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Ford's storage ledger balances capacity decisions

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Data storage shops often struggle with anticipating new capacity requirements and ensuring that business needs can be met. Ford Motor Company took a unique approach to the problem and made capacity planning as simple as balancing your checkbook.

By Thomas Woods

A funny thing happened to the Ford Motor Company enterprise storage team: Storage Sunday maintenance post-mortem review meetings became boring. The meetings were no longer spiced up with horror stories about outages caused by maintenance action failures. Thanks to the enterprise virtual storage program, many high-risk and high-impact maintenance actions had been mitigated by the ability to transparently, and without server interruption, move critical virtual logical unit numbers (LUNs) from physical storage arrays before scheduled maintenance took place.

Aside from the woeful exploits of the Detroit Lions, Sundays would have been perfect. For those attending the weekly enterprise data storage infrastructure capacity forecasting meetings, the stress-reducing benefits of virtual storage were less evident.

Ford's enterprise storage architecture progressed in stages, from attaching servers directly to storage arrays, to attaching servers to storage-area networks (SANs) to physical storage arrays, to the current virtualized environment where SAN-attached servers link to virtualized physical storage arrays.

This transition occurred even as IT budgets were under intense

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scrutiny, with the requirement that new infrastructure purchases be directly traceable to end-user requests. But in the virtual world, the correlation of server to storage array is no longer a direct line. Adding to the complexity was a requirement that overhead and white space (capacity that's allocated but not used) had to be tracked and explained.

Virtualized storage raises new issues

After the introduction of virtual storage into the Ford environment, the data storage capacity forecasting meetings at the company reflected the new reality: All stakeholders had a piece of the action, but the teams lacked the tools, methods and approach to assemble a single consolidated view they could effectively communicate to the business side of the house. Some of the missing pieces were:

  • The enterprise storage teams, specifically storage operations and storage engineering, didn't have an effective way to communicate with finance and purchasing.
  • Capacity planning couldn't translate forecasts into storage capacity requirements.
  • Finance and purchasing didn't fully grasp the multidimensional nature of virtual storage environments.

The frustration in the capacity planning meetings soon exacerbated long-standing trust issues among operations, engineering, sales and finance.

This was first published in January 2010

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