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Attack pain points
At this point, you should know your storage resources, how they are used and what future demands to anticipate. The next step in the process is to outline existing and anticipated pain points. It's not good enough to simply state problems such as "too many incidents of storage downtime." Now is the time to really examine problems, looking for details that may cause or exacerbate each event. It's easy to say that a faulty Fibre Channel switch is causing storage service interruptions, but it takes a bit more digging to find out that the switch was misconfigured, and that the last upgrade didn't follow corporate change control processes.
Once you have a list of problem areas, separate them into three buckets: people, processes and technology. Rank these issues from most to least important. Don't forget to match each problem with its desired result by including the business, operational and financial impact.
For example, you may address a file system that continuously exceeds its storage threshold and crashes by employing a combination of streamlined provisioning processes, moving toward more automated tools and leveraging a pool of storage, classifying data and creating a data aging and archival policy. The impact of this fix could be enhanced availability of critical data (business impact), less administrative overhead (operational impact) and greater utilization of existing assets (financial impact).
Once you have your list completed, it's time get busy automating storage tasks. Choose your starting point wisely--it can mean the difference between profitable success and miserable failure. You certainly want to address one of your more critical issues, but don't aim too high. Begin by tackling something small.
Storage operations process problems are good candidates because they won't require expensive technologies or time-consuming implementations. Use these simple issues to formalize the project management of automating: staff assignment, tool selection and metric creation. Make sure that you can achieve measurable results in a short timeframe, then communicate these achievements within IT and out to the business managers.
Finally, be honest with yourself. What went wrong? Where could the process be improved? Did you achieve your metrics? The goal should be to learn from mistakes and improve the process on an ongoing basis. In this way, the small automation problems you take on first will enhance your efficiency, as projects grow more complex.
Go through the list of process problems first, and then go to the people problems. As you move on to technology issues, invite some of your favorite established vendors and innovative startups to present solutions. Prepare these vendors by briefing them on your specific problems and the types of solutions you want to see. Include your requirements for scale, interoperability and device support. Winnow down your list by eliminating those that can't address your needs within six to nine months.
Again, start small and grow by using technology to automate in areas that offer the highest ROI, but don't forget to design an integrated solution for the long term. This will help support the progress you've already made while offering a technology platform that fits into your overall storage automation strategy.
None of this is earthshattering. No complex solutions or monumental ROI numbers, just solid IT discipline and project management. Storage automation is an excellent idea, but view it as evolutionary, not revolutionary. It's best to take matters into your own hands, identify things that need fixing and proceed with a prudent plan that addresses people, processes and technology. In this way, your company will see immediate and continuous improvements. Think of your vendor's future whiz-bang automation solutions as gravy on top of an already splendid meal.
This was first published in November 2003