Who's running the storage shop?


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As storage management groups approach a level of maturity--and the tools they use mature as well--they will undoubtedly find effective ways to deal with the issues that currently confront them. But there will be little time to rest on one's laurels as emerging technologies will make new demands and require new technical expertise.

According to industry analysts, consultants and other experts, the following impending technologies are likely to pose significant challenges and have profound effects on storage organizations:
Information life cycle management (ILM) promises to have a dramatic effect on storage operations by increasing the complexity of managing infrastructure; however, the effort to implement ILM will have its rewards, with improved operations and storage performance.
IP storage will require closer interaction with corporate network support groups to allow storage groups to tap into existing expertise and make use of IP-based network management tools.
Disk-to-disk backup will alter the operational responsibilities of storage groups and require them to learn new tools. But the benefits of disk-to-disk will eventually outweigh the new demands and provide new efficiencies by eliminating tape for daily backups, providing significantly faster data recovery and allowing the use of more automated backup tools.

Reporting structure
With the exception of some Fortune 500 companies, most companies' storage management teams are considered a functional group within IT, reporting either directly to the head of the IT group or to the operations manager. It's rare that the storage lead reports to someone with a C-level title such as the CTO or CIO.

Because many of the job skills and responsibilities associated with managing storage are relatively similar to traditional system administration roles, the storage group will likewise report into operations or technical support groups. Forrester's Zimmerman thinks this arrangement is appropriate: "It's the blocking and tackling that you're trying to get done more efficiently."

Obstacles to organization
Creating a storage organization is likely to involve more than just defining new roles and responsibilities. In many cases, building the team will also require overcoming cultural or attitudinal obstacles--most are related to how work was performed and how responsibilities were allocated before networked storage was implemented.

And it may take some effort to get business unit buy- in, especially since they may have to pay more for the storage they use. Oakwood's Perlstein says when it comes to dealing with business users' perceptions of what data storage should cost, "It's more the technology and what's behind the SAN that they don't understand, and that's a big challenge to explain to them."

Next steps
A logical outgrowth of dedicated storage management is the ability to accurately charge back storage expenses to the company's lines of business. But this management feature is still in its early stages in most companies. Some companies, like Oakwood Healthcare, have taken initial steps by charging back storage services for specific projects, while assuming the costs of infrastructure components such as e-mail storage as overhead. HDR has also instituted charge backs on a project basis which has allowed its business units to pass those costs along to clients.

While the ability to charge back and establish SLAs may not be the holy grail, most companies see the potential benefits. "A key long-term goal of any storage management organization is the ability to attribute their invested capital and invested staff across the provisioned landscape," says Mike Drapeau, "and right now very few companies are doing this."

Poised for growth
Any company that has established a dedicated storage group--big or small--is clearly on the right track. The amount of data that needs to be stored and retained--regardless of a company's business--is growing at an astonishing rate. And the familiar litany of regulation, security and accountability will only contribute to the growth. (See "Eye on the future")

The importance of having well-defined roles and emphasizing specialization can't be minimized. The organizational efficiencies translate easily into cost savings that, in many cases, come fairly early on in the process.

This was first published in May 2004

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