Data storage: A changing environment

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Data storage is a hot topic. Coupled with legislative, compliance and corporate governance issues, storage needs the careful attention of business owners and IT specialists alike.

Experts say that data storage should be viewed from all angles, not just to find answers in hardware, software and technology, but also to find a solution in the management of data, if users want to be successful.

Paul Mullon, divisional director of marketing at Metrofile, says that before companies look at how they are going to handle their archiving and storage environments, they first need to develop a corporate storage policy.

"The simple rule of thumb is to do an analysis of your environment to establish what you want and what you need. You need to define what type of information you have and what the value of that information is for your business," he adds.

Most in the industry agree with Mullon, and say it's important from the start to establish what information is most critical to business because that will determine storage and retrieval requirements, which directly impact on costs.

Mullon says a third of companies' information can be destroyed because it is either duplicated information or "non-documents" -- documents that are not needed. "The other third of information is the information that is needed often and on a daily basis to run the business. The final third of information is that which might be needed once in a lifetime, and needs to be stored as cheaply as possible."

Many companies are starting to look into the option of virtual computing, which will also have an impact on their storage environments. But most are not yet sure if they will receive any benefit from it.

Martin Blignaut, IBM Software Group's storage and systems automation manager, says that due to the growth in data volumes, the good thing about virtualization for storage is that it places all the disciplines of the mainframe environment into the open system environment for better management purposes.

"An open system is extremely undisciplined in terms of storage. Bringing the mainframe disk into this environment means it can be carefully managed with policies on all information. This will assist organizations to understand what information is mission-critical, and should be stored on high-speed disk, and what information is of lesser importance, and should be stored on cheaper disk, or even archived to tape," he adds.

Companies should, however, look at implementing virtualization technologies from a phased approach, says Blignaut, and should not try and do it all at once.

"It is all about simplifying the environment, and taking away the complexities to make our lives easier. Consolidation is one way - whereby a lot of small devices are taken away, and consolidated into fewer big devices, or through virtualization, where you logically simplify whatever physical infrastructure you have installed. This gives customers the choice to use multiple vendor products and allow for more flexibility," he says.

Fanie van Rensburg, managing director of Shoden Data Systems, says virtualization has become a reality. "You have a virtual 'pool' of tiered storage that can manage disparate hardware environments from a single point. It is flexible and not complex, and can reduce the total cost of managing your storage space."

Cindy Rossouw, storage product manager at Comztek, says: "Virtualization is still new to the market and most organizations do not understand it, and have not seen the benefits." She says it will take a while for companies to invest in virtualization, but says that it is the responsibility of vendors to show customers what virtualization can do for a business.

Virtualization and tiered storage

There are basically three tiers of storage. The first handles data that is mission-critical and is used regularly and on a daily basis. This tier requires fast backup and recovery times and the most expensive hardware, such as SATA or SCSI disk arrays.

The second tier deals with data that doesn't need to be accessed that often and is not mission-critical. This data, however, still needs to be stored on disk, such as slower, less expensive ATA disk arrays, since recovery time still plays a role here.

The third tier relates to data that needs to be archived, and will, most probably, only be retrieved in cases of extreme emergencies, for purposes such as proof in legal disputes.

There is a consensus within the industry that storage hardware has become cheaper, but that the growth in data and information is driving up costs because of the need to manage the huge volumes of data that companies deal with. Van Rensburg says that, to keep a curb on storage costs, it is imperative to allocate storage space to the appropriate tier.

This ties in with the notion of information lifecycle management (ILM), a process in which companies analyze their data, to determine how critical it is and then allocate it to either fast and more expensive SATA disk, slower, less expensive ATA disk, or to magnetic tape.

"Virtualization gives you the ability to increase utilization of your storage resources by moving data automatically between less-used and over-used resources, and better allocate storage resources to where it is needed most," Van Rensburg says.

For instance, when sub-system A is 90% full and sub-system B is only 10% full, a balance can be struck between the space being used on both. If one system has a problem, information can be virtually transferred from a single console to the other subsystem, in real time, while the other is repaired and no downtime is experienced. This can also be automated through predefined policies, which can free up physical resources.

Virtual tape solutions, say Gartner analysts, now offer a way to introduce disk backup without disrupting the established backup processes. Deon Roos, principal sales consultant at Oracle SA, says that grid computing will also alleviate storage complexities.

Frank Touwen, CEO of EMC SA, says the storage market is changing. "The market is moving away from people just buying raw storage. More automation is what customers want."

Is tape dead?

Not for the moment, and not for quite some time still. Most industry players believe tape will still be used for archiving purposes because it is cheap and reliable.

