Data explosion forcing users to seek mgmt. tools

IT executives and storage administrators facing an explosion of data continue to buy cheap disk space to deal with the problem – a stopgap solution that forces the hiring of additional staff and eventually costs too much to manage efficiently.

Any move to use storage resource management (SRM) tools as an alternative is premature, said IT leaders attending the Storage Networking World conference last week in Palm Desert, Calif.

The problem with software tools, they said, is that they are still lacking in industry standards, interoperability and security features.

“There’s an insatiable demand on IT departments to put data online,” said Michael Prince, vice president and CIO at Burlington Coat Factory Warehouse Corp., in Burlington, N.J. “We’ve embraced every bit of storage technology in terms of innovation we could over the past few years … yet the complexity and interoperability issues are huge things.”

During the next two years, however, many here believe intelligent RAID devices and software will allow IT departments to provide storage as an enterprise-wide utility that can be centrally pooled from many resources. They also predict that it will be set up using temporary capacity and performance parameters for business units that will in turn be charged according to usage.

“Right now, 90 per cent of storage is still direct-attached,” said Steve Duplessie, an analyst at Enterprise Storage Group in Milford, Mass. “We spent a lot of years spending money on IT like drunken sailors. We can’t do that any more. It’s just not reasonable to think we can still scale in the same order of magnitude.”

Karl Huff, vice president of mainframe systems at the Northern Trust Co. in Chicago, said his company has been trying to do more with less as data storage requirements exploded from 1TB of capacity in 1999 to more than 40TB in a storage-area network (SAN) today. That figure is expected to grow to 100TB by the first quarter of 2003.

“At that growth rate, if you don’t have management systems in place, you’re going to have trouble,” said Huff, whose administrators once kept track of applications and their use on spreadsheets — a process that became far too complicated over time.

“If a switch port goes out, I don’t know who to call,” said Huff, who is rolling out storage management software from Scotts Valley, Calif.-based InterSAN Inc.

During the past two years, Northern Trust has built a SAN that will be remotely mirrored to a secondary data centre some 87 miles outside of Chicago by year’s end. Currently, that infrastructure is managed from many different consoles.

The return on investment for purchasing a storage management tool, Huff said, lies in having a Web-based browser that can automatically discover the entire storage infrastructure from one administrator’s desktop, where it can be centrally managed, “without the [IT] help desk getting involved.”

Other IT executives at the conference said it’s simply cheaper to buy extra disk storage than to spend money on software to manage what a company already has more efficiently.

Duplessie and others noted, however, that the price of such storage, which runs four cents to 10 cents per megabyte, by no means includes the management and maintenance of those disk storage systems. Research firms estimate that those extra costs run six to 10 times the cost of the physical disk.

Robert Smalley, senior project specialist at the Bank of Montreal in Toronto, said his company is in the middle of converting from direct-attached storage to a SAN so it can consolidate more than 300 servers in three data centres. The centres have been growing by 15 per cent to 20 per cent annually.

Smalley estimated that the bank would spend about US$20 million during the next five years to build a centrally managed, shared-storage infrastructure. The bank has so far laid out its Fibre Channel infrastructure using a 64-port director-class switch, installed a 125TB tape library and, in February, hooked up a 10TB IBM Enterprise Storage System RAID box. The open-systems backup/tape infrastructure alone cost the company about US$1 million.

Still missing from the equation is vendor support for the entire SAN, and a robust set of storage resource management tools, Smalley said.

“This is an evolution, not a revolution,” Smalley said. “We want the vendors to listen to the customer. We want interoperability between devices and [software] tools.”

Smalley noted that the benefits of beginning a server consolidation outweigh continued spending on dead-end direct-attached storage. As he put it, “The risk of doing nothing becomes more risky than doing something.”

More information about the conference, running April 2-5, can be obtained at