Put the Bite on Space Hogs

FRAMINGHAM (03/27/2000) - The growing volume of data in your network is clogging your servers and forcing your staff to spend more time managing network storage. And unless you get a handle on the situation, it will only get worse.

Strategic Research Corp., a consultancy in Santa Barbara, California, estimates that total storage capacity per user company is growing by 44 percent per year.

By 2003, a typical network administrator could be managing about 200G bytes of network storage, in addition to overseeing the workstations that produce the data.

John Webster, storage analyst at Illuminata in Nashua, New Hampshire, says the cost of managing a megabyte of data can be five to 10 times the cost of the hardware on which the data resides. But you can get control over this flood of e-mail attachments, PowerPoint slides and streaming Web downloads through a strong data storage policy backed up by storage resource management (SRM) tools.

To date, corporate America hasn't widely used company storage policies, but that may be changing. Farid Neema, a storage consultant with Peripheral Concepts in Santa Barbara, says, "Companies now realize that employees abuse storage space if no one is paying attention to it. Using SRM tools, systems administrators can set space limits and unobtrusively monitor at what rate that space is being used; who is using it and how much are they using; who has taken noncompany liberties with their space; and what strategies to take to get it under control."

Storage policies are more common on college campuses. For example, at Boston University's School of Medicine, about 160 students each get 40M bytes of network storage space. Network administrator Tony Abruzzese uses Astrum Software's StorCast to keep track of how much of that space allotment each student uses. As students get close to their limits on the Windows NT servers, StorCast automatically alerts Abruzzese and the student.

"StorCast keeps students on their toes. It makes them aware of what they are putting on the server. I don't want to delete something that's more important than I realize," he says. In fact, he bought a CD-ROM burner so students can archive high-resolution images that need to be included in a thesis. Abruzzese has found that about two-thirds of the students typically comply with the policy. "Most students are good about removing documents. They know that if the server gets overloaded, it will crash."

Houghton Mifflin, an independent textbook publisher in Boston, recently implemented a storage policy as part of a companywide push to cut costs. Chief Technology Officer Mark Mooney says storage requirements were doubling every year to the point at which 10 percent of the entire IT budget was dedicated to storage. "We didn't have a systematic way to budget for storage because we didn't know what was fueling this growth," he says.

Meanwhile, several Lotus Notes servers had reached 95 percent capacity and were in danger of crashing. Employees complained of slow e-mail, and Notes database searches had slowed to a crawl. Mooney organized a central group of IT administrators to look at storage trends on all Sun and IBM servers, using Hewlett-Packard's OpenView and BMC's Resolve SpaceView as tools. The IT team found that employees in the educational book division were archiving entire book chapters to Notes mail servers, not the server set up for archiving.

Mooney decided on a policy that forced editors to stop that practice, but when editors got wind of the change, they complained that the new policy would make their jobs more difficult.

With support from the CEO, Mooney organized a steering committee made up of business managers from each division. "We sent all employees an all-hands memo signed by the CEO," he says. Each department also had meetings to discuss the memo. The IT department, with assistance from business managers, sent files to editorial groups throughout the company. End users had to delete the files or archive them on a desktop PC. The IT department also met individually with employees to look at their storage needs.

Houghton Mifflin's network storage policy, which became part of an overall corporate policy for computer and telephone use, allows employees to have 100M bytes of e-mail file space in Notes. If they exceed the space as tracked by Resolve SpaceView, the IT department sends them a message. Senior executives who exceed their space also get an e-mail message and a telephone call from the IT department. The policy also outlines a variety of other storage procedures, such as where to store images.

After putting the policy in place, Mooney says the Notes servers are down to between 70 percent and 80 percent of capacity. "We also stayed well within the margin for our budget as a result of not buying more servers," he says. Giving everyone the same initial allotment allows the IT department to see who gets close to the limit or who legitimately requires more space. To date, Mooney says that about 300 of the company's 2,500 employees have exceeded their space allotments.

"Most of these are financial people who work with spreadsheets, as well as a lot of executives," he says. Mooney adds that most employees have disciplined themselves to manage their space: "If employees require more space, then we have to look at why and accommodate their needs."

Based on his experience, Mooney recommends organizations solve their storage problems by managing how the space is used, rather than buying more disks.

"Disk drives may be inexpensive. However, throwing more disks at the storage growth problem can only drive up the time and cost of managing more data. You need to educate employees nicely about how to manage their storage," he adds.

Staples practices safe storage

Helen Flanagan, an NT systems administrator at the Staples corporate office in Framingham, Mass., says each IT group at her company assigns employees a space allotment on the server. She uses HighGround's Storage Resource Manager across 75 servers to examine storage space by attributes such as servers, directories, partitions and users.

Flanagan gets alerts from Storage Resource Manager when individuals exceed their space allotments or when certain types of files start piling up.

"Sometimes people will forget to delete log files or manuals," she says. "The alert is a good opportunity to talk with them about their storage."

Flanagan says she often gets caught in the middle of trying to take measures to reduce storage, and at the same time, to help accommodate individuals who require more space. "Some people are so busy they don't have time to remove files," she says. "Others get themselves wrapped up with what's needed and not needed. For example, the legal department has certain ideas of what it should keep on the server."

Flanagan says a corporatewide allotment for storage space seems suited to an environment in which a lot of users are doing one specific function. But for a growing environment, she says you need to identify and talk with individuals about their storage needs. "Perhaps someone has a different requirement than you initially considered," she says. "You have to be able to accommodate any future storage needs they might have. These things are key."

Even corporate storage policies and IT storage allotments can't stop some employees from becoming space hogs or server squatters. John Moeller, an NT administrator at Afga/Bayer in Charleston, S.C., says a server crashed when an employee decided to back up an entire desktop database to the server. "When I came back from lunch, the server was down because someone had taken up 100M bytes of space."

Moeller uses Astrum's StorCast to make sure employees stay within their 40M-byte allotments. When they hit 20M bytes, StorCast automatically sends them a message about the space filling up and the need to remove files. StorCast will continue to send notices. Upon reaching the 40M-byte limit, the employee won't be able to store any additional files on the disk. The employee has to free up some space or call the IT department. Although this might sound like a drastic measure, Moeller says, "You can store a lot of spreadsheets and never get beyond 20M bytes. If you start downloading games, then you'll quickly fill up your space."

Moeller says the most common space abuses on his five NT servers have included games and streaming attachments via e-mail. Games don't belong in the workplace, he adds, and he makes sure employees delete them: "Employees have to realize corporate use determines how disk space is to be shared."

Policing for the future

Corporate storage policies, such as those at Houghton Mifflin and Staples, offer a very granular, first step toward preserving network storage space for company use and developing procedures for employees to use this space. What else is needed to keep an organization's choice network-storage real estate looking like a well-groomed golf course?

A storage policy should include who owns what and how long to keep it; instructions on where you should move old files; when to back them up; and how to handle backups for remote employees' laptops. And SRM tools provide the means for enforcing those policies.

Ferrarini is a Boston freelance writer and author of two computer books. She can be reached at iswive@aol.com.

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