Users turn to SRM to deal with data

Middle East organisations will need to consider storage resource management solutions if they are to cope with the region’s ever increasing amounts of data

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By  Peter Branton Published  April 10, 2005

Introduction|~||~||~|The data mountain is growing at a terrific or terrifying rate, depending on whether you are buying or selling storage. Today, the average Fortune 500 company sits on terabytes of data. As firms connect everything and everyone — from suppliers to customers — in one seamless chain, the bytes can only grow. “Today, business is data. Lose data and you could lose customers and business,” says David Beck, regional manager, Storage Tek. But keeping and managing data takes time, money and space. What’s more, the pervasive presence of the internet has meant that employees stock their own stuff all over the place — from reference readings downloaded from the web to their kid’s pictures and mp3s. All this adds even more bytes to an already burgeoning mass of information. For a while, as per-megabyte cost of storage fell, the growing mountain of data seemed to matter little. Many of the newer storage technologies cost less. For instance, a US-based bank found that a high tech, online storage solution that makes data available within 10 seconds cost less than a third of the older offline magnetic tapes the company was using. “Declining per-megabyte cost of storage combined with shrinking size of storage devices has brought about an explosion in data,” says Omar Dajani, regional technical manager, Veritas, Middle East & North Africa. However, the pressure to make more and more information available to customers has offset the cost advantages that new technologies bring. Earlier, a customer was happy if he or she got their account information within three days. Now, when at an ATM, the information must be available within seconds. Ditto for employees and partners — storage solutions must deliver information on demand, pretty much like any utility service. IT managers, therefore, have to worry about not only storing increasing amounts of data but also making sure it is available on a 24x7 basis. For instance, banks have to keep at least 90 days of account information on storage media that will allow customers to access the data instantly from anywhere over the branch or ATM network. When the tolerance for delay was high such information was stored on offline magnetic tapes. Now it has to be put on online storage media. When the move to make information available to employees, partners and customers took hold, end user organisations transferred much of their critical data to storage area networks (SANs). As a result, overall storage costs have gone up despite the falling per-megabyte cost of storage. ||**||Data explosion|~||~||~|To get a sense of the data explosion, a bank is a good example. If it processes one million cheques a day and stores them as image files, it would accumulate data at the rate of 55Gbytes per day. Since banks are required to keep information for seven years, this would mean stocking up 137 terabytes — assuming there is no growth in customer base. And this is only for cheques. This storage explosion has made business look carefully at how they manage storage. Fortunately, a new technology that comes with the acronym SRM (storage resource management) is at hand. Gartner predicts the SRM market will grow to US$849 million worldwide by 2007. As a matter of fact, it’s the new avatar of SRM that’s particularly useful — the older version of SRM did everything but resource management as it was essentially a backup and recovery tool. But in its reincarnated form, SRM does what its name suggests: it provides complete visibility into both physical storage resources such as RAID systems, tape libraries and SAN switches and logical storage objects such as volumes, files, users, database tables and I/O. Translated into plain English, that means SRM tells IT managers what type of data is stored on what type of media, how it is growing and what can be done to utilise storage resources more efficiently. It also helps them plan proactively for the future. There are two ways in which SRM tools help IT professionals manage the storage environment. First, they provide the information needed to keep storage resources working on a day-to-day basis, with built-in monitoring and alerting features such as on-screen, e-mail or paging. Second, they help IT managers plan for the future by keeping them informed of growth trends and patterns in storage use. ||**||SRM core|~||~||~|At the core of all SRM tools is a mechanism to scan defined storage resources. Most have agents that collect information from storage resources in a network. The information collected is stored in databases and the output can be generated in different formats such as Excel spreadsheets or HTML. Most SRM tools can be administered through remote network management systems such as IBM’s Tivoli or HP’s OpenView. SRM tools can be “active” in the sense that they may not only furnish information but also manage the resources automatically, acting within a predefined set of rules and policies. What this means is that once the policies are set the tools automatically take care of the tasks. On the other hand, “passive” SRM tools merely furnish information to the users and let them decide what to do. In general, “active” SRM is growing faster than “passive” SRM. “But not all companies have the wherewithal