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A lot of people think storage doesn’t figure into corporate strategies, but it’s the key to success for initiatives ranging from “big data” to desktop virtualization.

A lot of people think storage doesn’t figure into corporate strategies, but it’s the key to success for initiatives ranging from big data to desktop virtualization.

If everything I've heard lately is true, being an IT storage manager must be a pretty lonely job. I’ve been told 21st century IT initiatives are tied more closely than ever to the profit and loss of the business. That makes sense; they’ve always been tied to P&L and should have been tied even more closely. But what doesn’t make sense is how the focus of attention has shifted so dramatically to the end result (the useful information and software that lets you access it) while nearly ignoring almost everything else -- like storage and all the other necessary underpinnings.

That might be the fault of storage pros, at least in part. Maybe you’ve done such a good job of providing reliable, responsive storage that you and your systems are being taken for granted by business units and a good chunk of the rest of the IT gang. “Storage? Yeah, we have some of that.”

I know a lot of you are probably thinking “What’s wrong with that?” It’s probably not such a terrible thing that you’re mostly left alone to do your job. But when the image of you and your storage systems dims to the point you’re nearly invisible, that’s a big problem.

And it’s even more of a problem when you consider this might be the busiest time ever for storage innovation and tech development. Storage techs are becoming increasingly specialized, with seemingly endless options and a lot more to learn. (And a helluva lot more hype to deflect, but that’s another story.) That all seems like enough to raise storage’s IT/corporate profile at least a little bit, right?

It’s popular these days to talk about a holistic view of IT instead of looking at the distinct disciplines and practices (some would call them silos) we’ve traditionally seen in the data center. Undoubtedly, there are some real advantages to taking a more global approach, but there’s also some risk associated with gazing at the forest and not seeing any of the trees.

Still, it seems that some C-level types, vendors and even IT top dogs have forgotten how important storage is to the grand IT scheme. With the vocabulary du jour peppered with the latest and greatest buzzwords like “big data,” desktop virtualization and cloud, the overarching theme is a refocusing of IT as a delivery vehicle for business information rather than some steam-driven factory that churns through mundane back-office data processing.

That’s fine; it makes a lot of sense to try to shift IT from tactical to strategic, but you need to keep a few things in mind. First, as with most “new” ideas, there might not be an awful lot that’s actually new; talking about wanting to turn piles of data into useful information as quickly as possible is hardly a new conversation. That’s IT’s job. Second, focusing so keenly on the goal -- the “what” in this bird’s-eye view of things -- without giving a lot of thought (and planning) to the “how” will likely mean those buzzwords never get beyond blue-sky planning and strategy sessions.

And that’s where storage comes in; or actually, where it’s always been.

If you’re a storage vendor playing a round of IT Jeopardy and the answer is “the storage guy,” you can be sure the correct question is “Who should you talk to first when you’re pitching some new big data, VDI or cloud system?”

Let’s parse it out. Take big data, that is, if you haven’t already been thoroughly Hadooped and MapReduced and drubbed into submission. The bottom line is that whatever your big data goals entail -- slicing, dicing and distributing huge files, or turning zillions of bits of this and that into a corporate IP Rosetta stone -- do you believe they have a chance of succeeding without a well-conceived, designed and configured storage system? It’s not just an app team thing; no matter how cute and cuddly that Hadoop elephant looks, it’s going to need some serious storage behind it.

Ditto for VDI and cloud. It’s called desktop virtualization but it might as well be desktop voodoo if the storage it’s running on isn’t configured and tuned to meet VDI’s special requirements. And cloud storage can run on anything, right? Amazon spins up commodity disks in a sea of cheapo servers and rents out space. Simple idea, off-the-shelf gear, baling wire, Elmer’s glue … If you have Amazon’s programming and infrastructure resources, fine; otherwise you’d better get going with some more realistic plans, and storage planning would be a great place to start.

If you ignore the storage architects and experts, and all the new stuff happening with storage techs, what are the chances that the latest “big picture” IT initiative will succeed?

BIO: Rich Castagna is editorial director of the Storage Media Group.

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