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Storage consolidation -- why do it?

Understanding the benefits of consolidation.

Though I have been working in the IT industry now for 15 years, I only came into storage as a specific market four years ago. Indeed, for most of my career, my role has been as a consultant who only gets paid for giving good advice, rather than getting paid for some product or another. So I sometimes ask the question -- what is the real benefit for the end user?

Let's first define some terms:

Storage consolidation
The basic idea is to have a smaller number of large storage devices instead of a large number of smaller storage devices.

Data consolidation
I think it is worth mentioning that the real issue here is data not storage. It's the customers' data that matters; the storage medium is just where they put data and, intrinsically, has no value to an end user. So, data consolidation is clearly having a smaller number of large data repositories rather than having data scattered around all over the place.

ROI (return on investment)
If I invest some money, what benefit do I get in return? More importantly to some, how long will it take for this investment to make my operation more efficient and return a profit? ROI in itself is not important. What matters is the ROI of one project over another -- so that an end user can decide which money-saving scheme to spend money on, or if a better return can be expected by just putting the money in a savings account.

TCO (total cost of ownership)
This is the lifetime cost of something. So, if I implement an e-mail system, I have to buy hardware and software, designate time to set it all up, consider costs for maintenance and for moving from the old system to the new one, and finally dispose of the new system.

What does all this mean to end users?

The purpose of the end user's company (in most cases) is to be the best, most profitable business, and return profits to owners and dividends to share holders. IT infrastructure is just something that companies use to make business work. Anything that saves money and does the same job increases efficient. Hence, one of the basic premises of storage is that consolidation allows you to get better utilization out of equipment, more with less hardware and makes it cheaper to manage.

I guess this is why people are talking about storage area management (SAM). Indeed, consolidation or not, as customers have more and more data, they have more and more to manage and clever hardware that allows you to consolidate is just a small part of the answer.

However, I seriously think that all of this is missing the point. Or rather, it's taking a 1990's view on the reasons for looking to storage consolidation, SANs and SAM. End users tell me that that their companies are buying equipment, but the way they work is changing -- business is changing faster and faster, and for a company to success it needs to be agile as well as efficient. The bottom line therefore is that companies are buying servers and storage for one project, but they know that in a few months time it may need to be redeployed in a totally different way very quickly.

So, storage consolidation, SANs and SAM are enablers -- enablers that leave doors open, that give the end user the flexibility to use the equipment in a totally different way if the need arises. After all, if the kit cannot be redeployed as business needs change then any theoretical ROI or TCO simply becomes wasted, scrapped hardware.

As another example, telephone technology is a little more mature than storage. People do not ask about the ROI of a telephone -- though they do ask about the TCO of one service provider compared to another and they do ask how a given piece of telephone technology can allow them to be clever and respond better to customers.

About the author:

About the author: Simon Gordon is a senior solution architect for McDATA based in the UK. Simon has been working as a European expert in storage networking technology for more than 5 years. He specializes in distance solutions and business continuity. Simon has been working in the IT industry for more than 20 years in a variety or technologies and business sectors including software development, systems integration, Unix and open systems, Microsoft infrastructure design as well as storage networking. He is also a contributor to and presenter for the SNIA IP-Storage Forum in Europe.

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