to use this technology. It requires expertise and, often, outside help to define policies accurately,” says Veritas’ Dajani. As with every other IT tool, users need to have a good reason to deploy SRM. And if the deployment is to work, companies need to have a clear fix on how storage impacts their business. Size, by the way, is not always the best indicator. “A smallish travel agency can have a very large amount of data, easily as much as a factory. Besides, there may be a strong case for keeping information about flight schedules, for example, on the company server so that it can be accessed quickly,” says Dajani. End user organisations need to know what service or value they want to offer to their customers or employees and then work backwards to arrive at the right mix of storage devices. It is all about deploying SRM to smartly optimise storage costs. Take the case of banks. “Banks today have 80% of their data kept in high-end, expensive storage with the rest residing in mid-priced or cheaper storage media,” says Dajani. How users store data depends on what they are going to use it for, how quickly they need to retrieve it and, therefore, whether it needs to be offline or online. In terms of banks, the best banks provide 90 days information to their customers on a real-time basis. Beyond that period, the information is dug out and made available in 24-72 hours. So if a bank has been in operation for 10 years, then out of those 10 years it needs to have only data for the previous three months — or 2.5% of the entire data volume — available in real-time. The mix of storage media should reflect this pattern. Of course, the example is a bit simplistic since the number of customers would have grown substantially in 10 years. Still, Omar believes that by using SRM effectively, banks can bring down their proportion of high cost storage from 80% to around 50%. The rest, he feels, can easily be saved on lower cost storage devices. So once a company knows what percentage of its data needs to be accessible in real-time, and what part can be stored offline, it can optimise the storage media mix. At a more basic level, SRM can screen what is getting stored on the company’s resources. People could be storing jpegs or mp3 files. Many of these could be personal files. Or for that matter, employees who have left the organisation might still be occupying server space or there is always a good chance that the same files are stored on several systems. Using SRM tools, IT managers can outlaw certain file types such as mp3 or jpeg. They can determine whether some part of information is out-dated and, therefore, removable. They can also help identify duplicate files and remove them. All this requires is setting policies — SRM tools do the actual sifting and sorting. Omar claims deploying SRM tools can save at least 30% of storage space. Therefore, ROI is good and the payback, almost immediate. ||**||Two flavours|~||~||~| SRM tools come in two flavours — all-in-one and modular. All-in-one solutions come with everything included. There are no per-device options. All the devices that the software supports are included in the initial licence, and users are free to install the agents on everything in their environment. As in the case of physical storage assets, the bulk of the purchase costs have to be borne up front. Modular solutions get the user specific functionalities. SRM tools can be deployed right across the company at one go or in a step-by-step manner. Beck argues that for a company to get substantial benefits from SRM, it must be deployed across the company. “Only then can you move stuff around and get the real benefits,” he says. That may be true in theory, but implementation might pose challenges. “It is possible [to deploy SRM on a company-wide basis at once] but it would require intelligence within the complete storage infrastructure, something that most customers have not yet found viable due to cost and connectivity limitations within the region,” says John Stadden, client solution lead for Saudi Aramco at EMC Middle East. But how does a user decide if it’s time for you to deploy SRM in your company? “Getting a lot of requests for disks is a good indication,” says Ayman Abouseif, senior marketing director at Oracle Middle East & Africa. “You’ve got to have multiple SANs, and explosive growth in data for SRM to make sense,” adds Beck, arguing that banks, telecom operators and oil & gas companies in the region are natural targets for SRM vendors. Although smaller size companies in the Middle East haven’t taken to the idea just yet, primarily due to relatively cost effective workforces being able to handle data requirements manually, EMC is bullish about the market opportunity SMBs in particular will present. “In the Middle East, EMC has been growing faster than in the rest of the world. In the past two years we have seen the market doubling (for storage),” says Stadden. He expects a majority of EMC customers to implement some level of SRM functionality in the near future. Veritas’ Dajani is also optimistic about the future. Veritas, in fact, allows users to deploy its SRM tools free of cost for two months. This is not charity — it’s based on the belief that once a company checks out an SRM tool, it will stay with it. Experience elsewhere in the world suggests SRM indeed offers good, measurable returns. So if the data volume in your company is growing, then it may not be a bad idea to explore the option. ||**||

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