Networked storage

Morphing from workaday drudge to the belle of the ball, storage is the Cinderella of IT. Its traditional, and often ancillary, role as a safe and reliable repository for data hasn't changed, but the amount and variety of information that companies manage have increased dramatically. There's no relief in sight to this data glut, which was kick-started by companies that moved their businesses to the Internet and embraced multimedia formats, such as graphics and movies.

Networked storage promises both unrestricted capacity and a flexible architecture to better manage varying business requirements. But its complex implementation poses new challenges for IT departments that must master unfamiliar, emerging technologies. Nevertheless, networked storage offers obvious advantages over DAS (direct attached storage), such as hard disk drives or RAID arrays.

Even more tantalizing is the unprecedented freedom a storage network gives to run business-protecting tasks, such as data backups and volume replications, with little or no involvement from an application server. This independence translates into storage managed as a resource in its own right rather than as an extension of servers and applications.

In March 2002, InfoWorld polled 500 readers to gain insight into storage trends and troubles and to discover the challenges IT leaders are facing and how they plan to counter them. (The margin of error for this study is plus or minus 4 percent.) Considering the deluge of data IT leaders are frantically trying to manage, it's little surprise that 73 percent of respondents consider data-storage needs a high or business-critical priority.

Survey respondents report a staggering combined total of 21,500TB of data: 45 percent of those terabytes are allocated to host databases; 21 percent are dedicated to user files; 15 percent are used for e-mail messages and attachments; 6 percent go to Web content; and other application data use the remaining 13 percent.

Clearly, storage is one of IT's costliest, most pressing problems. The usual approach to deploying and managing storage devices has become impractical and, in most cases, unsustainable. Simply piling more capacity on top of the old is no longer the answer -- different types of data require different storage methods tailored to the unique business requirements of each company. Networked storage is invariably part of the solution.

The InfoWorld Networked Storage survey reveals that a majority of readers have already implemented or are considering a networked storage solution and have adopted multiple storage protocols. In fact, 55 percent of respondents have deployed a file-based NAS (network attached storage) solution, whereas 25 percent have deployed the block-oriented SAN. To this multiple-answer question, 52 percent of readers also report that they continue to use DAS. IT leaders are nevertheless turning their backs on the suffocating DAS environment, drawn to networked storage by its promise of addressing multiple problems with one solution.

The first step is to match data requirements to storage solutions, which requires an accurate assessment of the data and an open-minded understanding of its business relevance. The storage market now offers an unprecedented set of tools and novel technologies that can tame the stickiest problems. For example, although SCSI remains the dominant interface for storage devices, complementary transport protocols such as iSCSI (Internet SCSI) are challenging the well-established but budget-unfriendly FC (Fibre Channel) to allocate storage devices as convenient on the network. Although 83 percent of survey respondents are sticking with SCSI, 33 percent are deploying FC and 26 percent have already adopted iSCSI (multiple answers were allowed).

The promise is great, but networked storage isn't cheap. How much you spend on networked storage is determined by the extent of your storage problems and your budget capacity.

For many IT leaders, this is uncharted territory. When asked how much they will spend during the next 12 months on storage hardware, software, and services, 40 percent of our survey respondents did not know. But adding up the dollar predictions for the remaining 300 companies in our sample reveals a staggering forecast of $2.4 billion.

The next year will mark a significant shift in which IT managers start taking a proactive approach to storage management. Furthermore, the aggregate expenditure on storage solutions could very well generate the much-needed boost to the economy. Saving the economy while solving the Gordian knot of storage management sounds good.

Keys to success

-- Keep an open mind.

-- Involve your managers.

-- Stay realistic.

-- Get your vendors to commit to your success.

-- Plan for the long term, but act in the short term.

How to win at the storage game

Forget the rock 'n' roll booths with the glamour girls. The most interesting part of attending a trade show, such as the recent Storage Networking World in Palm Desert, Calif., is listening to users' tales. Many users with wildly different backgrounds and technical requirements described how and why they moved to a new storage solution -- whatever their situation, the successful users shared several attributes.

The first and most important was an open mind. These IT managers did not have a pre-conceived objective to stick to: "Give me SAN or give me death!" Rather, they analyzed the major problems at hand then started exploring technical solutions.

Second, senior management was involved in each of their storage migrations. Interestingly, 26 percent of the readers polled in the InfoWorld Networked Storage Survey indicate that storage backup has recently become more important to their managers, a clear sign of a radical change of attitude. Adjusting a backup strategy can be astronomically expensive, and to grant funding, senior managers must understand the benefits of your storage project. More important, they have to understand the cost of inaction -- when it comes to storage, doing nothing can become more expensive than deploying a new solution.

Third, each of the IT leaders we talked to was realistic. Unfailingly, they confessed that their solutions were probably not the best possible choice in the abstract, but what was best for their company's objectives. Survey respondents seem to share that attitude: The majority emphasized efficiency, leveraging existing resources and controlling costs.

It takes years to develop a relationship with a vendor, and the best time to harvest the fruit of that rapport is when engaging in a challenging new endeavor. In fact, each successful IT manager leveraged the vendor's knowledge to assist with their project, saving significant consulting fees and, possibly more important, attaining a commitment from a major vendor to the success of their project.

They also all advise others in their shoes to think long term, but act short term. They proudly narrated the details of their latest major achievement, which made them each ready to face the next step of their migrations. When you get started, remember that replacing the technology behind your storage infrastructure can easily take years to complete. Failing to appreciate that simple fact can set you up for disaster.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Networked storage

Executive Summary: An enterprise storage solution tailored to a company's requirements can make the stored data more resilient to damage, more resistant to tampering, and more responsive to varying business requirements.

Test Center Perspective: CTOs should thoroughly assess their company's information demand and then implement storage technologies that harmonize with business objectives and budget constraints.

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