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Service operations and continual service improvement: Storage technical management plays a direct role in technical operations. As stewards of data storage technology, this team is responsible for planning storage technology and technology upgrades, evaluating technologies and maintaining storage skills. The storage function must also monitor operations, and implement and oversee service improvements during the continual service improvement phase. The storage function will train front-line operations and request fulfillment teams to perform repeatable, low-risk storage management tasks such as rerunning a backup, provisioning and exporting a file system, and presenting a LUN. High-risk tasks, such as partitioning an array, SAN configuration and filer policy setup, should be performed by high-level storage management rather than general operations teams.

Real-world implementation issues

In all but the simplest ITIL implementations, there will be tension created by the extra work placed on the storage function to implement ITIL vs. the expected enterprise benefits. Implementing the ITIL framework, especially at the beginning of an ITIL project, may sometimes appear to add work with little benefit. This may be because not all of the services or all storage environments will be a part of the initial ITIL release. During the transitional period a storage functional team may therefore be required to support legacy tools and the new enterprise tools,

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thus increasing the number of interfaces the storage teams have to maintain and monitor. Hopefully, it will only be a temporary condition. Most of the time the ITIL processes are more rigorous in addressing change and risks, and they tend to split activities into multiple tasks. For example, before an ITIL implementation, an on-call person might have simply received a page or other alert and then addressed the issue. With ITIL processes in place, this simple act may be divided into an "event," "incident," "RFC" (request for change) and a "problem" -- with each of these put into a different tracking database and requiring a different set of actions and roles.

But at the macro-enterprise level, ITIL benefits are more apparent:

  • Improved coordination. Cross-functional process teams work together to implement policies in a standardized way, using common tools and a common language to help reduce the level of organizational confusion or misunderstanding. Because of the benefits of scale, an ITIL implementation may cost-justify process automation opportunities that previously weren't justified at a storage-function-only level.
  • Reduced complexity. ITIL should help reduce or eliminate redundant processes, tools, technologies, queues and interfaces that the storage team has to work with.
  • Increased transparency. Service- and enterprise process-level reporting will provide management and auditors better quality and more actionable reports.
  • More successful releases. Introduction of new functionality and updates will have a better chance of being successful and maximizing return on investment.
  • Reduced outages. Better process-handoff definitions will result in fewer outages. Most causes of operational outages that involve storage subsystems aren't a direct result of a storage administrator error or storage subsystem failures; root causes of storage outages usually involve a handoff error, such as:
    • Incorrect server name provided for a LUN deletion
    • Cold backup scheduled during production window
    • Scheduled NAS filer outage impacted production servers inadvertently

Efficiency and sustainability

The main goal of using the ITIL framework is to ensure the IT organization delivers value to the organization in an efficient and sustainable way. ITIL provides a framework that helps align the organization so it's better positioned to achieve the overall objectives of IT and the organization. This should be incentive enough to fully support your ITIL program, but as a storage professional you have an extra incentive: ITIL compliance will allow you to spend more time working on storage-specific projects and architectures which, in turn, will allow you to better maintain, sharpen and expand your storage skill set.

BIO: Tom Woods is currently global ITIL services transition manager at Ford Motor Company. At Ford, Tom has held storage operations, engineering and architecture positions, and has supervised the backup and NAS teams.

This was first published in August 2010

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