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5 signs it's time for a NAS or SAN upgrade

It's easy to tell when it's time to modernize your storage infrastructure if you know the warning signs. Find out what they are and how Liberty Mutual Insurance handled its upgrade.

Upgrading an enterprise's storage infrastructure isn't easy. That's why many managers hesitate before committing to a NAS or SAN upgrade. However, sticking with outdated storage that isn't keeping pace with an enterprise's growing data requirements can lead to missed business opportunities, regulatory compliance lapses and other serious -- and costly -- problems.

The good news is it's relatively easy to tell when your storage infrastructure is running out of steam. Pay attention to these five warning signs to tell if you need a NAS or SAN upgrade:

  1. End users complain about storage response time and performance. User complaints are an obvious red flag. Managers who fail to improve storage response time and performance may soon find their job security in jeopardy.
  2. IT staff members spend much of their time responding to capacity and performance issues. IT teams already have their hands full dealing with the COVID-19 crisis and other important issues. The last thing an already overwhelmed staff needs to be doing is chasing down storage complaints.
  3. End users and business units are moving workloads onto their own storage platforms or implementing new workloads with cloud providers. When an enterprise storage system starts to fail, users may be tempted to turn to shadow IT solutions. Piecemeal, ad hoc storage encourages chaos and can lead to business disaster.
  4. Ransomware and malware can lead to data loss and the need for expensive data recovery projects. Both issues are core storage security problems, and they indicate existing safeguards are failing to protect storage resources.
  5. The data center is running out of space. On-premises storage resources consume a significant amount of floor space. This can be a serious issue, particularly for data centers that don't have room to spare and may indicate it's time for a NAS or SAN upgrade. There are two ways to address this problem: Find more space -- this isn't always possible, of course -- or turn to or expand cloud storage.

Embracing modernization

Sooner or later, all enterprises will face one of the many warning signs that a NAS or SAN upgrade is needed. Storage modernization is inevitable and necessary. "Our storage platform was starting to become a heterogenous mashup of different vendors and technologies that had accumulated over the past 10 years," said Chris Lund, director of hybrid compute and storage at Liberty Mutual Insurance. Lund oversees a team of 100 infrastructure engineers and administrators and is responsible for 60,000-plus server and VDI instances and 38 petabytes of storage. "There have been three major shifts in the storage ecosystem over the last few years that make a data storage modernization project really pay off," he said.

Our storage platform was starting to become a heterogenous mashup of different vendors and technologies that had accumulated over the past 10 years.
Chris LundDirector of hybrid compute and storage, Liberty Mutual Insurance

Lund acted after observing the increased operational overhead that was needed to support moving data across the various storage silos that had accumulated over time. Applications weren't delivering at their full performance potential and that drove the need for tactical point solutions to overcome I/O challenges, he said.

Liberty Mutual's modernization effort took a greenfield deployment approach to storage modernization. The fresh approach made sense, Lund said, given the existing environment's heterogenous composition.

The company selected Hewlett Packard Enterprise as its main storage provider. "Once we selected a vendor, we approached the project in several agile iterations that worked to address each of the shortcomings of our current environment," he said. "We then focused on quick wins to deliver early value, such as our VMware-based environments that could be easily replicated to the new environment using Storage vMotion or HCX migration capabilities featuring little or no downtime for our applications."

Liberty Mutual also deployed cloud-based data replication services. "These provide the ability to replicate our mission-critical data off site to AWS S3," Lund said. "Not only does this drive a serious unit cost reduction per terabyte by not having to manage replicated data on site, but it also enables our data protection team to expand upon their infrastructure engineering skills in the public cloud." Feedback from team members has been highly positive, Lund said. "This is something they all really enjoyed getting to work on."

Enter solid-state storage

Solid-state storage is beginning to play an important role in the insurance company's storage environment. "In the past, it has been somewhat cost-prohibitive for anything but critical high I/O workloads, but, more recently, the price of flash storage has made it easy to consolidate most SAN and NAS onto a single platform that's both highly performant for high-end workloads as well as friendly on the budget when it comes to less-critical applications and environments," Lund said. "Not only have we seen much lower failure rates relative to spinning disk, but we've also seen much longer service life, allowing us to spread the cost of these systems over five-plus years in many cases."

Lund offered one final bit of advice to managers considering a NAS or SAN upgrade. "Whatever solution you choose, implement the storage operational functions through a RESTful API to simplify operations and improve stability [by] managing the environment end-to-end with code."

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