Smarter storage

With the rest of the enterprise market advocating downsizing deployments and using existing infrastructure in more efficient ways, can the storage sector really keep pushing bigger and bigger solutions?

Tags: EMC CorporationISITInternational Data CorporationNetAppWestern Digital Corporation
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Smarter storage HARRISON: The CFO should demand to see proof that more storage facilities are required.
By  Imthishan Giado Published  October 16, 2010

With the rest of the enterprise market advocating downsizing deployments and using existing infrastructure in more efficient ways, can the storage sector really keep pushing bigger and bigger solutions?

For many years, the way enterprises approached buying storage was similar to the way you might buy toothpaste.

Everyone’s got a full tube of toothpaste in their bathroom cabinet. Or rather, they think they do. And one day, they’re caught by surprise when they squeeze it and nothing escapes the tip. A trip to the shops later, you’re back in business.

And that, in a nutshell, is how companies have been buying storage for years. The mechanics of managing a vast storage array aside, the actual purchase decision has largely been dictated by how much of it is still available. This has led to a certain amount of neglect from IT managers, a situation many users exploit.

Anthony Harrison, senior principal solutions specialist for storage and server management at Symantec explains how the loophole comes to exist. “The problem is that it’s not the end-users that are actually buying the storage. There’s this big disconnect between IT and their users. You’ve got to have policies in place saying what they are actually allowed to store there.

“Our perspective is making people more accountable for what they actually use. When you look at comparing the amount of raw storage capacity that you have versus what is actually used for application data, generally we see around 30%-35% utilisation. In some cases, we’ve seen it as low as 12%,” he cautions.

EMC’s Walid Yehia, technology solutions manager for Turkey, Egypt, and Libya, emerging Africa and the Middle East suggests that incorrect reporting and overcautious administrators may also have a role to play in these low utilisation rates.

“Users do allocate their storage capacity to the enterprise applications. Therefore if you issue a utilisation report at the storage level, you will find it high. However, when you further scrutinise how these applications are using the underlying storage capacity, you will find that most of the applications have allocated capacity more than the amount that they actually host.

“The sorts of numbers that we’re seeing at the moment are from people like IDC that are talking about 400% growth over the next four years. Obviously there’s some peaks and troughs within there but the underlying element is that the majority of that growth is in unstructured data, they’re quoting like 62%,” cites Harrison.

Steve Bailey from data management specialists CommVault, suggests that companies are rapidly rethinking their purchase and storage models and thinking about new alternatives – which in turn, puts pressure on vendors to conceive and execute models to their user’s satisfaction.

“Worldwide, a lot of the change has been focused on pay-as-you-go models or utility-based models. The switch is from capital expenditure to operational expenditure,” he says.

Many avenues that were often ignored are now receiving renewed interest from CIOs, who are considering any and all angles to cut costs. Curiously, according to Mahesh Vaidya, CEO at systems integrator ISIT, green IT is one of the first concerns to fall by the wayside.

“Earlier, it used to be hard to sell technology like deduplication. Now, it’s becoming a defacto standard; every vendor is having some kind of system. People are encompassing these new technologies much faster than before. In 2007 when we used to talk to IT guys, it was more about green initiatives. In 2009, it’s more about ROI. People are being extremely prudent when it comes to spending IT last year and I think it’s going to continue this year,” he surmises.

John Rollasson, NetApp’s solutions marketing representative for EMEA, thinks cloud computing, although unheralded at present, is poised to achieve great success in the Middle East as a region.

“It is real and it’s happening now here in our region,” he states. “Smart companies are already taking advantage of cloud services to meet many non-core IT functions. They are also evolving their internal IT infrastructures to become more cloud-like and to focus on service delivery to increase efficiency and flexibility while cutting costs.”

“NetApp sees five key business needs to be considered when building a cloud; pay as you go, always on, data security and privacy, self-service and industry delivery and capacity elasticity. These needs in turn can be translated into specific requirements; secure multi tenancy, service automation, data mobility, integrated data protection and storage efficiency. ” continues Rollason.

When it comes to resolving this problem, one might be forgiven for thinking that vendors have little stake in finding an answer. After all, how would they benefit from selling less storage products to end-users? But as it turns out, they’ve been thinking about the problem for some time now.

EMC’s Yehia provides some options: “Before you go ahead and acquire storage platforms, classify your information and define the required service levels. Instead of the traditional way of provisioning storage and storing information, look into the new available technologies that allow you to reduce your footprint and do more with less.”

NetApp’s Rollason, meanwhile,  believes that while cloud storage will eventually achieve success, a “hybrid model” consisting of three main parts will be the most likely first step. This will include  traditional silos, where an application, a server, and storage are purchased and installed together; internal clouds, which will initially run less critical apps and grow over time; and externally managed cloud services.

It’s clear that options certainly exist for Middle East enterprises looking for a more efficient storage paradigm, but it’s also abundantly clear that wasteful ways cannot be allowed to continue in the new fiscal order, concludes Symantec’s Harrison.

“If I was the CFO, I’d keep asking if we really need this – prove to me that we genuinely have run out of storage and haven’t got any way of reclaiming any spare cache that we have, “ he warns.

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