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If that doesn't work, it can be useful to drop subtle hints reminding key executives of the importance of a sound storage management strategy. One storage director - who asked not to be named - that heads a financial services storage management group administering 27TB of storage, keeps an eight-page PowerPoint presentation available online so anybody within the company can catch up with the details of the company's current storage infrastructure.

"Our data tends to explode, not grow," he says. "But often, the amount of gigabytes or terabytes that we deal with goes unnoticed. You have to figure out ways of highlighting that to the senior management and getting their attention - for example, by saying 'did you know we're backing up 4TB every night?' You don't want to thump your chest too much or oversell it; pick the appropriate times and ways to show it."

This, then, is the new face of the storage administrator. Issues such as changing storage technologies, topologies and hierarchical storage management (HSM) strategies were once the foremost concerns for those managing storage. Nowadays, politics, conflict resolution and service-level management have become an increasingly important part of the mix.

These are the responsibilities that come with the legitimacy of having a separate storage organization, but they can present a real burden for technically-focused administrators who

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lack the business acumen of their executive-minded peers. They can create conflict between mainframe and open systems groups that are supposed to be on the same side, but find themselves fighting over the appropriate level of storage discipline that's necessary.

Even in companies where storage administrators remain split into two or more camps, consolidation may be inevitable. That's because the technical unification driven by the introduction of SANs often serves as a catalyst for the creation of unified storage groups. Such was the case for Jeff Deaver, storage administrator at Minnesota Mutual, St. Paul, MN, where an ongoing storage area network (SAN) pilot has led to discussions about centralizing management of the insurer's 2TB of online DAS storage, 30TB of HSM-managed tape data and an unknown quantity of open systems-attached space.

Storage "is all over the place, and nobody's cleaning it up or holding users to quotas," says Deaver. "On the mainframe side, there's a chargeback system in place so people are accountable for the space they use. There's a feeling that we're wasting resources because we have two groups of people doing the same thing. The people working on the SAN realize we need to have same rules across the board."

One approach being considered to improve the situation, Deaver says, is the creation of a virtual storage group that combines representatives of the company's five strategic business units as well as relevant technical administrators: "It's definitely on our shoulders to keep abreast of what [business units] are doing," he says.

Changing work rules
Yet while centralized storage management can facilitate backup and increase the amount of storage administered by each staffer, it also can have repercussions outside of the new storage group. Those repercussions arise as parties are forced to get used to the new dynamics of the storage group - namely, that application managers used to controlling their own destinies must now work with the administrators controlling the storage.

"You now have a relationship between the two groups that needs to be managed," says Bob Passmore, storage area research director with Gartner Research, who recommends consolidation both for its ability to expose the previously hidden true cost of storage, and for its ability to significantly increase storage administration efficiency.

"These kinds of things always test people," he says. "You can avoid infighting and issues around expectations if you can make clear - through negotiation - exactly what the rights and responsibilities of each group are. SANs have a way of forcing these issues to the fore, because people are now viewing storage as a service. Develop specific job descriptions so everybody knows what's happening, and do it in a planned, upfront way."

In some cases, says Passmore, storage has gained such a high profile that companies are creating new chief storage officer positions to give storage architects more clout when dealing with fellow CXOs from the business and IT worlds. While such a dramatic escalation in status might not fly well at many companies, it's an indication of just how important storage has become. As users continue to demand more storage, administrators' success in managing that growth will become as much a business issue as it has always been a technical one.

This was first published in August 2002

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