Creating a storage services group

Now that you've created a storage services group, it's time to roll it out.

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Think about what you'd do if you were rolling out a new product or service. To develop something that sells, you don't just get up on Monday morning, come up with an idea and take it to market. Instead, a thorough product development process would include market research, skills and asset assessment, a development effort and finally, a series of sales and marketing programs.

The same thing is true when creating a storage services group within IT. CIOs can't just focus an organization on storage haphazardly. Rather, the effort is most likely to succeed if IT executives assess the IT and business environment, design the right solutions and set up realistic long- and short-term goals.


Tiered services can meet most needs
  GOLD SILVER BRONZE
Performance requirements High Medium Medium to low
Redundancy Complete Some None
Mirroring Synchronous Discretionary No
Backup process Online Online Offline
Staff skills High High to medium Medium
Escalation process Immediate Immediate to ASAP Best effort
Vendor maintenance 2-hour response time 4-hour response time ASAP

Phase I: market research
The first task should be to find out what users really want and need. It's important to remember that business managers don't care about geeky storage topics such as LUNs, disk capacity and backup windows. They're only concerned with information stored on disk drives and the service they receive from IT. You must translate these needs into cost-effective storage solutions that meet or exceed service requirements. This includes:

Data classification. Nothing is more important in business today than information, but all information isn't created equal. Mission critical data merits fully redundant, mirrored solutions, while non-critical data can be covered by JBOD subsystems and offline backup. Some applications such as e-mail will demand hybrid storage solutions that protect critical traffic and messages. By understanding and classifying data, you can build cost-effective solutions and match storage architectures, operational processes and protection strategies to data requirements.

Business strategy. You should have a thorough understanding of what lies ahead. Will the company sell its goods or services online (you'd have to support large, transactional databases)? Are there any new government regulations pending? Will there be any data warehouse or CRM systems that will require bulk data replication? This may seem obvious, but too often, IT is blind-sided by business plans. A thorough understanding of future business requirements will help you plan for the future, while building a bridge between IT and the business.

Capacity planning. With the data classification and business strategy assessments completed, develop an intelligent strategy for capacity planning. This should include business and system growth, as well as classification of all data growth needs. This gives you the information you need for planning, and matches the right storage tools to the right job to keep costs low and data protection high.

Before you finish your market research project, make sure to do a meticulous user satisfaction survey to see how storage needs are currently being met. This provides a baseline for measurement and highlights areas needing immediate attention.

Phase II: assess your environment
Once you understand what solutions are needed, the next step it to decide how well current storage architecture assets and IT skills map to these requirements. This assessment should include:

Storage architectures. Determine if the current storage environment is well-utilized and matches the right level of components with the right level of data. Mission critical data should have high performance and protection, while more pedestrian data gets more appropriate levels.

Hardware and software inventory. Use this opportunity to assess equipment and vendor performance. Since you'll be on the hook to deliver on service levels, so develop an exit strategy from problematic equipment or vendors. To improve operations, think in terms of standard components and software whenever possible.

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Five steps to storage services project plan

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Documented and informal processes. Look at your business, technical and operational processes. Are they thorough and documented? Standardized? Remember, storage services must be cost-effective and predictable.

Phase III: design solutions
Based upon current and future business needs, design three types of storage solutions that deliver a range of performance, data protection, utilization rates and associated procedures (see "Tiered services can meet most needs").

Gold solutions. This offering is for the company's most mission critical data that can't ever be offline. Gold solutions feature full redundancy for 24x7 availability, remote mirroring and online backup for data protection. All hardware will offer the highest level of performance. These solutions will be supported by internal storage gurus and the best maintenance contracts that vendors offer.

Silver solutions. These solutions are appropriate for business-critical data that must be available, but won't cost the company millions of dollars per hour if it's not. E-mail is a good example. These solutions scale down performance, availability and data protection and are composed of things such as RAID devices, online backup and some level of redundancy.

Bronze solutions. These solutions are for non-critical data such as old e-mail attachments, user files, archives, etc. If these systems are offline, it's a disturbance-not a business risk. Bronze solutions may be composed of JBOD subsystems, offline backup and no redundancy. Storage operations and vendor support is important, but these solutions are a lower priority if gold or silver solutions need attention.

You should try and stay as close to these three packages whenever possible. By sticking to standards, IT can increase its implementation and operational skills and negotiate favorable terms with vendors. You'll also need to maintain an a la carte menu to meet unique requirements. For example, rule 17a-4 of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission mandates that financial service firms archive certain information for an extended time frame. You must anticipate the need for these types of specific solutions in your planning, design and ongoing management.

Once the appropriate storage options are approved, assemble plans to standardize the existing storage inventory. Installed storage hardware and software should be placed in one of the three solutions buckets, even if it doesn't quite match the new standard. Exceptions must be documented, so you can adapt their operations and support procedures while maintaining SLA objectives.

You don't have to replace storage hardware or software, but a long-term plan is needed to rationalize and supplant one-off storage assets. For example, if Veritas' NetBackup is the company's backup software standard and it's installed in 80% of servers, you should plan to replace odd-duck Legato, CommVault, and Tivoli backup packages based on amortization schedules, planned upgrades and maintenance contracts.

Phase IV: sales and marketing
Once solutions are assessed and designed, concentrate on how to take them to market. Of the classic four P's of marketing, price and product are more relevant than promotion and position. Your go-to market strategy should include:

Service-level definitions. You need to examine your processes, metrics and response times, so you can create, document and stand behind service-level guarantees.

Reporting methods. How will customers really know if you're meeting your commitments? You to create reports and tools that are easy for business people to comprehend. Simple web-based management reports work best here.

Gold, silver, bronze and a la carte pricing. Add all of your capital and operating costs to create pricing models for all service offerings. This is a key step in the overall acceptance of storage services. You must be extremely diligent in its cost modeling, so it presents business people with a clear and simple pricing methodology so they know what they're paying for.

If you follow the method I've discussed, you'll create an appropriate storage services model, a migration plan for existing storage assets and a set of standard configurations, processes and procedures. Business people will receive high-quality storage services and IT will deliver cost-effective, efficient solutions that enable the business.

This was first published in December 2002

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