What you will learn from this tip: The heady days of the storage service providers (SSPs) exploded when the Internet bubble burst, but storage outsourcing is making a comeback. This tip will discuss how the business model changed, and how outsourcing your data storage needs may be able to save you some money in the long run.

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In the late 90s and into early 2000, outsourcing of corporate data storage was seen as a way to reduce capital expenditures on infrastructure that would allow companies to focus on their core business. When the Internet bubble burst, it forced all the startup SSPs out of business. The subsequent events surrounding 9/11 and the collapse of Enron and others has introduced new government regulations surrounding data storage, preservation and archiving. These issues are forcing companies to reassess current practices and find ways to reduce the cost of these new regulations on the bottom line.

Data storage outsourcing is now gaining traction again as a way to simplify and reduce costs for data management. The top five reasons for data storage outsourcing include:

  • Limited data center floor space
  • Limited qualified staff resources
  • Budgeting constraints
  • Regulatory requirements
  • Disaster recovery (DR) requirements

Limited data center floor space
Building out a data center can be very expensive. If you are running out of space in your own facilities, then outsourcing to a co-provider or hosting facility may be more economical in the short term. Leasing space from a hosting facility and using their resources to manage the infrastructure could let your staff concentrate on your core business. Compare lease rates and management expenses to the cost of building out your own site to see which one makes sense for your organization.

Limited qualified staff resources
If you are just now considering moving off direct-attached storage and migrating to a SAN, you will need to make sure you have the talent with the right skills required to make the right decisions for your business. Building a SAN requires a good grounding in Fibre Channel topology, vendor products, negotiations, networking, databases, performance and other application, troubleshooting and management skills. If you feel your staff is not up to the task, then outsourcing to an Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) capable provider may make your life a bit easier.

Budgeting constraints
So your IT budget has not moved in a while, and you just received a notification from upper management that a major new application project is hitting. You look around and see that every nook and cranny of your current data center is jammed to the gills. You may have room for a few new servers, but that big iron storage array simply will not fit, and you have no more capacity for power and cooling anyway. This is a perfect time to look around for a storage hosting facility.

Regulatory requirements
The government has made life for IT departments a bit harder lately by mandating requirements for keeping data archives for up to seven years, or longer, in some instances. They also want timely auditing and search capabilities built in and want to make sure all your data is immutable and stored on non-erasable media. These requirements have started a cottage industry for outsourcing your regulatory archives to offsite hosting facilities that take care of all the paperwork and compliance for you.

DR requirements
DR is probably the best reason to use a SAN hosting facility. Building out an entirely new data center in another location and staffed with qualified resources can be a huge expense for any business. There are many qualified hosting facilities that specialize in remote backup and disaster recovery. Just make sure to look over the agreement carefully to make sure there are no hidden expenses or surprises. Also, make sure they also have a backup facility for their facility in case THEY have a disaster. A DR facility should be far enough away so as not to expose you to the same disaster risk. Hurricane Katrina is a good example. Those in New Orleans who had backup facilities a state away in Mississippi got a nasty surprise.

Outsourcing your storage resources can come in a few different flavors. Your options include:

  • Outsourcing everything to an offsite provider
  • Outsourcing the management of your onsite storage
  • Outsourcing to a portal provider
  • Using a hosting facility for a backup datacenter

Be sure to think about CAPEX and OPEX issues involved with building out and managing your own SAN versus the monthly business expense of outsourcing. Also, keep in mind that aspects like security, performance, cost, guarantees, reporting, backup and control will have to be planned out as well.

Do you know…

How to plan for DR and BC?

Seven ways to protect high-value data on your SAN?


About the author: Christopher Poelker is the co-author of SAN for Dummies.

This was first published in February 2006

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