Survival guide for storage managers

Extreme circumstances call for extreme actions. Here are four ways to trim or hold down storage costs this year.

Extreme circumstances call for extreme actions. Here are four ways to trim or hold down storage costs this year.

News flash: The economic situation is grim right now and the short-term outlook isn't much better. Money's tight -- if it's there at all -- and the chance that you'll be able to get help for your beleaguered staff is less than nil. It would be nice to just hunker down and do your best to weather the storm, but for most shops there's still too much happening to just assume a defensive posture and hope for the best.

Lousy economy or not, your disk capacity will grow, and now isn't the time to put critical things like disaster recovery (DR) planning on hold. While your business pulls itself up by its proverbial bootstraps this year, there will likely be new applications and more demands on storage systems. With the business world turned on its ear, new thinking is required because "same old" ain't gonna cut it.

Here's a basic survival kit for storage managers, with four suggestions for cutting costs while not sacrificing all that much.

1. Deep-six support. Support contracts can cost as much as or more than the equipment they're supposed to protect, and the older the gear the higher cost. You can save a bundle by cancelling support contracts for older, less-critical storage systems. The risk-adverse among you probably think I'm crazy, but I didn't make it up -- I've heard from many storage managers over the last couple of years who have eschewed support to give their budgets a break. They stock up on the parts that are likely to fail (based on years of experience with the systems) and take a DIY approach to equipment maintenance. Some of them have even said that their uptime improved because they could fix the problem themselves in less time than it took to wait for a service rep to show up.

2. Think thin. If thin provisioning is an option for your arrays, buy it. If it's already there but you're not using it, turn it on. Thin provisioning isn't a panacea for storage growth because sooner or later you're going to have to add capacity. But why not make it later? Later, when the economy isn't so pathetically anemic. Industry statistics are all over the place, but it's a good bet that you're not using even half the storage you have installed. With thin provisioning's legerdemain, you're likely to improve usage and put off having to buy more disks.

3. Jettison junk. It's a lot easier to talk about getting rid of old, useless data than it is to actually dump the data. But it's also about the easiest way to reclaim capacity without having to shell out too much cash. There are a number of ways to seek and destroy all the junk clogging your arrays. Some, like data classification, might require purchasing software or an appliance to help you sort the junk from the jewels. But there are other ways, like expanding your backup app's exception list so you're not making more copies of useless files and compounding your capacity problems. Or you can take this approach with employees: "Everything will be deleted unless you tell us not to." That's effective sometimes, but be careful -- it can lead to what backup guru W. Curtis Preston calls an RPE (resume producing event) or, at the least, unhappy campers on your staff.

4. Shed some tiers. If you've already tiered your storage, you know how effective it is for controlling expenses and minimizing management. But even if your tiered storage system has been working fine, it might be a good time to rejigger the tiers. The goal is to get even more data off expensive tier 1 storage. The criteria you developed to determine what data goes where might have worked in healthier economic times but, let's face it, those standards might not hold up as well during the biggest bust in 70 years. Make the criteria even tougher so that the justification for parking an app's data on tier 1 has to be totally bullet-proof. You'll be surprised at how much data you'll be able to move to cheaper storage just by changing the names of your service levels. For example, instead of a "gold" service level, call it "the most expensive storage we have and you'll have to convince the CEO if you want to use it."

I'm sure a lot of you have thought of trying at least one or two of these ideas. We're so far from business as usual right now that even a far-out idea or two might be worth a try. Drop me a line and let me know how you're coping.

BIO: Rich Castagna (rcastagna@storagemagazine.com) is Editorial Director of the Storage Media Group.

This was first published in February 2009

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