Stalking Storage ROI

Author/consultant says to try LAN-free backups and start gathering cost metrics.

Marc Farley is founder and president of Building Storage Inc., a consulting company in Saratoga, Calif., that specializes in storage issues. He's also the author of Building Storage Networks (McGraw-Hill, 2001, second edition). Freelancer Bob Violino recently spoke with Farley about trends in data storage.

Q: What cost-cutting strategies for storage would you recommend to IT organizations?

A: Probably one of the main ones is to get LAN-free backup running. Backup is a challenge for almost all companies, and day-to-day administration of it is very difficult. LAN-free backup is a fairly simple way of streamlining the data while ensuring backup. It allows you to centralize backup and consolidate media management. It's really where the cost saving comes from.
We're also starting to see more multiported disk subsystems. You can use those for storage for many different systems, and you should be able to get higher utilization. It goes hand in hand with storage virtualization. The main idea with virtualization is you can get higher utilization, and you can sometimes get the same functions in storage subsystems.

Marc Farley, founder and president of Building Storage Inc.
Marc Farley, founder and president of Building Storage Inc.

Q: Which low-cost storage solutions do you recommend?
There are a lot of low-margin systems out there. One is iSCSI [Internet Small Computer System Interface], although that is still not a reality yet. Overall, for a lot of people, NAS [network-attached storage] products still offer good bang for the buck. But I really feel you get what you pay for with NAS, and some of the more expensive products have better value in what you get back in manageability.
I'm not a huge proponent of cheaper storage products. They cost you a lot in the long run. Value-added products that cost more [upfront] tend to have integrated management capabilities that can save a lot of time when people understand how to use them.

How can organizations best measure the ROI they're achieving with storage systems?
You can't measure ROI unless you know what it is you're measuring against. You have to be able to put dollar figures [on current storage costs]. If you don't have your arms around costs, you will never be able to measure ROI. The important thing is to get metrics that you can gather and then actually gather them. You can't start to believe that just because you put in SANs [storage-area networks], you are going to get an ROI. For a lot of companies it's very hard to understand what the actual cost is of acquiring and managing storage. Most companies don't have employees who specialize in the storage part of the business. It's easier to total up the costs of some types of storage, NAS for example, than for others.

What are some of the biggest security and disaster recovery issues in the area of storage?
They're really two separate issues. With security, well, there is no security. Things like zoning and LUN [Logical Unit Number] masking provide a level of access control, but they are not security. Security is a big problem. For the most part, you can argue that it's harder to hack a Fibre Channel SAN than a TCP/IP network, but there has to be some security for it. There are some vendors working on this, but a lot needs to be done. This is a tough area, because storage for the most part has to be fast, and any security you impose is going to impact speed significantly. Trade-offs will have to be made. I think we're a long way from understanding security in storage networks.
With disaster recovery there are some key technologies such as snapshot [backup copies], mirroring and replicating. All of these are critical. In the future I think we will see backup and mirroring merged together. We have a long way to go to get to the metadata management that's needed to make that work. The problem we have today with disaster recovery and all these methods of protecting data is we don't have unified metadata: a system that provides a view of all the different data versions we have available.

What are the biggest headaches when it comes to storage?
Backup is a big headache. Also trying to get resource utilization pushed up and dealing with dynamic file system sizes. Even though total storage needs might not be changing, the needs of the different file systems in storage may change. Trying to make those adjustments is really hard. It's [often] an issue of scalability.
Violino is a freelance writer in Massapequa Park, N.Y.

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