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Capacity planning: Users delay top-tier purchases

The global economic downturn has users delaying top-tier capacity purchases and moving whatever data they can to lower-cost devices.

Storage administrators are bridging the gap between growing storage needs and shrinking or flat budgets by repurposing old hardware and aggressively pushing tiered storage policies to delay capital purchases until the economy improves.

Steve Terrell, senior Microsoft administrator at The Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business in Columbus, said IT budgets at universities are almost always tight despite global economic factors. He uses Compellent's Storage Center SAN automated tiered storage to cut down on data on the most expensive tier 1 Fibre Channel (FC) disk.

While storage continues to double every year, the business school saved approximately $30,000 to $50,000 with its capacity purchase last year because most of it was SATA rather than FC disk. Terrell also estimated that Compellent's thin provisioning and space reclamation features have saved another 30% of the allocated capacity in the array.

Other storage administrators and analysts forecast that this focus on storage efficiency will continue to grow as budgets shrink.

"That's where we're doing extreme belt-tightening -- what's on primary storage," said a storage administrator at a large law firm who requested anonymity because company policy forbids him from representing it in the media.

The law firm recently bought a new EMC Corp. Symmetrix enterprise array, but picked an older generation DMX-3 rather than the latest DMX-4. The firm didn't need the DMX-4's scalability, which the admin said seemed to be the biggest difference between DMX models.

"The original plan was for a DMX-4," he said. "That's been put off until 2010."

The company may add more capacity to its EMC Disk Library 4200 (DL4200) virtual tape library (VTL), but will work hard to avoid any further tier 1 storage purchases.

Think before buying

Christopher Kidd, IT manager at Bostwick Design Partnership in Cleveland, said his company will spend half as much on IT this year as it did two years ago.

"Kind of a sign of the times," Kidd said. "We're going to have to spend more with our heads and less with our hearts."

He said Bostwick will probably add a terabyte or so of capacity this year after purchasing a 6 TB NAS unit last year. Kidd said he should have enough capacity to last his small business for a while.

This year, Kidd said he'll also re-evaluate services contracts. "We'll go through and see what we can shave out," he said.

Budgets, business frozen

Many IT shops are in a wait-and-see-phase, just like their companies' sales prospects. Nasser Mirzai, senior director of IT at TradeBeam Inc., a global trade management software and service company headquartered in San Mateo, Calif., said his spending plans won't be set until business picks up.

"I could see our storage needs and capacity increasing in another four to five months," Mirzai said, "but we're going to wait another quarter before making our technology plans finalized for this year and next to see if maybe things will pick up again by this time next year."

TradeBeam still plans to add another 25 TB of capacity, but Mirzai said there will be a greater emphasis on archiving to get data off primary storage this year. "We're also testing Oracle compression to get more mileage out of our hardware," he said.

IT spending at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) is also being limited because of the economy.

"The University and the State of Illinois are in a budget crisis right now," Bob Booth, UIUC's tech lead for storage and backup infrastructure, wrote in an email. "We had major plans to build out our storage for a campus-wide service, which probably would have been on the order of several hundred TB. This deployment is on hold until the final budget has been put down."

The university is trying to update its network with new iSCSI, CIFS and NFS storage front ends, and recently purchased a Brocade 48000 director switch with FC over IP capabilities.

"I have a small amount of seed money for a proof of concept," Booth wrote. "There may not be enough money to proceed onto a next phase, however."

State and local governments are being hit hard. Steve Davidek, operations and systems administrator for the City of Sparks, Nev., said one of his departments has some funding to buy 10 TB of storage to support video monitoring of the city's sewer lines. Aside from that, a freeze has been instituted on other purchases, and the capital IT budget has been cut to zero.

"Nevada tax revenues are based mostly on sales and property taxes," Davidek said. With the recession, both sources of revenue are in decline.

Davidek said his agency will take the disk drives that the video surveillance system will replace and use them for other departments. They will also virtualize servers whenever possible. When the city's disk capacity is full, Davidek will move data to tape.

"I don't really want to have to do that," he said of the move to tape. "But I'm inclined to think any expense is to be avoided."

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