Time to take a step back and breathe

Most IT storage environments are like Topsy in "Uncle Tom's Cabin." When asked when she was born, Topsy answered "I s'pect I just growed. Don't think nobody never made me." If you work for a midsize to large IT shop, it's a good bet that much of your storage "just growed" too.

Much of the out-of-control growth happened in the 1990s: mergers and multiple acquisitions were frequently the order of the day, while the breakneck speed of business acceleration, left little time to manage the expanding storage assets, which often included mainframes, open systems and Windows boxes.

As a correspondent wrote me last week, "we ... are challenged with building the strategies, standards and efficiencies that were neglected in the 1990s. My challenge is to take multiple platforms, each with their own support teams, their own storage subsystems, their own back-up/recovery methods and their own management processes; develop a current situation analysis, create and publish a storage strategy, and then build a technical roadmap for achieving the strategy..."

These days we have to manage data and systems in what is often a largely unplanned heterogeneous environment. However, only a few management tools can provide us with a centralized console from which to manage everything at once and the result is often a mishmash of redundant software and skill sets. In today's competitive environment it is hard to rationalize IT "business as usual" because we can no longer justify additional investment in what is an inherently sub-optimized approach to managing storage.

How can we implement efficiencies to replace inefficiencies? What should we look for as we spec out our requirements for the next purchasing round? How do we make sure that when the vendors come in the door they have a cure that maps well to out problem?

Navigating through the murk that often surrounds buying decisions can be something like navigating a boat: even when you have the best charts and instruments, it is always helpful to know where you are at present. Thus, step No. 1 always involves some level of benchmarking your current situation to determine where your greatest problems lie.

In order to accomplish this, we recommend a formal analysis of your current circumstances, one that can lead to a clear understanding of your present costs, processes and capabilities, and also gives you a vision of the service level demands during the next budgeting period. Anne and I suggest a formalized approach because it is pretty clear that if you want to gain the greatest efficiency from a purchase of management software, you had better make sure you buy something that addresses your greatest inefficiencies. These, after all represent the low-hanging fruit where the benefits will accrue most easily.

This process is presented in some detail in our new book, "Storage Solutions: A Buyer's Guide." But what if you don't have time to go through the whole process? Then do as much as you can. This will have a number of advantages, not the least of which is that it will form the basis for a more advanced process the next time you go through all of this. If you can't do it all, at least do enough to make it unlikely you'll be one of those managers at the back of the bar bemoaning the fact that "there's always time to fix it, but never time to do it properly."

Remember, Fujitsu, IBM, TeraCloud and others all offer management tools to help you control multivendor environments, but the one that is going to work best for you is likely to be the solution that most closely addresses the needs defined through your own internal research.

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