Last month I commented on the rise of midrange storage. After spending three days with nearly 600 of you at Storage Decisions in Chicago in early September, I now realize that I was seeing only part of the picture. Midrange mania is just part of the growing popularity of tiered storage. And I don't mean just combining SATA and Fibre Channel (FC) drives. To me, tiered storage means tiers at every level: disk, array, network (IP and FC), backup (disk and tape) and so on.
I want to congratulate storage managers for making sense out of all the marketeering. Utility computing, information lifecycle management (ILM) and so on are all worthwhile notions years away from viability and often involving wholesale shifts not just in IT, but in corporate life in general. So what were you supposed to do while waiting for all of that?
The consensus I hear is to implement tiered storage. Use the right tool for the right job in the right place at the right time. A year ago, vendors and some pundits were saying SATA, iSCSI and disk backup weren't enterprise technologies, but small-scale solutions for mom-and-pop shops and the great unwashed. Wrong. This issue's Purchasing Intentions survey proves it. If anything, it's been the more advanced shops, regardless of size, that have seized on moderately priced technology as a way to scale out into the organization. Smaller or less-sophisticated shops may have bought what vendors assured them was the one size that fits all, only to find the price tag for "simplicity" was on the high side.
So, once again, common sense triumphs. The good news: As notions like ILM evolve into something doable, tiered storage will have laid the groundwork.
But common sense can carry you only so far. The bad news is that if you focus just on tiering, you may indeed miss the boat to the Promised Land. Tiering gives you choices--in cost and complexity--about where to put data. But tiering can't answer basic questions such as: Why are we keeping this data? Should we keep it? How long should we keep it for?
Tiering can help control the cost of storing exploding volumes of data, but it can't control the explosion itself. For that, longer discussions, harder questions and tougher fixes are required. You can provide your organization with a platform, but you'll need a lot of cooperation and guidance before you can use that platform to its greatest advantage.
Whether it's utility computing or ILM, better tools are needed. But at the end of the day, software isn't going to be the decisive factor. Corporate culture is. With no corporate urgency to inject discipline into information management, it's no wonder that storage admins who were shepherding 10TB two years ago are staring at 110TB next year.
This is about working with records management folks, legal groups, business managers and corporate executives. Events (Sept. 11, for instance, and corporate scandals leading to compliance laws) have thrust storage managers into a key role as the most qualified people to answer many of the "how" and "how much" questions. At the same time, your growing ability to do more with less gives you a lot more credibility with the business. Use it wisely.
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