strategies, software services, cluster file systems, and database backup recovery strategies, “all become difficult on a NAS… [This] isn’t mature on the NAS. It is basically file services at this point,” explains Dawson.

Any deployment of NAS devices on the network must adhere to the wider storage strategy. All too often companies have added NAS devices in an ad-hoc fashion, resulting in numerous storage islands within the enterprise.

“[NAS] has to be part of the enterprise storage roadmap, it has to be part of the common set of services from the data centre… NAS is a service on the storage network, not the product,” Dawson adds.

How organisations evolve their storage strategies from the predominantly direct attached model that currently prevails within the Middle East remains to be seen.

According to the ITP survey, only 18% of respondents have deployed a storage area network (SAN). A further 36% were not sure when they intended to deploy a SAN.

Although many companies may hesitate when they first see the price tag attached to a storage area network, the growing data management issue will force many companies down the SAN route. Consequently, the vendors are all touting a phased approach to the development of a storage environment.

“Storage is something that everybody is trying to duck… but they are going to have get round to it sooner or later... so rather than having a revolution, let’s have an evolution,” comments Maslen.

Long term planning and a clear view of the business objectives are key to the development of a phased storage implementation. “There has to be an idea of what the customer wants to achieve, we can then start the storage blueprint from there,” says Calthorpe.

As well as helping organisations come to terms with the cost issues associated with storage rollouts, a phased approach will also help to educate the local market. Familiarity with storage environments and software layer will illustrate the total cost of ownership benefits of effective data management. “We have done a lot of management and automation of the storage [environment]... this helps us reduce our overall operating costs,” says Nasser Salim of Etisalat.

||**||V|~||~||~|The PTT’s IP data centre uses a combination of HP OpenView and EMC’s Command Centre to automate as much of its storage environment as possible. “The provisioning of the service, the performance analysis, and even capacity planning… are all automated processes for us. We don’t have to invest [as] much in the human resources,” he adds.

There are already signs that local organisations are begining to take a more mature approach to the storage software layer. Veritas has been in the market for the last two years educating the market on its software portfolio. Previously, the market has largely been about the vendor’s entry level NetBackup software, but there has been a notable increase in awareness.

“What’s changing now is the education level of both our partners and customers,” says Mike Hayes, general manager of Veritas’ local office.

“In addition to our backup and recovery software, companies are asking us to help optimise their existing storage environment, provide better utilisation of their hardware [and] continuous access to information,” he explains.

IDC’s local general manager, Sanjeet Debral adds, “there is increase on software spending related to storage… this is a very big increase.”

As the physical disk increasingly becomes a commodity, it is going to be the software and services that differentiates vendors in the market place. “The margins are going away from hardware, it is coming down to zero-per M/byte,” says Dawson.

“It is really the software and the services that becomes the real differentiator, not the hardware,” he adds.

Over the last 12 months the region has witnessed an influx of storage experts at Sun, HP, IBM and Compaq, as all the vendors have raised storage services up the local business agenda. Furthermore, both EMC and StorageTek have opened offices and begun taking on headcount. “When [companies] are deploying SANs, and high availability solutions, the services part is almost as much as the hardware or software component… It is probably nearly almost 50% of the total investment,” says Moraes.

EMC’s local partner STME, is also keen to take a slice of the local storage services business and it has been evolving its own consulting services. “In the past it has been difficult to sell consulting services locally, but a lot of customers are recognising the value of services,” says Calthorpe.

The combined services and software story of vendors is going to be increasingly important as they head towards the mid-range market.
This move has been accelerated by the growing sluggishness of the high end market space.

“There is a little bit of a slowdown a lot of decisions are just being held off a little bit… companies are not rushing into these sorts of decisions,” says Calthorpe.

Gareth Williams, area manager, Gulf region, emerging markets, Dell, adds, “there is definitely a global slowdown and this region is no different. The region is going to continue to grow, just slower than in previous years. One of the first things to slow is major IT investments, often the most strategic and long term projects are the ones to get shelved,” he explains.

Even if the region is on the brink of a slowdown in IT spending, the region’s data requirements are going to continue to expand. However, whether organisations realise the need to manage data, rather than just store data either on disks or tape is another matter. The ITP survey at indicates that more and more businesses have realised that it is not just a case of plugging in more storage devices, but a case of building a storage environment capable of growing with the needs of the business.||**||

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