There are, however, a few who believe that tape is near the end, and that it will soon be replaced by slow, less expensive disk as the cost of disk is driven down.

"Tape is not dead, but we have seen customers move data back to disk from tapes, due to the decrease in price of ATA disk drives," Touwen says.

Storage management software

According to a Gartner forecast report on worldwide storage management software published in May, new license revenue for the storage management software market will reach $9.4 billion in 2009, for a compound annual growth rate of 10,9% from 2004 through 2009.

The research organization also notes that hierarchical storage management (HSM) and archiving will be the fastest-growing segment, driven by the need to take advantage of lower-priced storage options as data ages, and to respond to data retention requirements, while better managing total cost of ownership and improving recovery.

Analysts say that, as the amount of data grows, removing old data from active data stores will improve application performance, and reduce the time to backup and recover. Formalized archiving, they say, is a better approach to long-term storage of information than using only a backup of the files.

Retention requirements for backup copies will shorten as the use of HSM and archiving becomes more pervasive. E-mail archiving will drive the growth now and through 2007, Gartner predicts.

Storage resource management (SRM), according to Gartner, is expected to record fast growth as businesses look to better manage storage capacity use, and begin to automate some of the management functions.

For some companies, the need to manage IT as a utility with service-level agreements between IT and the business units is also driving new requirements and increased interest in SRM.

Legislation

As the global village gets bigger, and companies across the world increase their dealings with each other, the impact of global legislation and corporate governance issues will affect them. This extends to the storage environment as well.

Companies need to take notice of various laws and regulations, such as the Sarbanes Oxley Act (SOX), Basel II, the King report, Financial Intelligence Centre Act (FICA), as well as legislation, such as the ECT and Companies Acts. Not complying with these regulations in terms of storage can land you in very hot water.

According to Gartner, compliance requirements are driving archiving and data protection growth. It says that vendors will try to ride the wave of compliance by claiming that their products are compliance solutions.

The need to better incorporate electronic records into a total records management solution, notes Gartner, will offer real opportunity for storage vendors, but customers must look beyond the hype to determine exactly how a specific storage product will fit into their process.

Analysts predict that storage vendors will play a significant part in providing some of the tools needed to do ILM, but understanding the content will be a key component that will take more than just storage tools.

Legally binding

Van Rensburg says that, in terms of legislation, the most common area of concern is e-mail archiving. E-mails are legally seen as binding business documentation, and, according to various laws, such as the ECT Act, should be kept for at least five years.

Legislation is changing the way in which organizations manage their data. These regulations specify what data must be retained, whether it can be changed, and for how long it must be retained.

Organizations, if only for compliance reasons, need to take a second look at the way they store data and information. This brings us again to ILM.

Although the concept of ILM has been around for almost two years, it has only recently created a new buzz within the storage arena. It is believed to be the answer to increased functionality of data storage environments with added cost benefits.

Vic Brits, StorageWork divisional manager at Hewlett Packard SA, says ILM is like information feng shui -- looking at what information is needed where, so as to allow businesses to extract the most benefit from it. In terms of monetary values, Brits says that the cost savings with ILM lie with the placing of data in different storage tiers -- taking the cost of storage hardware and available storage space into account.

According to Roos, businesses need to understand how their data evolves, determine how it grows, monitor how its usage changes over time, and decide how long it should survive, while adhering to all the rules and regulations that now apply to that data.

He says ILM is designed to address these issues, with a combination of processes, policies, software and hardware so that the appropriate technology can be used for each phase of the lifecycle of the data.

Torsten Herkel, global manager for Storage Consulting Services at HP, believes that ILM is more than just hardware, software and technology.

"One also cannot just throw disks at the problem or try to provide complete solutions on your own. ILM is about services. It is about key business processes and the intelligent management of billions of records throughout their life. And this can all only be done through partnerships with other vendors. While putting data away is one thing, getting it back is key, and this is all about encouraging enterprisewide archiving policies," he says.

Automate migration

Gartner believes that ILM is beginning to drive a new focus on content. It says that companies are looking for SRM tools not only to better understand their storage use but also to help them automate the migration of files. Data life-cycle management, the part of ILM in which storage vendors can offer the most value, provides new life for old products, according to Gartner. It believes that there is real value here, as businesses look to take advantage of tiered storage architecture to lower the cost of storing more data.

In the future, Gartner says, better metadata tools will help companies to be more selective in the retention and security around data based in the value of the content.

The importance of data storage is still obvious, but the way companies are looking at their storage environments are certainly changing. Be it legislation that is dictating the evolution, or a need to reduce costs and optimize the management of data, there is still a way to go before data storage will be looked at without concern.

Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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