Users seek to tie storage, business strategy

Users at Storage Networking World in Phoenix say they want storage technology that can be sold to C-level executives as part of a business strategy, rather than the products they use now that are often complicated to run and fall short on efficiency and interoperability.

"We can't have storage tools that are disconnected from the tools we use to manage our applications," Doug Busch, CIO at Intel, said during his keynote speech.

Busch rattled off a list of issues that he and other IT leaders are facing as a result of the lack of a comprehensive management framework that can offer a view into the logical and physical topology of business and storage systems.

How to charge departments for storage use and determining which Intel division should pay for incremental upgrades and new storage purchases are among the top issues facing Intel's IT shop, Busch said. Storage-capacity needs for scientific computing alone have grown 74 percent a year for the past seven years, and e-business-related storage needs have grown 100 percent per year over the past three years, he said.

Busch also said software drivers at the component level need more standardization, because when something does fail, "there's finger-pointing between component vendors, and nobody is willing to take responsibility for the problem and winds up handing it back to the end user."

That sentiment was echoed by other IT managers at the conference.

Storage resource management tools -- including functions such as notifying sysadmins when an application server has used 80 percent of its storage capacity, automatically provisioning storage for a database or increasing volumes on storage arrays -- are still sorely lacking, said Dennis Martin, an analyst at The Evaluator Group in Colorado.

"This is where the battleground is today," Martin said. "What if a port goes out on a switch? I want to know what business processes that's impacting."

Users also said they see information life-cycle management -- managing data from creation to deletion via policies and at different levels of storage -- as an important strategy that could allow companies to better optimize resources.

Today, however, ILM is just another buzzword, Martin said. "Vendors need to bring their 20 products down to one," he said.

Before buying into a vendor's ILM or storage management framework, IT managers should find out how the products work with business applications now and how they will do so in the future, Martin said. It's also important to know how vendors will integrate their products with storage management tools such as replication and migration applications, and how they'll eventually tie into the management of business applications.

Laurence Whittaker, supervisor of enterprise storage management at Hudson's Bay in Toronto, said his greatest issues revolve around the justification of spending on storage management tools and a lack of integration with back-end systems such as hierarchal storage management applications.

"I've gone from believing vendors to having them show me what their product can do," said Andre Mendes, chief technology integration officer at PBS. "We also withhold payments and charge penalties for mishaps [in our systems]."

Mendes said he doesn't buy into the argument for ILM. He believes storage management tools have created enough of a layer of abstraction that most sysadmins can manage large amounts of storage easily and without complete automation.

Lynn Neal, a senior systems integrator for Sprint's internal IT operations, said she wants to be able to mine data on her storage-area networks. Most of her storage software purchases remain tactical because storage management tools have yet to tie in with business applications.

Meanwhile, business executives at Sprint want the IT shop there to do more with the technology already on hand. "They don't want us to buy any more equipment. They want us to increase utilization," Neal said.

But she said her shop hasn't had much success getting internal end users to buy into data-retention policies that would require fewer copies of identical data and move nonessential data to less expensive storage media, such as midrange storage, ATA disk arrays and tape libraries.

Some users at Sprint, Neal said, have up to five copies of databases when a single copy would do.

"And by the way, the second and third copy of that database doesn't need to sit on our most expensive storage," she said.

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