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Strategic Storage: Six ways to spend less for enterprise storage

Storage managers find that saving is as much about good management as it is new technology. Read on to find out how savvy managers and experts suggest you stretch your storage dollars.

Storage budgets might finally be showing signs of positive growth, but that doesn't mean the free-spending days are back. Instead, storage managers are cannily trying to get their budgets to stretch as far as possible. "Managers want to make sure that they get the absolute most for their dollar," says Bill Peldzus, the director of storage architecture for GlassHouse Technologies Inc., a storage consultancy in Framingham, Mass.

Interestingly, the most successful gambits have just as much to do with how storage executives use their grey matter as they do with bits and bytes. "Savings have to come from management decisions as to how to allocate dollars," says John McKnight, research director at Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), a storage-oriented research company in Milford, Mass. "Savings are not necessarily a technical issue -- good management practices have to come into play."

While there are no silver-bullet practices out there, there are some interesting approaches that experts say are cropping up frequently. What follows is a look at six ways to ultimately spend less for storage.

Start with a strategy
Many storage managers sit down with consultants to map out a storage road plan that helps them save money by looking at the big picture rather than opting for reactive, short-term storage spending. "A purchase is not a one-off event," says Bob Zimmerman, principal analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass. "Companies need infrastructures designed for long-term flexibility and reduced costs."

"Companies need best practices; they need policies and procedures on storage spending," Peldzus says. "They want to ensure that they build a storage architecture that they can manage as cost effectively as possible."

Long-range planning was instrumental to the storage team at Aramark Uniform and Career Apparel, a division of Aramark that includes WearGuard, Galls and Crest. They needed to build a strategy to gradually migrate divisional storage to its facility in Norwell, Mass. In concert with Fortified Technologies, GlassHouse devised a long-term plan designed to control costs, and enable the group to manage storage more easily as storage needs grow -- the company expects to double its current level of 10 terabytes of storage over the next several years. As part of that strategy, Aramark's group is thinking in terms of long-term growth when it makes key technology investments. Aramark invested in some director-class storage network switches that it doesn't yet fully need -- but will in the next five years.

"By buying resources for the long term, we don't have to keep spending on SAN infrastructures, or undoing and redoing it again," says Mike Rainville, senior Unix administrator and storage manager for Aramark Uniform.

Consider the benefits of tiered storage
Another concept grabbing the attention of storage managers is that of tiered storage, in which companies create wedding-cake like layers of storage of varying performance and cost, matching lower cost arrays with data that has less intrinsic business value. By juggling the various types of storage -- from the high end of Fibre Channel to midrange technologies -- such as serial ATA and iSCSI -- companies can manage the cost of storage more stringently. "People are starting to take a harder look at doing it," Peldzus says. "If a company is buying terabytes worth of data and can pay a third as much, why wouldn't you?"

"The addition of tiered storage is relieving some of the budget pressure," says Tsvi Gal, senior vice president and chief information officer (CIO) of Warner Music Group in New York. "As not all data was created equal, we can have less time-sensitive data moved to secondary devices. The emergence of both performance-improved and cost-efficient iSCSI solutions, from the likes of Intransa and others, make it a strong alternative for high-end Fibre Channel devices."

The trick is creating the optimal balance of low-end and high-end storage to perfectly match the value of corporate data, Zimmerman says. "There's some real linear programming that needs to go on to find the optimal mix of prime, secondary and tertiary storage," he says. "Nobody has an algorithm for the timed value of a piece of information. "

Build intelligence into the network
A recent ESG survey on intelligent appliances built into the fabric of a storage network found that such devices allowed companies to run services more easily between heterogeneous arrays and different classes of storage. "Early adopters are saving significant amounts of money," McKnight says. "On average, we found that leading-edge users were reducing hardware spending by 20% annually." "Employing some automation and intelligence in the network fabric allows companies to move away from monolithic storage arrays to tiered infrastructures."

That was the thinking that led Aramark to invest in leading-edge switch technology. "If we thought our environment was going to be static, we probably wouldn't have made that decision," Rainville says. "But we know we're going to grow, and we don't want to have to go buy three or four more pieces and plug them into the fabric. We believe that would cost more in the long run."

Use management software to run operations more efficiently
Storage managers can take advantage of storage management software to make current resources work more efficiently. For example, Rainville is using storage management software to monitor machine availability on his storage network, and he said it has helped keep hiring under control. "The software's ease of use and ability to manage more storage with fewer administrators helps us to do more with less," he says. "Without this type of software, we'd have to add staff because we wouldn't be able to watch everything without it."

Jim Pierce, CIO at The Monitor Group, a management consulting firm based in Cambridge, Mass., has found that moving to a SAN, which also uses management software to keep the network running smoothly, will also help him manage more efficiently -- both in terms of reduced time to backup and faster data archival, as well as more efficient staff utilization. "I'm building the SAN for purposes of better disaster recovery and archival, but I also expect our staff volume not to grow as fast," he says.

Buy used
Companies looking at tiered storage might do well to consider buying older technology that still functions just fine. "The used market should certainly be an option, even at the enterprise level," McKnight says. "Why don't you use old technology for the second tier rather than buying a new serial ATA array? You throw away the service contract and run naked. The recovery might be slower but a slow recovery once a year versus a monthly service bill might be a worthy trade off."

When in doubt, source it out
Selective outsourcing can also work as a smart money-saving strategy, particularly in the small and medium-sized business market, or remote offices of larger firms. "For things like backup or archiving, paying Iron Mountain or LiveVault a fixed monthly fee may be more cost efficient than doing it yourself," McKnight points out.

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