Tips to lower data storage costs: Don't always fall for the new stuff

Experts at Storage Decisions gave their storage tips on how to buy systems and get the most from technologies such as CDP and file collaboration.

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Last week's Storage Decisions in Chicago provided a fountain of storage tips for storage administrators as experts delivered advice on how to reduce data storage costs when buying and deploying emerging technologies.

Jon Toigo, CEO and managing principal of Toigo Partners International, opened the second day of the show with his keynote, "Sharks in the storage pool: 10 ways to cut your storage costs now." A main theme of his presentation was that tape archiving and other, less sexy storage media, including refurbished systems, have a place in a sound, economical storage strategy.

Toigo said data storage costs continue to escalate due to the rise of unmanaged data, poorly managed hardware and buyers' lust for the latest technologies -- whether they need them or not.

"We still flock to the shiny new things too often," Toigo said. Included on his "shiny new things" list are solid-state flash systems, which he claims are gaining too much attention these days.

There's also a disproportionate amount of high-performance, tier-one disk-based storage in most organizations, he noted. Following the "Tape Sucks, Move On" bumper stickers passed out at industry events years ago, administrators got rid of tape. Now the slogan seems to be "Disk Sucks, Move On" to flash. But flash isn't widely deployed yet, so many organizations still buy tier-one disk storage for every new application. "This is not sustainable," Toigo warned.

To lower data storage costs, Toigo suggested that administrators assess what type of storage they really need for their applications, take inventory of the storage assets they have and decide how they can use them. He said administrators should consider refurbished systems that can cost a fraction of new hardware; he also told attendees not to accept vendors' marketing material as gospel.

"Test it," Toigo advised. "Don't take their word for it."

Third-party storage management systems that can span multiple arrays with Internet-standard protocols were another suggestion. These can help administrators pinpoint chokepoints. Toigo also reminded the audience that software is the differentiator. The time to buy storage based on hardware specifications has passed.

"A lot us want to go out and sniff the tin," Toigo said, leading vendors to attach generic hardware with their software services and raise their prices accordingly.

He advised administrators to pitch storage requisitions to management in language their bosses understand or hear about as "hot new technologies." That means using the same buzzwords vendors use, such as "software-defined storage" and "cloud storage," to define their storage strategy for increased management buy-in.

Continuous data protection is a better option than RAID

Presenters also offered insights and storage tips for dealing with continuous data protection (CDP) -- an old technology -- and online file sync and sharing -- a relatively new one for the enterprise.

W. Curtis Preston, founder of Truth in IT and BackupCentral.com, said administrators should consider disk-based CDP instead of relying on internal redundant array of independent disks (RAID), simple backup and replication for data protection.

The problem with RAID, according to Preston, are the rebuild times and the strain rebuilds put on the storage system. In a typical RAID 5 storage infrastructure, it takes the system 24 to 36 hours to rebuild a 1 TB drive, he said. RAID 6 is better, but rebuilding drives puts so much stress on the system that it's quite possible it will experience a second and even third drive failure during the rebuild.

The problem with relying only on replication is that if your data is corrupted by undetectable bit error rot, viruses or malware, replication tools copy those problems to a second site.

CDP allows administrators to roll back files to the point when they were in working order. "CDP is replication with a log," Preston said. With disk-based CDP, your recovery point objective (RPO) and recovery time objective (RTO) -- the most important data protection considerations -- are only limited by the speed and capacity of your system. "If you're not talking about RTO and RPO every day in your backup discussions, then you're doing something wrong."

Preston recommended a disk-based CDP offering with tape on the back end as a last resort and long-term solution. "CDP is not new," Preston said. "What is new is that people are buying it."

Be cautious of public file sync and share

Marc Staimer, president of Dragon Slayer Consulting, cautioned admins not to ignore employee use of popular public file sync and share services such as Dropbox and SugarSync. The public services are convenient, allowing users to sync and save files on most computing devices, including smartphones and tablets. They can also help users collaborate with colleagues in different geographic locations.

The downside to public services is that IT can lose control of the data and corporate security. Public file share and sync servers allow users to avoid organizational security policies, work around corporate email and storage limitations, retain data after leaving the company, and keep their files away from IT control.

Staimer said your best approach to file sharing is to take control by rolling it out yourself, either with private file collaboration software you deploy or in partnership with a public provider. When considering your options, you need to evaluate who needs to share the data -- including distributors and other business partners -- security practices, document-sharing auditability and the ability to remove organizational data from a closed account.

Using a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is also an option, Staimer said. A VDI environment provides solid security practices, single-logon capability with other services and complete IT control. It may not, however, allow users to share files with other internal or external users.

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