Charge back frustrations

I was speaking with an IT director of a large insurance agency last week about his environment. I asked him what was the biggest frustration regarding storage management and without a moment's hesitation, he replied, "Charge back!" He went on to explain that he grew up in the mainframe world where usage statistics were part of the operating environment. He complained that they are having an awful time trying to track, no less charge, their customers for the resources that are used on the open systems side of the data center.

At one point in our conversation, he relayed a story of how they were using hierarchical storage management (HSM) software to provide varying levels and cost structures for their storage. They were using a fairly crude technique for determining resource usage that ran, at the same time, every night. One of his customers realized how he was being charged and started a complete migration of their data off to tape a little while before this "utilization monitor" ran. Then, once the monitor ran, this guy would pull all his data back to disk, avoiding the charges associated with online storage, the most expensive resource. Not only did this frustrate the IT staff, it caused havoc with the infrastructure, flooding all possible storage and tape bandwidth.

This gentleman was on a mission. His mission was to tell everyone who would listen that, in the open systems world, usage monitoring and charge back capabilities, from a business perspective, must be part of every storage management solution.

I did a little research to find out which of the storage management vendors actually provide charge back capabilities and how they implement it. What I found was interesting.

Most of the newer entrants to the storage management market have provided charge back facilities as a bundled part of their solution. Companies such as InterSAN, StorageNetworks, Bocada, all provide utilization reporting as part of their offering.

Most will calculate a running average, per given time period, of the amount of storage used. They also allow customers to enter cost information, depending on the level of storage and service to calculate charges for that time period.

Many of the older/larger companies do not have utilization tracking and charge back as an integral part of their management infrastructure. Companies such as Veritas, BMC, Tivoli and Legato have either formed partnerships to provide this added capability or provide a partial solution within their environment. For example, Veritas has partnered with Apogee Networks to provide charge back and billing capabilities. Legato has a storage resource management system that provides limited charge back capabilities for on-line storage and doesn't include charge back for backup capacities.

The market has been pushing IT to become an added-value business asset to their companies. However, we're, just now, starting to give them the tools, specifically in the open systems space, to attain this stature.

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