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Focus on storage efficiency grows as budgets shrink

As economic forecasts for 2009 remain uncertain, users look to avoid spending money on additional storage capacity while still keeping up with growth.

Instead of adding raw storage capacity during tough economic times, storage shops are looking to take advantage of new features in their existing disk arrays.

Peter Fitch, IT planning and infrastructure manager at semiconductor testing company Rudolph Technologies Inc., based in Flanders, N.J., says the features he bundled in with the Compellent Technologies Inc. Storage Center SAN arrays first installed at four data center locations three years ago will cut down on expenses in this climate.

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Among these features is Compellent's Data Progression, which automatically moves blocks of data among tiers of storage within the Storage Center Chassis. Fitch says this has allowed his company to save on expensive tier 1 Fibre Channel (FC) capacity. "We have only about two terabytes on tier 1 storage and most of our data -- 10.2 terabytes -- is on tier 3 SATA disk," he says. Some of that 2 TB FC capacity also includes free space, adds Fitch.

SATA drives are less expensive and usually several times larger than FC disks. In Fitch's case, his SATA drives are 750 GB. This means the company has to add more data to lower tiers, which is important when budgets are being curtailed and data continues to grow. "We've got a pretty good cushion built in," says Fitch.

This cushion may still not be enough to keep up with relentless data growth. "We have a good chance of doubling at our remote offices -- from 10 terabytes to 20 terabytes," he says. "Something could also throw us, such as a lawsuit where we need to preserve data."

Fitch says Compellent's licensing model will also save his company money if he has to add capacity. "Compellent's licensing model is according to the number of spindles, rather than the number of terabytes," he says. So he could replace his 750 GB disks with 1 TB versions, or even the newer 1.5 TB and 2 TB SATA drives starting to come onto the market, and not have to pay Compellent extra licensing.

Good planning pays off

Joe Funaro, director of technology for IT at a New York City medical consortium consisting of Lenox Hill Radiology, Diagnostic Radiology Associates and Park West Radiology, says his capacity planning assignment three years ago called for a five-year forecast, but he planned out seven years to be safe.

"We started three years ago finding ways to lower costs," says Funaro. "We planned well."

Funaro's focus has been on lowering energy costs while working toward greater storage density. He currently has a Nexsan Technologies Inc. SASBoy disk array, which combines high-performance SAS disk drives with policy-controlled drive spin-down options. The company also uses Sanrad Inc.'s V-Switch virtualization product to reduce storage provisioning and management time.

Like Fitch, Funaro says array licensing has become more critical in the current environment. "The real change is that we used to pay cash [for equipment]," he says. "Now we're looking to lease."

Data reduction is a key feature going forward for both users. Fitch has already deployed it with Riverbed Technology Inc.'s Steelhead WAN optimization device, which he says saves the company $15,000 a month in bandwidth costs for replication. Funaro says he's still waiting for the feature from Nexsan or Sanrad.

Analysts predict broad trend toward efficiency

Research released by storage industry analysts this week shows Fitch and Funaro have plenty of company among organizations placing more emphasis on gaining efficiency from existing storage products.

"We're experiencing an economic hurricane," said IDC senior vice president of storage systems research Rick Villars on a webinar presented by the analyst firm Wednesday. Villars expects an increase this year in data reduction and storage virtualization, ranging from thin provisioning to automated tiered storage and data deduplication.

"Thin provisioning and storage virtualization are going to become must-haves," he said, adding that vendors that sell storage virtualization such as Hitachi Data Systems and DataCore Software Corp. reported sales spikes at the end of last year. Villars predicts file virtualization for automated tiered storage will became more popular as unstructured content grows because of new, rich-media applications.

Analysts have also identified a new market opportunity for data deduplication, but it remains uncertain when storage suppliers will be able to deliver on what users want. "Most customers are ahead of what suppliers are comfortable with in terms of offering data deduplication for primary storage," said Villars.

Although Fitch and Funaro cite capacity planning as a method of riding out the economic storm, storage resource management (SRM) tools weren't often mentioned in recent research from IDC or Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG).

A poll of about 500 IT decision makers in North America and Western Europe conducted by ESG last November identified data reduction and deduplication, storage virtualization, power-efficient storage hardware, tiered storage, and centralization of remote- and branch offices as top spending priorities for users this year. SRM was "fairly low on the list," according to ESG research director John McKnight.

How can users quantify savings or boost efficiency without knowing what they have? "That's not something we delved into in this particular survey, but it's an important consideration," says McKnight.

During the IDC webinar, Villars predicted users might instead choose services engagements to boost storage efficiency. "People may be willing to pick up expanded evaluation services offerings to 'weatherize' their environments," he noted.


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