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Utility computing: Get ready to charge for storage

Bits & Bytes: Analyst Jamie Gruener takes a close look at the hype and hope surrounding utility computing and what storage managers and admins should be doing now to prepare.

In recent months, the buzz around utility computing by vendors has focused on a broad number of elements, not the least of which is the storage environment. But what may not be as visible is the crucial role storage management will play in this long-term trend. This is not to mention the changes you, the customer, will need to consider in how you manage storage operations -- especially in measuring the financial value of your storage.

Let me first dispell a few myths about what utility computing is and is not. First, utility computing isn't just a marketing gimmick by vendors to get you to buy more stuff. It is a redesign of the fundamental technologies found in the data center today, with the core promise of turning infrastructure components -- such as servers, storage, networks and applications -- into services that IT will be able to charge for, much like traditional utilities. Most of the motivation for doing this comes directly from customers who want to take control of the escalating costs of maintaining their data centers.

The second myth is a little more complex to explain. While significant portions of utility computing and storage are already available today, it will take most of this decade before you'll see utility computing come to fruition across all elements of the data center.

How storage management products fit into utility computing

There are a number of storage management core technologies that will contribute significantly to building out utility computing approaches. Large vendors such as IBM, HP, Sun, Veritas and CA have all laid out their roadmaps and technology architectures around utility computing, with some elements of storage management included. (Special recognition needs to be given here to storage system startup 3PAR, who has offered a utility storage platform for over a year that not only integrates a number of management features for utility computing, but also has customers to prove it.)

With few exceptions, many of these technologies are point products that are not well integrated, but you will start to see more of these blend together to address the goal of utility computing. These technologies now include:

  • Storage virtualization: The foundation technology to abstract storage logically from physical resources;
  • Storage provisioning: Tools that are meant to provide dynamic deployment and optimization of hardware resources;
  • Storage policy-based management: A series of tools that assist in setting service levels for availability and performance (early iterations available today); and,
  • Storage resource management (SRM): Already a force in the industry, SRM products provide capacity management as well as chargeback and billing features.

Five steps to prepare your operations for the future of utility computing

What should storage customers do now to prepare for the impact of utility computing? Here are some quick suggestions to think about:

  1. Get your storage operations in order. Develop a strategic plan to evaluate capacity and storage management goals over the next 1-3 years. Identify improvements and develop an action plan.
  2. Examine your storage budget. How much time a week, a month and a year does your team spend managing storage functions and supporting specific business unit initiatives? (If you don't know, you should know.)
  3. Look at cost justification models. Figure out which ones (ROI, TCO, payback) give you the best measure of what you are spending on storage.
  4. Start looking now at who consumes storage in your organization. Deploy SRM tools today to do this and evaluate ways to start charging back for this usage.
  5. Prototype service levels and tools that could contribute to your journey to the utility model. There's no better time than to consider ways to be more fiscally responsible for your storage environment. This means doing a better job managing it by testing and deploying tools that give you better control. All of these efforts will lead to the utility approach over next decade.

About the author: Jamie Gruener is a senior analyst, focused on the server and storage markets for the Yankee Group, an industry analyst firm in Boston, Mass. Jamie's coverage area includes storage management, storage best practices, storage systems, storage networking and server technologies. Jamie answers reader questions related to storage management issues for Do you want to see more articles by Jamie Gruener or insights from other noted industry observers? Visit the complete Bits & Bytes column library.

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