Storage isn't the most exciting function of the IT department, but it is one of the most critical.
"I don't think once you get out of the IT structure that anybody has a clue how critical storage is [to the business]," says Forrester Research Inc. Principal Analyst Bob Zimmerman.
Analysts and CIOs agree that one of the major hurdles in storage management is deciding how to put the right data on the right type of storage at the right time, a concept often referred to as "tiering."
In other words, which information is so critical that it needs to be on your most accessible systems? And how do you value the depreciation of data? By determining where your most important data should be stored, companies can improve data analysis by speeding access to it.
"At the end of the day, data is the lifeblood of the business," says META's Schafer. "The question isn't, do I have the data I require? It's, can I get it, assemble it, and manipulate it so my executives can make some timely decisions? All that depends on effective storage management."
To figure out how best to tier your data, sit down with your business managers and assess the type of data you have, how often it is accessed and how long it needs to be kept.
Bob Massengill, manager of technical services at the Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina, says he didn't do an assessment when he began rolling out his storage strategy in 2000 because there weren't as many options as there are today, and he regrets it.
"We went into this so fast that we probably did not review our data like we should have," he says.
HIPAA requires the medical center to keep all its patient records for at least seven years, and longer if the patient is a minora newborn's records, for example, must be stored for 25 years. "There's a lot of data that will probably never be used again, but we're required to keep it, and it's all on high-priced storage. With ILM, we can reduce that cost." Massengill is working to develop a more formal ILM strategy within the next eight to ten months.
SRM software can look into your systems and report not only what hardware you have, but what kind of data is on them, how often those files are accessed and how much capacity is left on the system. Analysts say customers are often surprised by the results.
SRM software traditionally assessed your systems and generated reports, but newer tools can take action on their discoveries, actually moving data from high-tier storage to low, depending on the policies you set.
Centralized storage management also reduces the time it takes to backup your company's systems.
Massengill, for example, says the medical center's departmentsmore than 380 of themused to be responsible for their own backups.
"It seemed like every other day we'd get a call about a backup that hadn't been performed and a file that had been lost."
A rollout of StorageTek's Silo and Virtual Storage Machine allowed the medical center to begin centralizing the process and shortened backup times by three hours simply by enabling the staff to do the backup from one location. It also eliminated the need for some part-time staffers as well as an estimated $150,000 mainframe upgrade.
Hunt, of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, adds that by doing incremental backups through its IBM Tivoli software, his organization has saved $50,000 a year in tape media alone. The center now backs up only the data that changes from day to day rather than the entire server every day.
And don't forget to educate employees about how they should store their data.
Duplicate files are a major source of data-center pain, says Schafer. "In most Fortune 2,000 companies, any important bit of data is eventually replicated 15 times. That's huge. And it's only going to get worse when you talk about what's coming down the road with all the unstructured data out there."
Schafer adds that encouraging employees to be more responsible about the number of files they duplicate can create a 30 percent improvement in storage costs.
The Canadian Museum of Civilization Corp., which manages the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the Canadian War Museum as well as a virtual museum on the Web, is in the process of digitizing its archive of almost 4 million artifacts. Chief Information Technology Officer Gordon Butler says one of the biggest challenges to his storage management initiative was getting his company's 400 employees to overcome the perception that storage is free. To do that, the museum, which outsources nearly all of its IT functions to Computer Associates International Inc., offers training sessions and also caps certain servers and networks, encouraging employees to save files to the central storage network.
But the true business goal is to turn storage into a product that is bought and sold within the enterprise. By pooling all the storage disks and networks, the IT department can begin holding business units accountable for the capacity they use.
Making storage a part of each department's budget creates an incentive to keep costs down in the data center. "Folks always want the fastest storage and the quickest recovery, but that always comes at a higher price," says Carolyn DiCenzo, a vice president with Gartner Research. "If a department wants everything online and recoverable, it will cost them X. But if they're willing to archive old data and put older data on lower cost storage, the IT shop can do it for a lower price. So storage as a service allows companies to better manage their storage from a price performance perspective." Of course, IT departments need to be careful not to design storage restrictions so rigidly that it hampers the ability of business units to store and share data effectively. Roughly 40 percent of large-cap companies have already put such plans into place, she adds.
Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America, a subsidiary of Munich-based Allianz Group, partnered with consulting company Glasshouse to overhaul its storage infrastructure. Now, storage is offered as a service for four lines of business, says David Kaercher, vice president of core services for Allianz Life. The IT department passes its costs directly to the business, and storage investments and expenses are shared by its customers based on their volume and utilization. This allows both the IT department and the business units to better track resources and expenses.