Creating a comprehensive data storage automation plan


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Have you seen the latest rhetoric from the storage industry? It comes with various labels such as "information life cycle management," "storage life cycle management" or "storage operations management," but it's really just the storage spin on utility computing. This storage automation vision states that corporate data requires different care and feeding through its life span and that storage hardware and software can support this through an automated, policy-driven infrastructure.

At this time, it's fair to view these vendor stories as nothing but hype. After all, these are the same companies that sold you on other fish stories and goofy acronyms. (Anyone remember EMC Corp.'s E-Infostructure or Cisco Systems' DEN?) Nevertheless, there's actually some reason and value here.

Today's storage infrastructure is really comprised of discrete silos. In a typical shop, the data center staff might own the back-end Hitachi Data Systems disks supporting Oracle, but network administration is responsible for the Network Appliance network-attached-storage (NAS) boxes, while operations controls the Veritas backup software and equipment. This situation creates a slew of operations problems.

None of the data in these systems is classified according to business criticality. Meaningless data is overprotected; other critical data is at risk. None of the equipment works together. Operating processes and procedures are repeated again and again. In the meantime, corporate data

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keeps growing and the IT staff falls further behind.

Your local storage salesperson will likely show up soon with a 20-slide PowerPoint presentation that parrots my last paragraphs and offers hardware, software and services solutions nirvana. While it would be easy to succumb to these offerings (accompanied by several rounds of golf no doubt), purchasing vaporware isn't your best option.

Let's get basic
Vendors are just beginning to discover storage automation. Some--EMC and Veritas Corp., for example--acquired many of the pieces and will need time to integrate companies and products. Others--Computer Associates International (CA), IBM Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co.--are at the beginning stage of putting their solutions and strategies together. This early technology stage means there are no easy answers; the road to storage automation will be paved with hard work, lengthy projects and constant measurement. Progress begins with two preliminary exercises:

First, find every piece of storage equipment and understand where it lives in the company (both physically and organizationally), how it is used and who is responsible for its care and feeding. Dig deep here, as it's easy to miss important details. When was the equipment purchased? How far along is it in the amortization schedule? Which application is it associated with? Does the data need to be replicated elsewhere? What management information is available from the devices (e.g., utilization, performance, availability history)? These details are important because you want to truly understand the equipment, operating cost, staff makeup and enterprise interdependencies in order to cut costs and provide information-specific protection and performance.

Next, make sure you understand current and future business demands. Are there new business initiatives that will accelerate growth in the customer database? Will the company begin to keep storage-hungry reference data online? Are there any regulations that will mandate data archival? You will need to go through this type of analysis in terms of how it will impact each and every database and file system before beginning. This is necessary because you don't want to solve yesterday's problems--you want to anticipate tomorrow's needs.

Coordinate storage automation activities with the business unit and application folks before doing anything specific. Application managers are going through a similar automation and cost-cutting exercises with initiatives such as server consolidation, utility computing and organizational restructuring. Storage automation may fit into or overlap with these programs. To achieve the best results, overcommunicate with your IT peers and coordinate all storage activities within the larger IT context.

This was first published in November 2003

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