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Searching for seamless consolidation

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Two years ago, Barry Brazil got the chance of a lifetime: to build an entire enterprise computing infrastructure for a large organization from scratch.

Steps

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toward a networked storage consolidation plan
Work with business executives to create a complete inventory of applications and the storage service levels they require.
Develop a list of comprehensive operational best practices that govern things such as how volumes are named and when and how backups occur. Make sure they're followed across the enterprise. If you don't already have a storage administration team and training program, think about forming one.
Start with applications that aren't mission critical and that don't have support staff and other storage resources associated with them. That means, for example, user files and storage for new applications.
Start whittling down the number of storage hardware and software vendors used across the enterprise.

Brazil, a consultant, had been hired by Reliant Resources Inc., the newly deregulated energy generation and trading arm of Reliant Energy, in Houston, TX, as its enterprise architect. Because Reliant Resources was to be spun out from its parent, it would need a new IT environment. Servers, networks and 80TB of storage to support 8,000 users would have to be built, tested and deployed in only 14 months.

As a result of Reliant Energy spinning off Reliant Resources as a separate new company, "we got to start with a blank slate," says Brazil. "It gave us the opportunity to really sit down and do this right." On the storage side, Brazil and his team quickly decided doing it right meant building a multitiered, centrally managed networked storage network that could be shared by all of the company's applications. It would provision gigabytes seamlessly and efficiently--the way a utility delivers megawatts.

When in January of 2001, Reliant Resources finally flipped the switch on Brazil's creation, the company's storage architecture came up well short of the virtualized storage utility Brazil originally envisioned. Though Brazil's design relied heavily on Fibre and IP-attached networked storage devices, he abandoned the original dream of a single pool of tiered storage and instead divided physical storage and management into separate silos by application type. Brazil decided to wait for storage nirvana, settling for a five-year plan to get there. Only now is Reliant moving on to Phase 2, breaking down the silos and physically consolidating networked storage from across the company's range of applications.

Lack of management tools
"We decided up front that we would have to start out in siloed configurations based on applications, even though that meant we would end up with a lot of stranded capacity," says Brazil. "In the end, we didn't really have a choice. The tools simply weren't there to allow us to manage across different tiers of storage from different vendors."

Brazil isn't the only one who's been deferring the dream of fully consolidated, centrally managed networked storage utilities. While most enterprises--particularly larger companies--have found it relatively easy to cost justify replacing direct-attached storage (DAS) with a storage area network (SAN) or network-attached storage (NAS) devices, most have done so on only a piecemeal, application-specific or departmental basis. Few have tried to manage those dispersed SAN islands as if they were a single resource. Even though most organizations report marginal benefits from this piecemeal approach--improved utilization rates and quicker provisioning, for example--the proliferation of SAN and NAS devices has increased complexity and driven up storage management costs.

"Over the past 18 months, there has been significant growth in siloed SANs," says Steve Kenniston, an analyst with the Milford, MA-based Enterprise Storage Group. "Every CIO has stood up and beat his or her chest to say what great ... utilization they are getting. Then someone inevitably asks, 'Well, are they all tied together, and are we getting these benefits [uniformly], and is it all managed centrally?' And the answer today is no."

This was first published in October 2003

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