Storage in the extreme — storage architectures for global giants

How you build and maintain your information repository is becoming increasingly important, especially if you operate on a global scale with operations in many countries and all time zones. What distinguishes organisations from one another is the information they have and how they use it. In the old business model, consolidating and managing data in a central data centre was extremely critical.

Today, that business model is being put to the test, as recent trends place huge demands on networks to deliver critical business information to distant locations. Key trends, including rapid globalisation, the e-business explosion, and the proliferation of large multimedia files, have led many large organisations to reconsider their underlying storage architecture so that they can better manage the demands. The real objective is to make appropriate information available to any user, anytime, any place.

Frequently, an effective model for global giants is to build a central data repository and then to optimally distribute, manage, and store data and content at the edges of the network, so information is available in the right places at the right time. Increasingly, attention is being paid to the potential benefits of network-based storage technologies. The appeal of these technologies stems from their promise of on-demand/modular scalability, high availability, rapid data access, data and/or capacity sharing across heterogeneous environments, advanced backup and restoration, improved, consolidated storage management solutions, and reduced total cost of ownership. In some cases, customers are led to believe that the promise of a technology or architecture equates to a solution. Unfortunately, this is often, not the case. The entire solution consists of architecture, infrastructure components, management software, and data protection capabilities.

Networked storage solutions are becoming ubiquitous

Many examples are now available of global organisations that have deployed network-based storage infrastructure. These include financial banks and other institutions, transport organisations, telephone companies and global resource developers, among others. The storage resource has been designed and built as a core piece of the business strategy. It typically comprises storage devices providing hundreds of terabytes of storage capacity linked by IP and fibre channel networks.

Galileo International’s huge investment in storage is a case in point. The company has well over 100 terabytes of storage capacity attached to its mainframes and open system platforms and links 43,000 travel agents in more than 100 countries. Its information systems are the basis of its business. It provides travel information and processes travel reservations. All of its plans for revenue-generating offerings are tied to its storage resource.

Key considerations

The key questions in designing and building an appropriate storage architecture relate to the business objectives and what the enterprise is trying to achieve. Typically, for a large and diverse global business, there are multiple, sometimes conflicting objectives. A listing of the objectives will include many items, such as these.

  • Improve scalability, handle heterogeneous devices at lower cost
  • Provide better capacity utilisation
  • Provide higher availability, enhanced security
  • Ensure zero data loss for transactional data
  • Better performance, faster throughput
  • Enable administrator productivity gains
  • Consolidate server and storage assets
  • Improve the approach for disaster recovery
  • Protect the investment
  • Enable the organisation to make better use of corporate information, to become a new revenue generating source

This is an impressive list, although not exhaustive. Moreover, how does one know which storage solution, or combination of solutions, including management, best fits the business needs? Frequently, the CIO faces a major dilemma. He has to balance the need for business flexibility and responsiveness with demands for improved service levels as well as striving to lower IT costs through increasing efficiencies and asset utilisation. There is no single architecture, topology or approach that applies to everyone. Increasingly, providing access to information servicing the needs of global suppliers or customers anywhere in the world is essential for a global giant.

Inevitably, the requirement for global organisations will grow over time. The long-term implications are an important consideration. Necessarily, the solution will focus on managing the many storage devices attached to the network anywhere in the world, on managing the organisation’s data and on enabling access to this information from authorised users inside the organisation, and from outside of the organisation.

Existing devices need to be included in the solution

In any large and complex environment, there will already be a lot of servers and storage devices. Mostly they will have been purchased from many vendors, a real mish mash of technology. Typically, these need to be included in the global storage architecture, integrating them within the storage solution. Network storage architectures and suitable storage management software can provide realistic answers to the question. Network accessible storage can enable the global organisation to build a storage resource that provides competitive advantage, directly and indirectly to reduce people costs, to gain increased business from existing customers.

Today, most SANs use a fibre channel network rather than an IP-based network. Fibre channel is used for storage because, when it was introduced, its performance was faster than Ethernet performance and the fibre channel protocol was designed specifically to streamline the storage delivery process, and eliminate unpredictable bottlenecks inherent when data is transmitted over an IP-based network. iSCSI will be an option in the future, most likely for use in departmental or remote sites of global businesses. As support for iSCSI grows, businesses of all sizes can benefit from consolidated, managed storage in departments or workgroups, by using the pre-existing IP infrastructure.

As network storage architectures have evolved and organisations have gained confidence in them, early SAN islands that were individually managed, had stranded capacity and lacked dynamic data migration have been re-assessed. The SAN islands have been linked to provide a consistent, more easily managed resource. Today, global organisations can take full advantage of new-generation storage hardware, connectivity and software that provide a common leverage point for their global business activities.

Using the storage resource

Gaining a competitive edge in today’s information-driven economy requires properly managing your company’s data. Clearly, businesses of all types are grappling with phenomenal data growth and are focused on deploying the right storage solution. Choosing that solution, however, requires careful consideration of the storage architecture that best addresses the relevant business problems experienced by your company.

These global organisations have invested time and energy to analyse the business requirements connected with applications and the associated storage infrastructure. The analysis has provided organisations with a high-level view of their requirements for the management of the data, the accessibility of the data, and the management of the storage devices, in short, the requirements for the storage solution. It will also provide business justification for the purchase of the chosen solution. Over the next five years, storage solutions for global enterprises will take advantage of the increasing abilities of storage management software so that they can focus on higher-level business values, beyond simply managing the devices and the data contained on the devices. w

Graham Penn is director, storage research, IDC Asia-Pacific

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