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Q&A: Prioritizing data without user hassle

Prioritizing data and installing user quotas is an arduous task. Storage administrators don't like to put limits on users; users don't like IT telling them what's important. In fact, the subject of managing data comes up fairly often in's Ask the Experts forum. Without a doubt, it's a dirty job, one that experts say storage administrators could handle more effectively and diplomatically. Here, Yankee Group analyst Jamie Gruener answers some of the most common questions regarding how to handle this data dilemma. Making users accountable for the space they use and creating a balance between corporate and personal data are good tasks to start with.

What is the best way to encourage end users to manage best practices, remove data that doesn't add value, and avoid...

unnecessary duplication of data? You make the users accountable for the space they are using. This can be done a number of ways.

The most painful (from a user perspective, especially) is to institute quotas on the amount of space their files can take up. This is an increasingly common practice for controlling e-mail. The problem is that most users don't like it, and it doesn't solve the core problem of making sure there isn't [unnecessary] duplication of data (as users then shift the problem from one disk to another in order to keep within the quota).

A second way is to exact budgetary costs or even a service fee from departments for usage of disk array space, really a first-generation storage utility approach. To do this, you'll need to select a storage resource management tool and come to agreement with business managers about [whether] they are willing to provide financial support in exchange for capacity. And that is easier said then done, in a lot of cases. How do you strike a balance between corporate data versus personal data, taking into consideration security, performance and accessibility?
You can't, because corporate data rules. Personal data needs to be kept off the high-priced storage arrays in your data center. Now, I know that's a little draconian. Establish criteria for grading application data and then prioritize the applications against the criteria that is agreed upon by IT and business managers. Storage security is the elephant in the room, and it needs to be addressed as part of the criteria that weighs the value of the data. Performance and accessibility also fall under this as well. In the long run, you need to understand what is already stored and how that space can be more efficiently used going forward. What is the most effective method of managing 'consumption' of storage? Is it reducing the growth rate of data that doesn't add value, eliminating data that is obsolete or something else?
There are some simple things you can do to evaluate and prioritize the data you are managing: Make sure you have a tool in place that assists you with capacity planning, especially storage resource management (SRM). SRM will give you a snapshot of what you have, who owns the data and relative trend analysis (depending on the vendor) around how fast this data is rowing.

Second, determine the data quality of service; that is what's mission-critical, operational, and data that can be archived (or deleted).

Third, set polices for each data class that might even include quotas, targeting the data that has 'non-value' with stringent user/department quotas. Quotas are at many times controversial, so you need executive backing and buy-in to establish and enforce these policies. What are some of the tools used to manage user quotas and management?
Storage resource management (SRM) tools have some of the best features when it comes to managing user quotas. Note that user quotas are generally universally disliked by end users, so be prepared for some unpleasant feedback from users. A number of data management tools also allow for user quota policies, and some e-mail packages limit user database sizes. So, it really depends on what applications you are trying to set a quota against.

A more in-depth discussion on storage management at the Storage Management conference April 9-11 in Chicago, where Jamie will be a featured speaker. He will be discussing management strategies, such as how to set e-mail quotas and calculating the break-even point for setting quotas.


Webcast -- Part 1 of the Storage Management Webcast Series: How to select storage management tools and vendors that fit your needs.

Webcast -- Part 2 of the Storage Management Webcast Series: Designing your SAN for mission-critical OLTP applications.

Webcast -- Part 3 of the Storage Management Webcast Series: Avoiding common backup errors.

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