How global companies are consolidating storage.


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In this economy, alluring IT projects are all about cutting costs. Companies such as Whirlpool Corp. and MasterCard International have launched overhauls of their worldwide storage infrastructures to consolidate their global storage facilities and manage applications from as few central locations as possible. For these multinationals, it's money well spent. Jim Hall, vice president of engineering services at MasterCard, says the company is using some serious economies of scale to drive down technology costs.

Whirlpool and MasterCard are on the leading edge of a new phenomenon: As companies embark on managing storage across the global reach of the enterprise, their chief tactic is to do so through data center consolidation.

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Problems plaguing global storage consolidation
Here are some issues to consider before embarking on a global storage consolidation program.
At least 50% of storage is still direct-attached storage (DAS), which makes it difficult to manage remotely--and automation tools are mostly for the networked environment.
Organizational change is always difficult, and one that pulls autonomy from scattered data centers in favor of a centralized management strategy can face serious change management challenges.
Different countries have different laws affecting data storage, and companies must find a way to adhere to them all. For example, Kevin Roden, CIO of Iron Mountain, Boston, MA, says his company stores data from Europe in their U.S. data center. "To do that, we had to apply for safe harbor from European privacy laws," he says. "You have to take into consideration what are the local rules around what data can exist, and what you have to abide by when you take that data out of the country."
Management tools are still evolving. "We don't yet have tools that let you manage storage from a centralized single location," says Gartner's Robert Passmore. "They're coming, but are not fully baked," he says.
Technical incompatibilities. "We've seen more than one case where one branch is completely dedicated to EMC, while another has Hitachi Data Systems or Compaq," say Calvin Hsu, product marketing manager at DataCore, a storage software maker based in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. "Such companies have to do a major overhaul to go through consolidation."

Storage used to be a think globally, act locally technology. In the not-so-distant past, multinational corporations had to store their data in isolated data centers scattered all over the world. The connectivity wasn't there, and certainly the ability to manage storage as a single entity was sorely missing.

"There's been interest over the years in trying to manage storage globally," says Gary Johnson, the vice president of new technology enterprise solutions at CNT, a storage service provider based in Minneapolis, MN. "Now, it's starting to happen as part of data center consolidations."

Indeed, data center consolidation is driving interest in global storage management for many companies. "If companies are able to consolidate their storage, they can more effectively share both storage resources and management of those resources," says Nancy Marrone, a senior analyst at Enterprise Storage Group in Milford, MA. It's all part of the process of more tightly controlling their storage resources and reducing costs. To do that, Marrone adds, "companies must effectively manage on a global basis."

"At the end of the day, it's about productivity and cost," says Bob Passmore, a research director in Gartner's storage practice. The trend is to pull hardware and services into a centralized data center and deliver applications remotely.

Of course, managing storage on a global basis comes in many different flavors, and there are varying degrees of implementation obstacles that must be overcome (see "Problems plaguing global storage consolidation," this page) for each installation. Strategies are driven by a range of business needs, technology requirements and budgetary constraints, all of which can be mixed and matched to concoct a formula that best meets the needs of each company. "There's nothing that's common to any one company that says why they are doing it or how," says Marrone. As the following profiles show, there are almost as many ways to manage storage globally as there are global companies.

Whirlpool: the consolidator
Whirlpool, the $11 billion dollar manufacturer of household appliances, has been consolidating its data facilities into one massive data center since the late 1990s. Jim Haney, the vice president of architecture at Whirlpool, Benton Harbor, MI, says his company saved $8 million the first year, along with $12 million in network costs.

"We've got a small AS/400 setup in Northern Italy and some small manufacturing applications that are run locally," says Haney. "There are also a few countries, such as Brazil and India, where we find it much easier to outsource the applications. But other than that, about 90% of all the applications that support Whirlpool are run globally out of Michigan." The company runs four zSeries mainframes, as well as 400 or 500 NT and Unix servers, to serve the needs of 60,000 employees in 170 countries. In other words, there's a lot of horsepower.

But while the data centers were centralized, the company couldn't consolidate its storage until about two years ago. "We knew we had to do something--our spending on storage was getting out of hand," says Haney, who attributes the spike to an SAP implementation, Web-related growth and the demands of a rapidly expanding business.

"We had a ton of storage, and all of it was DAS [direct-attached storage]--anything from the really expensive new stuff to minus sixth- or seventh-generation devices. And we had to just keep adding capacity because we couldn't manage it as a utility."

The company used Tivoli's virtual tape system, which uses disk to emulate tape. "We began backing up through the Net to VTS. It was much faster for backup, but it was really congesting our network," says Haney. Finally, Haney was bumping up against poor SAP I/O response time. Whirlpool runs SAP centrally, which means there are only one set of application and database servers for 5,000 or 6,000 North American users. Says Haney: "We needed bigger stuff for storage. With the disks we had sitting behind the zSeries, response time was noticeably affected. We'd still be running batch from the night while people were trying to get online."

This was first published in April 2003

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