SSPs may hold key to easing the data crunch

IT leaders have long been evaluating various build vs. buy and lease vs. buy scenarios. Soon after the first mainframe was sold, almost any asset — from software to hardware to human resources — could be leased, rented, or contracted.

As demand for storage has started skyrocketing, the ASP (application service provider) model has spawned SSPs (storage service providers) that specialize in helping organizations manage their enterprise storage requirements. Leading SSPs such as Articulent Inc., ManagedStorage International Inc.. Storability Inc., StorageNetworks Inc., and StorageWay Inc. seek to transform complex storage systems into simple, pay-for-use services.

SSPs evaluate your needs, provide advice and recommend, implement and manage data storage solutions for you. SSPs typically provide services to resolve the three principle problem areas of data storage: primary online data storage, backup and restorability, and availability and accessibility.

To address primary data storage, SSPs design and implement systems that serve as your online data store. The storage devices may reside locally at your data centre or at a remote co-location facility. Either way, the SSP monitors the data storage infrastructure for you and resolves any issues that arise.

In terms of backup and restorability, SSPs optimize archival procedures, and increasingly they perform this function off-site.

Finally, to help ensure constant data availability and to avoid disasters, SSPs also offer real-time data replication services.

Recent studies have shown that an organization’s storage requirements could double over the next 12 months, and organizations cite data storage needs as a business-critical priority. With so much riding on their data storage solutions, organizations should consider the benefits of hiring external storage management expertise.

SSPs understand how to design, implement, and manage secure, scalable, highly available data storage infrastructures. Few organizations can afford to hire employees who focus solely on the vagaries of SANs (storage area networks), fibre channel networking, NAS (network attached storage) devices and other enterprise technologies.

Because SSPs can implement storage solutions quickly, they can reduce the time to market required for critical new e-commerce and e-CRM (electronic customer relationship management) initiatives. By hiring an SSP to design storage solutions for these systems, organizations can reap the associated benefits immediately.

What’s more, SSPs can manage these solutions around the clock, even if the storage devices reside at the customer’s data centre. Because SSPs have technicians available on call, they can resolve issues as soon they become problems.

A key reason to consider an SSP is the high cost and relative scarcity of qualified personnel. Purchasing storage is not expensive — the price per gigabyte seems to drop every day; however, the cost of installing, configuring, managing and backing up data is considerable. By providing you with experienced technicians, an SSP alleviates these personnel and financial burdens.

Is an SSP in your future?

Although SSPs offer many benefits, entering this young market is not for everyone. A variety of factors, including type of business, security needs and budget, must be considered when evaluating a data storage outsourcer.

Obviously, your affinity for an SSP will depend largely on your organization. For example, businesses that maintain internal data centres, but that have not had the resources to accommodate unusual growth, are ripe for an SSP that can manage storage solutions on-site.

ASPs, ISPs and others that already use off site data centres are excellent candidates for public utility SSPs that maintain enterprise storage facilities in co-located data centres. Young companies may not be able to predict how quickly their storage needs will grow; rather than making a substantial investment in an infrastructure that may fail to meet future requirements, they may be better off with an outsourced, off-site storage solution.

But if your primary data storage system resides off-site, security concerns may limit the appeal of an SSP. For security reasons, more SSPs are adopting a premises-neutral strategy to accommodate customers who insist that their data storage systems reside under their direct control.

To address security issues unique to co-location facilities, public utility SSPs rely on LUN (logical unit number) masking, LUN zoning or port zoning to secure primary data. For traditional backups across common communication channels, these SSPs can put managed storage switches in front of backup systems to maintain security.

Economic factors influence every lease vs. buy decision. SSPs cite several factors in their favor, including reduced downtime and fewer employees. By downgrading data storage costs to just another business expense, SSPs can help insulate customers from technical obsolescence and capital asset depreciation.

Given that the SSP market is in its infancy, it’s no surprise that a small number of organizations currently use an SSP and many organizations are not familiar with SSPs at all. A good deal of misconception exists in this market, especially concerning the location of primary data stores.

Many IT managers erroneously believe that to use an SSP, they must relinquish their data to an off-site facility. That’s simply not true. Unlike many consultants, SSPs are vendor-agnostic; they implement the solutions they recommend. In the right environment, the SSP value proposition is very attractive indeed.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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