Smarter storage

ACN editor Ben Furfie sits down with Laura Guio, vice president of storage for IBM’s growth markets, to talk about the vendor’s efforts to help CIOs cut back on the cost of operating their IT infrastructure.

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Smarter storage Guio: Storage issues usually revolve around a misplaced need for more space.
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By  Ben Furfie Published  August 8, 2010

ACN editor Ben Furfie sits down with Laura Guio, vice president of storage for IBM’s growth markets, to talk about the vendor’s efforts to help CIOs cut back on the cost of operating their IT infrastructure.

Imagine a world where the CIO could tell if a single air conditioning unit in their office wasn’t running efficiently, or where instead of investing millions of dollars in a new data centre, they could reduce company-wide data consumption by using storage more efficiently with nothing more than the push of a button.

But this isn’t science fiction. This is IBM’s design for a smart planet: one where IT saves a company more money than it costs to implement and run it, one where the CIO has any piece of information they want at their fingertips, but only the information they need on the screen in front of them. “The days where companies could afford to spend millions (of dollars) on a new IT deployment are gone,” explains vice president of storage for IBM’s growth markets, Laura Guio.

“Whether based in established markets like the UK, or in rapidly growing emerging markets like Saudi Arabia, companies have the same goal. The precise problems and issues they face might be different, but in these days of austerity, one thing all companies have in common is a desire to find solutions that address the need to save money.”

One option available to CIOs, of course, is to simply forget about it and wait for the good times to return. However, doing so isn’t just bad decision making, it also misses the opportunity to turn your IT operation into a money saving infrastructure, says Guio.

Smart storage

“20 years ago, especially in the developed markets, it was perfectly normal for a company to buy their entire IT infrastructure from one vendor. Then, about 10-15 years ago, there was a shift towards companies buying different solutions from a number of vendors,” recalls Guio, who has been with IBM since 1989.

“It was during this time that the IT department really started to expand, as demands on the team under the CIO increased exponentially thanks to the number of different solutions that needed to be implemented, integrated and maintained. While that wasn’t a major problem during the good times, now that the CFO is increasingly having a say in IT investments, it’s becoming more difficult to justify the huge amounts of money needed to keep running these IT infrastructures; many of which are hugely inefficient and don’t really give C-level executives the information they need.

The problems facing CIOs and IT directors is one that shouldn’t be underestimated, and IBM is keen to show that its solution isn’t just about selling more complexity; it’s about simplifying things for the average CIO. “There’s a downward pressure from the CFO to cut costs; however, it’s difficult for the CIO – with how IT departments stand at the present moment in time – to do so without impacting their ability to collect, collate and provide information, in addition to other functions.”

Many of the issues currently facing CIOs, argues Guio, hark back to the hardware boom – in particular the period between the dot com bust and the 2008 global recession. “For too long, the standard solution to storage problems has been for the CIO to go out, buy more hardware, and then bury their head in the sand until the problem comes back again.

“That approach simply won’t work anymore. The issue is only going to become more prevalent in the coming years as the pressures facing CIOs, such as the growing demand for business intelligence and smarter use of data grow, while smaller budgets than what they’ve been used to, and doing without solutions that other C-level executives may consider as discretionary spending, become the norm.”

Thinning the budget

One problem CIOs are having to wake up to is that the huge expansion in storage hardware can’t be sustained. “There’s a growing pressure to simplify enterprise architecture, if only to make it easier to account for where money is going.”

There are a number of technology solutions that IBM has been recommending to its customers. One of these is thin provisioning.

“One of the biggest challenges facing CIOs in recent years has been the increase in IT-savviness amongst regular staff,” explains Guio. “However, there is sometimes a major gulf in what staff think they know, and what they actually know.”

This misconception is the source of some of the biggest headaches – and indeed nightmares – that CIOs suffer from. Fortunately, unlike security concerns, such as the installation of unauthorised software on computers, the issues facing CIOs when it comes to storage are much less troublesome.

“More often than not, issues when it comes to storage usually revolve around a misplaced need for more space. When one worker finds out that a colleague has twice as much storage space as them, it’s human for them to want the same, regardless of whether they actually need it or not,” she says.

In these situations, thin provisioning is a godsend for the CIO. “Rather than having to listen to a member of staff complain about perceived favouritism, with thin provisioning, a CIO can ‘give’ that member of staff more memory without actually giving them any more memory (see ‘How Thin Provisioning Works’ for more).”

Data, data, everywhere

Another area where the company has been making headway in helping to reduce issues surrounding storage is with data deduplication. “The average company has the same piece of information stored seven times across their IT infrastructure. That might not sound like a lot, but when you consider that in some cases these files can be several hundred GBs in size, it suddenly becomes much more of a concern. “The best way to reduce the amount of duplication is to change the way a company manages its data. One of the side benefits of this is that it means you can introduce more intelligent data management, which can in turn provide an enormous boost to any company’s business intelligence operation,” says Guio.

“This isn’t about selling another layer of complexity,” she stresses. “It’s about removing five [layers] and bringing in a whole raft of other benefits, such as more efficient storage sharing, the ability to add or remove space without needing to take a network offline for hours, or even days, and most importantly, a significant reduction in the amount of time and resources tied up in maintenance.

“At the end of it all, it’s about smarter storage.” she concludes.

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