Managing enterprise data storage more efficiently: Part 1

Storage managers must learn to improve storage efficiency though smarter spending, while taking steps to reduce operating expenditures during budget crunches.

First of a three-part series

The last 18 months have seen tremendous change across the business world as the global economy has tumbled into recession. As companies tighten their belts, enterprise data storage teams are learning to manage their IT budgets more efficiently. IT staff cuts and delaying planned purchases, while handling ongoing data growth, are some of the issues storage managers must deal with.

Among the measures storage managers are using to cope with IT budget cuts are refining proven techniques such as tiered storage, turning to relatively new technologies like data deduplication and reducing operating expenses by finding more efficient ways to manage storage.

Dealing with IT staff cuts, delaying planned purchases

Few industries are exempt from IT cuts these days. "All the headlines go to the car industry and banks, but the furniture industry is also in a world of hurt," said Martin Silverman, director of IT at EvensonBest LLC, a New York City-based furniture distributor. "We sell big-ticket items to law firms and financial houses. It was as early as last August that we saw things start to slide and realized we needed to get out ahead of [the crisis.]"

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An established company before the downturn, EvensonBest is faring better than competitors, Silverman said, but it has cut IT staff from seven people to three, and delayed plans to move from direct-attached servers to a storage-area network (SAN) because of economic conditions.

"It started to change the way we used technology," Silverman said of the downturn. "Technology's getting more advanced on a day-to-day basis, and yet we have to spend a whole lot less."

Scott Stellmon, systems architect at Palo Alto, Calif.-based The Children's Health Council (CHC), said planned storage purchases were pushed as the nonprofit firm that treats children with special needs has made cuts throughout the organization.

Stellmon said CHC had been looking for a new storage system to replace a 2 TB end-of-lifed Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co. Modular Smart Array (MSA) 1500. "We were looking for a scalable system to help us manage capacity growth up to 30 or 40 terabytes," Stellmon said, driven by a planned implementation of electronic medical records.

The budget for this year originally had approximately $50,000 set aside for a new system, but that was reallocated. "The organization as a whole has had to downsize," he said. "We're looking at an alternate means to fund and implement the storage expansion."

Coping with ongoing data growth

According to TheInfoPro Inc.'s Wave 12 storage study last spring, 47% of the 250 IT professionals at Fortune 1000 and midsized enterprises surveyed by the New York City-based market research firm planned spending decreases in 2009 while 22% planned to increase spending. The respondents who plan to cut nearly doubled from 2008 when 25% said their budgets decreased from 2007.

But with a cost-conscious mentality permeating the business world, even storage administrators whose companies are growing seek ways to cope with ongoing data growth and prepare their businesses for the next wave of change.

Nick Howard, systems manager at Blaine, Minn.-based Infinite Campus Inc., a SaaS service with some 1,500 clients among small K-12 school districts in the U.S., said the business has continued to grow in the current downturn. "We charge by student, so it's a predictable cost [for schools]," he said. "We've almost been helped by the current crisis."

Still, Howard said the company is looking to improve operational efficiencies to prepare for ongoing growth without having to expand staff. "We're looking more to prevent future costs rather than saving right now," he said.

Of course, saving right now is also a popular strategy these days. Justin Bell, network administrator at Madison, Wisc.-based engineering firm Strand Associates Inc., said the company would be looking to replace its EMC Corp. Clariion CX300 system to take advantage of the latest technologies under ideal circumstances.

"If we weren't trying to just watch spending, we might move forward with something new to take advantage of things like storage virtualization and thin provisioning," he said. But for Bell, "It doesn't get much more efficient than spending zero."

In Part 2 and Part 3 of this series, we'll look at how administrators are applying new technologies to get more from their storage systems where they can, and how they're trying to squeeze more out of their storage while deferring capital expenditures when necessary.

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