The evolving storage department

Here's how to avoid common road blocks as you revolutionize your storage department.

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Evolutionary roadblocks
There are a number of hurdles facing IT executives seeking to shape their storage organizations into a new mold. Some of the major issues are:

Political turf wars. These come in a number of forms; external, as when storage folks have to haul direct-attached storage (DAS) storage away from the control of a local business unit and onto the storage area network (SAN); and internal, such as when Unix and Wintel administrators fight over who's going to manage the SAN itself. Either way, "it's a political nightmare, and we hear a lot about it," says Jamie Gruener, a senior analyst at the Boston-based Yankee Group.

Lack of established governance. Reorganizing storage into a separate entity means a reorganization of part of the IT environment. Logically, CIOs would sit down and establish things like reporting procedures, and give the storage folks a place at the IT management table. But because most storage departments evolve gradually, too many times a formal governance policy is never hammered out.

Unclear financial guidelines. The idea behind a storage services bureau is to charge monthly for services as they are used. And the technology is present in many storage management tools to provide chargeback information on a fairly granular basis, says Steve Duplessie, founder and senior analyst at the Enterprise Storage Group, a storage research company in Milford, MA. The problem: "Storage groups can only do chargeback at a cursory level because they can only provide cursory services," he says. He uses capacity as an example. "It really has nothing to do with the value of storage. Storage groups need to be able to charge according to the value they create."

A rough economy. Gruener says that the lack of cash is a big reason why companies haven't tackled a storage reorganization. "People haven't implemented changes as quickly as we thought--we've found that a lot of people are slowing down deployments and reorganizations because of the economy," he says. "Status quo is the way things are done, unless they are forced to make a change. So most companies are making do with the organizational structure that's already in place."

Outdated storage management tactics. According to Duplessie, "most SANs are managed as Fibre Channel DAS." In other words, from a management perspective, "many people haven't changed anything they do, so they aren't really reaping all the potential rewards of centralized storage."
@exe When Jason Robohm first approached his SQL database administrator with the notion of moving the database from direct-attached storage (DAS) to a storage area network (SAN), he was full of the enthusiasm of the converted. But Robohm ran smack into the brick wall of the unconvinced. "The DBA was skeptical about giving up control of his storage," says Robohm, director of technical services at Crossmark Inc., a Plano, TX, sales and marketing company for the consumer packaged goods industry based in. "Humans tend to gravitate toward their comfort zones, and change is not in that zone."

So Robohm commenced a classic persuasion campaign. He laid out in detail the benefits of a SAN: There would be no more taking a server out of production to redistribute the database, for example, and less worry about backup, disaster recovery or any of the hardware headaches. The DBA reluctantly assented and became a convert.

"This guy now proselytizes for us," says Robohm. "He is a true believer in enterprise-class storage."

Storage reorganizations sure look logical on paper. But implementing them is entirely different. Robohm's story is echoed all over the storage world these days: As companies move their storage devices away from DAS to networked storage such as SANs, network-attached storage (NAS) or SAN/NAS hybrids, they are discovering that the technical issues involved in reorganizing and centralizing storage are actually the easy part of the change.

Far more daunting are a host of organizational, managerial and financial issues that trail alongside the new storage infrastructure. From convincing reluctant application administrators to give up their DAS to tackling governance issues for storage departments within the IT group, companies face an evolution of the storage department that's still in its early stages.

Trying on different models for size
Whatever the obstacles, the stakes are high. A new storage management study by Nucleus Research, Wellesley, MA, says that most companies can achieve huge cost savings by managing their storage more efficiently. "It isn't just about buying disk space and infrastructure anymore. From a financial point of view, storage should be managed to maximize return on investment," says Rebecca Wettemann, vice president of research for Nucleus Research.

Not surprisingly, Nucleus Research found that savings can be achieved in three areas: administrative costs and uptime, storage utilization and capacity, and the use of storage management software.

The independent study was conducted over a period of six months and involved participants using storage solutions from EMC, Compaq and IBM, among others. Respondents' storage budgets averaged $2.3 million for an average of 115TB of storage capacity.

Respondents had an average of 2.44 employees, each earning $92,643, managing their storage infrastructure. The survey found that the average administrator manages 14TB and 177 hosts, and spends more than 25 hours per month tracking utilization and creating utilization reports. Storage staffs are spending an average of 14 hours per month troubleshooting storage problems, with most companies suffering from nearly four application crashes per year from storage. Nineteen percent of the companies surveyed have implemented a chargeback system.

Most analysts and storage experts agree that the organizational and managerial processes that govern storage at many companies are in dire need of an overhaul. There are several reasons: As storage capacity continues to skyrocket at large companies, CIOs are faced with the necessity of managing this increasingly expensive resource more efficiently. Moreover, recently passed laws have resulted in increased scrutiny at the boardroom level, as executives try to ensure that their business continuity and disaster recovery practices are irreproachable.

"The role of storage in the organization is changing, and IT is being asked to do things they never had to do before, such as interpreting regulations, policies and government documents and translating them into the infrastructure," says Richard Scannell, VP of corporate development at GlassHouse Technologies, Framingham, MA. "As a result, IS is more responsible to the external shareholders. It's a big change in terms of who's looking at IT governance."

Managing storage more effectively should take a bite out of some of these issues. Gartner Inc., for example, has estimated that organizations that don't have a dedicated storage management team will experience at least a 50% increase in storage-related costs, while storage management projects with a dedicated staff are more likely to hit their project goals.

While there's been a lot of talk about managing storage as a utility, that's just one of the different models that have emerged. It's still early in the evolutionary process, and companies are just beginning to wrestle with the disparity between their new storage infrastructure and their old storage organizational models. How IT groups attack this problem varies widely by company--Scannell says the most progressive companies are working their way toward a centralized storage group within IT, but that's not the only workable solution. Some companies may instead choose to have a centralized planning and architecture group that cuts across multiple IT functions, while others are using technology to unite separate storage groups scattered throughout a company.

The point, says Scannell, is that the issue of storage governance is beginning to move to the front burners. "I did a gap analysis of the storage infrastructure and processes for the CIO of a large clothing retailer," he says. "He said that the first thing he wanted us to do is look at the organization and come back with a blueprint so that he'd have an appropriate organization that would support the new infrastructure going forward."

Easier said than done: It won't be a simple thing to remake storage groups in a new image, says Jamie Gruener, a senior analyst at the Yankee Group, a research company based in Boston. "Does it make sense to have a separate storage group? Absolutely," he says. "But it's just not a reality today at a lot of companies." To get there, companies have to begin tackling some tough issues, such as political turf wars, a lack of new policies to govern the new organizational model and confusing chargeback issues (see "Evolutionary roadblocks").

As a result, storage departments are at various stages of evolution. Some still have their gills, so to speak, while others have already crawled out of the primordial soup of DAS and have started marching across the new landscape of centralized storage management. In fact, Steve Duplessie, founder and senior analyst at the Enterprise Storage Group, Milford, MA, says he sees few truly centralized storage departments--those that exist are mostly in the financial services sector. The rest of corporate America is a good half-decade away from mainstream acceptance of the concept. As the company profiles illustrated, not everybody changes at the same rate--nor should they. It's a matter of figuring out what works best for the company. Darwin would be proud.

This was first published in July 2003
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