Column

Don't sell yourself short

Mark Schlack
I've been immersed in the early returns from our 2003 Purchasing Intentions survey and it got me thinking about what happens to IT people in tight times. Often, it gets ugly: do more with less and don't do anything new.

That's probably been as true in storage as anywhere else in the IT infrastructure. After all, the CIO and CEO looked at storage as part of operations - if they looked at all - which is another word for overhead. The less, the better, but now's a good time for you to shake up that view.

Most companies have bought into the idea that IT offers an exit from stagnant business conditions. Any 21st century business wanting to stimulate revenue growth and control operating expenditures has to look to IT as a critical component. In the past, that's largely meant a focus on application development or equivalent packaged applications. Storage just came along with the servers for the apps as an afterthought.

What you can do is update executives on the key role that networked storage can now play in that process. How can a business role out new apps on a large scale without an effective data storage strategy? Every new sale, every new customer generates data. The profit margin on those transactions is directly affected by the cost of storing that data: the cost of hardware, backup, daily operational management of storage systems and so on.

Networked storage may have been a good idea during the boom times of the '90s, when keeping up with land-office business

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meant leaving behind the limitations of direct-attached storage. But networked storage is a great idea during hard times, when a company fighting its way out of low sales and profits has to be relentlessly efficient in the way it grows and operates. Sure, you have to resist the hype and do it smartly, but you must do it.

Mike Feinberg, Hewlett-Packard's storage CTO, makes a great point when he points out the burden that every company bears to create replication and rollback code individually for applications. You can offer replication and point-in-time copy as a service that will accelerate all those projects. Similarly, your company risks missing the window of opportunity if every little application project team has to build its own infrastructure, often without the expertise you have. The closer you get to offering storage as an easily provisioned utility, the closer the company is to streamlining time to market.

My sense from our survey is that many of you look at SANs primarily as a way to get out-of-control backup processes under control, and hopefully, to chip away at crack-addict purchases of spinning disk. Maybe you also feel that limited staff will do better the more you can consolidate your storage in one place.

No one can argue with that logic, and CEOs and CFOs will appreciate any efficiencies you can achieve. But as you work on next year's budget, don't forget this means a lot more to you than to upper management in your company. Make sure they also understand the strategic role your storage operation plays in the future of the company. You won't get everything you wanted, but you may get a lot more of what you need.


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