StorageVision: Organisations look for storage solutions

Technology's ongoing advances produce severe headaches for organisations, particularly those organisations that are forced to operate on a virtual shoestring, yet try to keep their operations up to date. Although a single piece of new hardware or software can have an impact on the organisation, frustration rises to the surface when a significant transition or complex new project is under way.

During the past several years, in which we have seen constant advancement in technologies, a lack of up-to-date information and technology guidelines or roadmaps, and even the lack of skilled or experienced internal IT staff, have added to the IT manager's frustration and dissatisfaction.

This dissatisfaction is not limited to a single IT element but often extends across hardware, software and services. It becomes far worse when there are also integration issues impacting existing business systems and processes. It is not surprising, therefore, that organisations have come to demand a simpler, more efficient way of purchasing the benefits of IT without the time-consuming headaches.

Essentially, organisations need their suppliers to deliver information technology to them as a single 'IT solution', not as an 'IT component'. This solution needs to encompass a set of hardware, software and services that operate together seamlessly and transparently to solve the business objective. This requirement collectively is increasingly pushing many IT suppliers, consultants and systems integrators to work together to offer customers a complete and often tailored business solution.

From this solutions perspective, storage can also be seen as another addition to a long line of offerings generally accepted as IT solutions, such as managing enterprise resource, customer relationship and supply chain systems. Storage solutions encompass all elements of hardware, software, services, networking equipment and telecommunications services. These represent one of the fastest growing solution markets in Australia. Although they first emerged as an effective solution to increasing capacity requirements in larger organisations, storage solutions, including SAN and NAS, are rapidly developing into a mainstream offering, satisfying the needs of businesses of all sizes.

Several years ago a fundamental shift began to occur in the way network managers viewed their enterprise network architectures and their corporate data centre strategies. Aside from the growing requirement for management and storage of enterprise information and knowledge, the increasing use of the Internet and even mobile devices continues to place significant emphasis on the criticality of storage systems, the repositories of core information so vital to many of today's business applications and processes.

Today, enterprise storage technologies continue on a path of considerable evolution, largely as a result of the expanding demands to access greater amounts of data at faster rates. The growing requirements for storage capacity and retrieval capabilities are not expected to wane in Australia, or anywhere else in the world. Recent research by IDC in Australia highlights the large and increasing gap between a typical organisation's desires and its in-house capabilities to enunciate and implement a cohesive storage strategy.

Apart from the usual concern about pricing, respondents to the survey were very clear that they expected their supplier to be able to provide suitable support before, during and after the introduction of a network storage solution. This requirement is likely to go far beyond basic capacity requirements or networking infrastructure. Organisations look to storage solution providers to understand their particular storage needs having regard to their applications, current and future data types and long-term storage requirements. Issues or requirements that need to be addressed include an increasing mixture of access devices, the diverse range of users seeking access to the data, the composition of data formats and the means for delivery of this information, and asset management considerations. All this needs to be accomplished within tight budgets and minimising the impact on operational costs.

The demand for storage solutions applies to most industry sectors. Although there are important differences between industries, in particular where different applications will have specific requirements and characteristics, the overall growth of data is frequently similar. Growth rates across all industries are likely to show a CAGR 37 per cent to 49 per cent from 2001 to 2006.

Market growth is estimated to be greatest in the large company segment, with annual revenues exceeding $1 billion. For these organisations, comprehensive storage solutions provide an efficient and effective means to address increasing capacity and manageability requirements. They are well suited for the more complex computing environments such as heterogeneous systems, or where multiple solutions such as enterprise resource management or customer relationship management, OLTP or data warehousing, have differing access requirements. However, this does not, rule out the demand and applicability for storage solutions in smaller organisations. Many medium- or small-size organisations are also anticipated to be avid implementers of storage solutions. A well-designed and implemented solution will be readily scalable and suit the ongoing requirements as these organisations grow.

Steps to shape dynamic system to unique needsOne of the real problems facing IT managers in all organisations is that their particular environment and the organisation's requirements for the future are unique. In a sense, it is a pioneering effort; there is no existing roadmap or standard solution. Rather, we have a series of software and hardware building blocks, some of which are still not fully compatible.

This is compounded by the rapid change in technology and the impact within the organisation of existing or long-standing practices and policies associated with the daily management of the storage resource. Policies, originally created to provide order and consistency, can become overly controlling and bureaucratic. Although people can adapt fairly quickly to the changing world, software and written procedures often do not.

The series of steps below provides a sequence by which the real needs of the organisation can be uncovered and addressed.

1. Do an analysis of the information requirements of the organisation, today and in the future. This should look at the issues from a business perspective and not from a technology perspective. It is important to work out what it is you are trying to do. For example, "we are moving our operations from a local to a national or global focus, and we need to revamp our storage resource to handle it" may well be a valid reason. This review really needs to look at the business, financial and operational impact on the storage resource.

2. Prepare a balanced scorecard or analysis of the existing storage environment. This will measure how the three aspects, data, devices and users, are being serviced and protected. It is important that the scorecard consider the information flows and not just the stored data. This will help to place the storage resource at the centre of the organisation's business universe.

To assist this process it is important to have some good metrics available relating to storage utilisation, capacity planning, change control, data life cycles, network throughput, and so on. This may well be an area where external advice and assistance is required as many organisations do not have this information to hand nor do they have the necessary skills available in-house.

3. Establish some goals. These may be very short-term, such as addressing an immediate problem, but should also consider the longer term. In this regard, learning from the experience of others can be invaluable. Although each organisation is unique, many of the goals and solutions to the storage problem will be common or have common elements.

4. Prepare a suitable plan. This plan should incorporate some milestones so that progress can be monitored and reviewed. The milestones will have a time element but should also relate to the metrics established in step 2. Ideally, the plan should be flexible enough to include unexpected changes to the organisation and its business objectives. It should also include some worst-case scenarios as major transitions rarely occur without some unexpected event or breakdown.

This plan should also include the software that will be used to manage each of the elements, the data, the devices and the users.

5. Make out the business case. The business case will address the benefits of the proposed solution. Typically, this will consider return on investment (ROI) but should also include the total cost of ownership (TCO), having regard to the initial acquisition cost and the ongoing operational costs. It is important to be able to identify not only the technical requirements of the solution but also where the ROI will come from and how long it will take to generate.

At the end of the day the answer will need to be in terms of business benefits, not technology.

6. Negotiate with storage vendors and/or your storage integrator or supplier supplier. Insist on a request-for-proposals (RFP) process to ensure that your supplier can meet your needs. This will include an acceptance by the supplier of your short-term and longer-term goals, not just supplying the technology. The acceptance should include each of the three dimensions discussed above, the impact on management of the data, the devices and the users.

7. Get sign-off from all interested parties. The active involvement and final commitment from all users, IS staff and suppliers that are involved with the project will be crucial if it is to meet its operational goals and the milestones which were established.

Once this task has been completed it is necessary to keep the whole process under continual review so that the needs of the ever-changing organisation can be anticipated and embraced. This is not an easy task when there are many day-to-day issues to be resolved, but is important for the long-term health of the organisation's critical IT infrastructure.

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