Storage, server chargeback software gains popularity

As the economy continues to force IT shops to tighten their belts, some firms are turning to server and storage monitoring software to restrict the amount of space used by business units and to charge those departments for their use of IT and data resources.

Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. estimates that for every dollar spent on disk storage, it actually costs US$7 more to manage that data. Because of the high cost of data management, companies are looking to software to help them better control business units’ use of IT resources, said Gartner analyst David Furlonger.

With more than 25,000 employees, UPMC Health Systems in Pittsburgh was concerned about network storage capacity being overtaken by personal data – more than 1.8TB worth.

The additional management required for routine data backups and restores – as well as ongoing monitoring and maintenance – placed a burden on UPMC’s IT shop and cost extra in man-hours.

On top of that, UPMC migrated from Novell Inc. NetWare to a Microsoft Corp. Windows NT server environment about seven years ago, which removed its ability to manage disk space allocation for users, said Karen Malik, manager of network servers and desktop design at UPMC, the largest nonprofit integrated health care system in the country.

Now UPMC is considering a chargeback tool that comes with the latest version of a software package it installed two years ago.

“It would be a huge process for us to implement that, but it would likely be worth it because of the return on investment,” which Malik said she has yet to calculate.

Malik oversees a shop that maintains more than 325 Windows 2000 and NT servers. She also manages developers who set up desktop standards and create and deploy standard desktop operating systems and software packages.

Malik said one of the biggest problems she has run into with UPMC’s environment is the extent to which users eat up entire disks to store personal data, forcing her and her team to constantly ask people to delete files. And because the company doesn’t currently have a chargeback method, UPMC’s IT shop “financially supports all server hardware, and we can’t afford not to control the disk usage,” she said.

In addition, Malik said, notifying users that they needed to delete files was an arduous task that often left IT at critical levels of disk space.

“First you have to do the reporting on who’s using all your space and contact them and justify your case,” she said.

In 1997, UPMC installed its first server and storage monitoring utility, called Quota Server, from Northern Parklife Inc. in Tampa, Fla. UPMC originally purchased 12 licences at US$895 per server. The company has since updated the software three times.

The tools allow systems administrators to set storage quotas and notify and lock users out of directories when they have reached preset limits.

Malik said the chargeback feature that Northern Parklife will offer in its next version of Quota Server, which is due out next month, is appealing.

“We would be able to make individual departments pay for disk space they use. That way, we could use the money to purchase additional disk space,” Malik said.