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Getting started with data storage efficiency

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Implementation. Even if this phase is quarters or even years off, it's worth planning for the inevitable. Because the implementation team must be composed of people with cross-platform skills, you'll need to plan for cross training key members of the engineering team.

Get a good understanding of what types of services vendors offer. Do they simply deliver equipment, or do they work with customers to ensure the proper implementation testing and configuration? Be careful here. Many vendors will provide basic setup and nothing else. In other words, the systems will be powered up, but they won't be capable of doing anything without some advanced configuration, scripting or software setup. Be specific with vendors to understand their capabilities and what they will truly deliver. If you aren't satisfied, enlist the help of a third-party service provider--such as GlassHouse Technologies, in Framingham, MA, or North Billerica, MA-based Daymark Solutions--that focus on services rather than products.

Operations. Here, improvements can be made immediately. The key to improving operations is having clear definitions of policies, procedures and metrics up front. Again, mainframe and AS/400 operations provide a great model. The key is to take the positive aspects from across the enterprise without any appearance of elitism.

Remember to measure your results to gauge the overall efficacy of the effort. Some key technical metrics include the number of trouble tickets, mean

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time between failure and mean time to repair. Those metrics will help IT address problem areas and assess progress. Check out IT business metrics as well. Find out whether there's been reduced capital spending, a return on IT assets, any staff reduction or a declining number of storage vendors.

Share these results with business managers in a clear, nontechnical way to make sure that everyone is on the same page. Consolidation can't be considered a success if IT is giddy with glee while business people worry about whether their critical data is protected.

Final word
Combining storage across mainframe, midrange, Unix and Windows platforms can offer fantastic benefits, such as greater data protection, economies of scale and improved services. Many IT shops appreciate this strategy, but they go about implementation the wrong way. Rather than make comprehensive changes, they simply rally around a technology--like a SAN--which they see as being a consolidation hub. These well-intended efforts often result in technological and cultural failures.

Rather than default to technical solutions, companies should approach storage platform consolidation through a full project life cycle, one that includes assessment, design, testing, implementation and operational phases. Be prudent throughout, allow ample time, budget accordingly, and set realistic goals and metrics. This should be a pragmatic process. Following the pragmatic process I've outlined can break down platform walls and lead to productive enhancements in the future.

This was first published in August 2003

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