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Five tips to save data storage costs for SMBs

SMBs are storing new data at alarming rates. Most SMBs have budget reduction initiatives, but have little control over the amount of data produced. In this tip, we'll review five opportunity areas for SMBs to achieve data storage cost savings.

While the current economy is weighing heavily on all businesses, it has no effect on the increasing amount of information that SMBs must store. SMBs are creating and storing new data at alarming rates. Most IT organizations have mandatory budget reduction initiatives, but have little control over the amount of data produced. IDC's quarterly data storage sales report said that while overall revenues are slightly down, storage manufacturers still shipped 27.3% more capacity in Q4 2008 as compared to the same period in 2007. In this tip, we'll review five opportunity areas for SMBs to achieve data storage cost savings.

  1. Partner with a VAR
  2. While there may be no way to avoid spending more money on storage hardware, SMBs may be able to offload some of the high-end architectural and sizing tasks to a trusted partner or VAR. It may also be possible to make the VAR earn your business by augmenting your architectural or administration staff. If you partner with the right trusted VAR, they'll gladly trade the time of storage experts for the opportunity to fulfill any storage product requirements you may have.

  3. Tier rationalization
  4. Complete a review of your application portfolio and ensure that you aren't over-delivering as compared to the application's real performance, availability and recovery requirements. It is common for storage administrators to put an application on tier-1 storage because it has always been that way, or an internal customer makes a big fuss when things aren't perfect.

    Start by looking at how hard the application is pushing the storage. Performance metrics like I/Os per second, read/write ratios and disk response time are helpful when establishing the requirements. Remember that RAID 1 storage is good for random I/O with lots of writes and that RAID 5 is better for sequential I/O with lots of reads. The RAID 5 stripe can be increased as the read ratio increases.

  5. Lifecycle optimization
  6. Storage hardware has a finite lifespan and it probably isn't cost effective to keep that five-year-old disk array around on maintenance sucking power and cooling. Develop an appropriate strategy to recycle storage infrastructure on a planned schedule. Consider Moore's law, warranty duration and maintenance costs when determining the useful life of a storage asset. Also, consider funding options like leasing to align cash flow with the equipment's useful life.

  7. Capacity planning
  8. Good capacity planning seems like a fundamental requirement for storage teams, given the crazy growth rates and expensive assets. However, this basic blocking and tackling exercise often gets pushed to the wayside. To control costs, it is critical that we understand storage demand and make capacity increases without surprise. Stakeholders in an organization should complete a periodic review of each every application's growth rate and storage costs.

    Information producers are often unaware of their impact on the storage infrastructure. A periodic meeting with stakeholders to review the storage growth rates and the cost to the company may provide them with the insight required to make changes further upstream in the application. These changes could control growth rates or warn you of upcoming trend changes, avoiding any surprises. For example, an application owner may not realize the impact of making multiple copies of a database for release testing. It may be possible to modify the testing schedule so that fewer copies are required, conserving space and saving money.

  9. Data protection rationalization
  10. It's important to protect our applications and businesses with well thought-out disaster and operational recovery plans. Take some time to review the application portfolio and honestly assess the disaster recovery and backup requirements. Determine things like if you really need to keep six months of backups on tape, and if you really need a one-hour recovery time for this application in a disaster scenario.

    I'm not advocating cutting required protection to cut costs; I'm only suggesting that you align the cost with the likelihood of failure and the impact of such failure.

None of these tips suggest you go buy the latest wiz-bang, cost-saving, one-click-do-it-all product. They suggest you get back to the basics and align the business requirements with the service you provide. Storage will never be cheap enough not to care about its cost, and data won't ever stop growing. We can only make sure we are getting the most value from our investment.

About the author: Brian Peterson is an independent IT infrastructure analyst. He has a deep background in enterprise storage and open-systems computing platforms. He has consulted with hundreds of enterprise customers who struggled with the challenges of disaster recovery, scalability, technology refreshes and controlling costs.

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