Storage management falters as disk costs drop

Falling storage costs is fuelling the data explosion, according to analysts. But as companies buy more disks, they risk overlooking the issue of managing storage.

Continued innovation in storage technology has resulted in a steady decline in the cost per gigabyte of data storage. Industry analyst IDC says disk storage prices have dropped from about $US0.26 a megabyte in 2000 to about $US0.16 in 2001, and forecasts the price will be well below $US0.05 this coming year.

Cheaper storage leads to companies storing larger quantities of data, which in turn fuels demand for more powerful storage systems, according to analysts and IT managers.

An IT manager for a manufacturing company, who asked to remain anonymous, agrees falling storage costs has impacted the amount of data he stores. "Why save on e-mail storage costs when you can add another 10 to 20GB for less than $1000?" he said.

"The reasoning may start to be 'all that storage, can't we use it for something else as well - thus clusters', or it may be that more powerful CPUs are needed to handle the data - thus JBOS (just a bunch of servers)."

The IT manager agreed with analyst observations that, with storage so cheap, IT managers tend to just buy more of it, rather than spend money on managing it. "Why manage it, when you can just add storage cheaply."

When talking storage, a term IT managers often bandy about is JBOD (just a bunch of disks). This mentality earmarks storage vendors as an add-on to the IT strategy, which means as storage grows, the JBOD approach is to buy more clusters. However, this approach overlooks effective management of storage.

Reefe Brighton, CIO, Aurora Energies, said his organisation had, to some extent, bought storage over management.

"The problem is that it just delays the inevitable. Rather than face the cultural changes that need to be made and attack the clean-up task, it is being swept under the carpet by throwing hardware at the problem," he said.

"The pressure to actually do something about it and to clean up is balanced by the financial cost of buying more space and letting the problem go away - for a while. Bottom line is we will use just as much disk space as we can afford," Brighton said.

Graham Penn, director of storage research, IDC Asia-Pacific, said the cost of storage management can be prohibitive.

"Most users respond to requests for storage capacity by buying more. Initially, this meant a Windows NT server with internal storage, but increasingly it means buying network attached storage (NAS) or SAN (storage area network). And at the same time there is the issue of reducing the amount of servers they have to manage. But the bigger cost is that of managing all the storage, which can be prohibitive in the medium term.

"The head count of skilled staff and budget limitations make managing storage difficult," said Penn. "You have to work smarter and introduce storage management software ? or build network storage infrastructure."

According to Penn, budget limitations have resulted in a short-term response to buy more low-cost direct attached storage (DAS) or NAS storage at the expense of deferred integration and management costs.

"You need to build a network storage infrastructure, but without management it won't work. You need both working together. The problem compounds given the downturn and the bigger budget pressures, but the need to store is not going to go away."

A skill shortage in storage management has also presented an obstacle to enterprises in managing their storage, said Penn. "There's not enough brain power to address this problem anywhere in the world. You need consulting services from a storage vendor, or a channel partner or somebody that understands and knows where you are today and where you need to be."

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