Data evolution forcing new storage strategies

Businesses can recreate their money-sucking IT departments into moneymaking profit centres, say analysts. It just takes planning.

And the first step in planning is knowing the exact cost of providing storage service to your company, said Steve Duplessie, founder of Milford, Mass.-based The Enterprise Storage Group Inc. at Storage Force 2002, a half-day conference hosted by Ottawa-based systems integration company Kanatek Inc.

Duplessie spoke to a group of IT managers and workers at the Toronto Stock Exchange Tuesday and, between hockey jokes and taking stabs at IT marketing teams, he passed on storage predictions and tips on building utility-class storage infrastructures.

“Utility class is a buzz that you are going to hear everyone talk about for the next 12 months,” he said, adding a shift will have to occur for the trend to get the respect it deserves. “Conceptually, IT today is a cost-centre. It’s treated like a second-class citizen by the management.”

That doesn’t have to be the way, he continued. Companies will only continue to think of their IT departments as “those guys in the basement” until they can provide a profit within the organization. He advised IT managers to “level set” the company’s business line management and get them onside so they understand the capabilities of their IT department.

After that, companies should do a storage audit and classify their data into categories, from mission critical information to the bottom-level, redundant information. That creates an economy of scale and enables an IT team to prioritize systems not by numbers, but by importance of data, Duplessie said.

Dave Tipple, project leader of corporate databases for Ottawa-based Statistics Canada, called in a storage auditor when he arrived at the department because his servers – which run a worldwide, multi-statistical database – are mission critical. Within five minutes of arrival, Tipple remembers, the auditor was out of breath naming the issues, from the problems with meeting environmental standards to the fact that there was a water vein running directly over the servers.

“If my servers go down, we go down to the world,” said Tipple, who discussed data storage challenges at Storage Force. “We could lose hundreds of thousands people-hours of data.”

Along with the problems identified by the auditor, the computer room was crowded and the systems were “multiplying like rabbits,” he said, adding that staff at the time were ignorant of new trends and overworked because they constantly had to be backing up the systems.

“They kept doing things like they had been for the last 10 years,” he said.

To add insult to injury, new systems had to be installed, Tipple’s Unix systems administrator quit and Statistic Canada’s support company went bankrupt.

Since then, Tipple has consolidated servers, mounted systems in racks, installed remote stand-by and created a network backup system.

“I have achieved scalability,” he said.

As simple as that may seem, it is something companies are ignoring, Duplessie said. “At one end of the wire, there is someone doing something wrong,” he said. “At the other end is a disk drive spinning around with all these zeros and ones. That means the foundation level of IT is storage.”

He added anyone not running storage resource management is “insane,” but explained that because storage isn’t “your-head-is-on-fire-type stuff,” most people have put it on the backburner.

But implementing this strategy sooner rather than later may be vital for a company’s sustainability.

“The very nature of data is changing dramatically,” he said. “What we are saying is that, over the next four years, 50 per cent of data won’t just be transactional. Digital assets and rich media are starting to happen in everyday life.”

Jennifer Ewen, senior market analyst covering ODD, storage and scanners with Toronto-based Evans Research Corp., said she would say the nature of data is going to evolve even faster than Duplessie estimates.

“When IT started, it was fundamentally about accounting and finances and transaction-based processes that we see,” she said. “Now we are moving forward into recording of presentations, videoconferencing and more static data. I see that happening already and I would even say it is more aggressive than he says.”

Ewen said the obvious first-step for a company that wants to move forward is to know where they are to begin with. “Businesses ignoring this are doing so at their own peril,” she said. “It will have an impact on their bottom line.”

Duplessie agreed and said businesses can lower capital costs if all data is treated as individual.

“By 2006, 50 per cent of data will be large file,” he said, adding that this presents a quandary for vendors. “Most of these guys will tell you that their box is designed for it. It’s not.”

Enterprise Storage Group in Milford, Mass. is at

Evans Research in Toronto and other locations is at

Kanatek Technologies Inc. in Toronto is at

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