The benefits of application-specific storage


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When i started working in the IT industry 17 years ago, storage lived in the bowels of IT and was considered a system peripheral. When contemplating storage, storage managers based their purchases on three generic characteristics: price, performance and reliability. It didn't matter what system, application or business process the storage box supported. Users tended to defer to popular system providers, procure basic storage functionality and operate all storage with the same familiar recipe.

Times have changed. In keeping with the objective of bringing IT closer to the business, the storage industry has responded with a number of new products designed with application-specific functionality. For example, Ixos Software, San Mateo, CA, and KVS Inc., Arlington, TX, offer e-mail archiving tools to help companies deliver storage QoS and comply with data retention regulations.

FilesX, in Southborough, MA, provides an appliance for Microsoft Exchange that permits granular application recovery. Content-addressable storage systems from Permabit, Cambridge, MA, and Reference Information Systems/Archivas, in Waltham, MA, accommodate Web applications that store, secure and access billions of unstructured objects. If you still don't believe that storage is moving closer to applications, consider this: In 2003, EMC purchased Documentum and VMware; Veritas added Jareva and Precise. These acquisitions are proof positive that storage vendors are bent on climbing the technology

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IT and business meet in the middle
Application-specific storage systems didn't arise by accident. After years of watching customers try to make square storage pegs fit into round holes, industry vendors and startups alike began designing storage solutions to fit into application environments.

While these new storage solutions offer improved ROI, they also present an interesting challenge. It seems that IT has spent the last 10 years on standardizing storage equipment and tasks--not implementing specific application solutions. This includes tasks such as getting rid of the oddball devices, winnowing down the number of vendors and choosing standard devices with standard configurations.

Standardization has become IT gospel--the only way to improve operations, increase reliability and maximize discounts. Once again, IT managers find themselves with a paradox. How can storage managers add application-specific storage systems to improve productivity and ensure compliance in certain application domains, while continuing to reap the benefits of standardization across IT? The answer to this question is driven by a full assessment of business requirements on one hand, and IT operations on the other.

First off, let's consider the business side. To better understand application and strategic needs, storage managers should start by enlisting the help of business managers. Ask them to communicate their short-term needs and long-term strategies. Remember to keep the discussion at a business level. In other words, don't let business managers tell you that they need the ability to restore data within minutes. Instead, ask for a definition of the business rationale. Is this requirement driven by fears of lost revenue? Might customer service suffer if the systems are down? Are there specific jobs that just can't get done if it takes a full day to get back online? The more specific the requirements, the easier it will be to build a business case for budgets and planning. This will also help IT managers define and prioritize application environments of particular concern.

Before moving on to the IT side of the house, storage managers should also make sure to visit the chief compliance officer. Executives are already well aware of legislations such as California SB1386, Gramm-Leach-Bliley, HIPAA and Sarbanes-Oxley, but what else is coming? For example, California senator Dianne Feinstein is proposing several federal bills that will enhance consumer privacy regulations and give federal laws precedent over the states. Storage managers don't need to be experts in congressional activity, but when it comes to planning for new requirements, they ought to be aware of potential issues coming down the pike.

Once a business assessment is completed, take the time to review what you've learned. You should have a clear understanding of how business needs will drive your data and storage management procedures. You should also have a priority list of IT requirements to support these business objectives. Finally, you should understand the implications of existing and pending regulations on business and IT operations. Schedule a meeting with all of the business managers and compliance officers you've met with to communicate your strategy and ensure that everyone is on the same page.

This was first published in March 2004

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