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Think business when measuring storage efficiency

By Francesca Sales and Rachel Kossman, Assistant Site Editors

The best way to approach storage efficiency is to measure storage from a business perspective, Jon Toigo, CEO and managing principal of Toigo Partners International consultancy, told attendees last week at a Storage Decisions seminar in Newton, Mass., on building an efficient storage operation.

Toigo defined storage efficiency from engineering, business and operational perspectives, but stressed the business perspective as the most effective gauge when measuring storage efficiency. “How are our investments in storage going to increase our productivity and our competitiveness?” he asked. “That’s the bottom line. What is it doing for us? Are we just hosting a bunch of data … that doesn’t really deliver any value and recovery?”

Toigo told attendees that Gartner recently predicted that the popularity of server virtualization technology would add to the problem — increasing storage capacity needs by 600%. The way for storage pros to counteract intimidating numbers like that, he said, was to use a broad definition when considering storage efficiency — but pay close attention to specific metrics.

From the engineering standpoint, he said, efficiency is the ratio of the output to the input of any system; from the business perspective, it’s a comparison of what is produced with what can be achieved with the same consumption of resources; and from the operational perspective, efficiency is defined as the skillfulness in avoiding wasted time and effort.

It’s also important to collect baseline data about storage, he said, but that’s a challenge for storage managers because of the wide range of storage systems running in data centers. “There are lots of different configurations for storage, a lot of different storage products, a lot of different standards for storage,” Toigo said.

Toigo advises storage admins to measure efficiency using five metrics: capacity allocation, capacity utilization, storage performance (I/O throughput), data protection (downtime avoidance) and storage energy.

Collecting these metrics is becoming increasingly more vital as the “non-trivial” challenges to storage efficiency continue to pile up. Toigo listed factors such as the neglect of data management, the narrow interpretation of storage management as capacity management, yielding to vendor “marketecture” over architecture, and storage administrators’ tendency to address problems by buying more hardware instead of addressing the source of the problem.

Instead of succumbing to these “tactics from the trenches,” Toigo advises developing a strategic storage plan, which involves a three-part, measurable process. First comes an analysis of the current state of company requirements, as well as current and future market and technology trends. Then, Toigo said, it’s important to assess the options to meet these requirements, in terms of time, budget and other business parameters. Finally, implement the plan in a manner that allows for ongoing testing. This strategy building process, Toigo contended, will ultimately enhance storage efficiency.

Several IT administrators at the seminar said they are evaluating ways to improve their storage efficiency. Keith Price, system administrator at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I., said his IT team is looking to buy a new SAN to replace a system coming off support.

“We’re just trying to figure out how to figure out what we want,” he explained. “We’re doing that by doing what Jon said, benchmarking item by item.” Price’s department manages an extensive collection of databases on its SAN – Exchange and customer relationship management (CRM), for instance – as well as file systems.

System programmers Edith Allison and Michael Orcutt make up the enterprise storage team for the University of Connecticut, and are seeking ways to improve their storage from a price/performance standpoint as the university centralizes its IT operation.

“UConn is at a crossroads,” Allison said. “We have central IT, and the university has lots of little pockets of IT, and we’ve all just come together under one IT leader for the first time.”

The university has a Fibre Channel SAN, and the team manages 300 TB of data across all the academic units of the university. “We’re looking at how we are going to become a more efficient organization, how we’re going to save money. We’re a state agency, we have no money,” Allison said, laughing. “We’re a state and a public university, so it’s a double whammy.”

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Storage is one area of IT spending that never seems to decrease, no matter how much an organization strives to reduce their IT costs. And as Toigo correctly points out, virtualization only adds to explosive storage growth. Needless to say, storage vendors just LOVE virtualization. :-) We've been in the storage management arena for a long time and over the years have focused heavily on tools to perform deep analysis of storage allocation v. utilization. During consulting engagements with customers it's been the norm to find the customer believing their storage to be, say, 80% utilized when in fact their real utilization might be around 30%. On the virtualization side, we've developed storage solutions to optimize guest OS and virtual desktop images to ease the storage burden for IT shops moving heavily into virtualization and/or VDI. So the good news is that there ARE tools to help organizations control their storage spend. Eric Hennessey Sr. Principal Technical Product Manager Symantec Corp.
This is another example of how an IT department can continue to get bigger and more expensive every single day. To keep a business operating effectively and streamlined program should be implemented in order to be more efficient and to manage costs. Sometime training and changing the way things are done can be costly, however there are several strategies that seem to be working well. As an example [A href="http://"]ITIL[/A] seems to be helping companies IT departments serve the needs of the business very well.