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Why have storage policies?

Expert advice on why and how to establish a solid storage management policy.

Commentary: Bruce Backa, our newest storage management expert to join searchStorage, shares his rationale and some suggested approaches behind establishing a solid storage management policy in your organization. Join him as he shares these highlights from his recent white paper on the subject. You might be surprised to know how much a successful storage management policy rests on two things: Setting limits or quotas, and defining a formal service level agreement (SLA) for your user community.

The philosophy behind successful storage management policies

While most companies have adopted some formal storage management policies, they still vary greatly in their overall approach to this issue. There are a few basic truths to understand before you adopt specific storage management methods, tools or policies:

1. The storage on your network is not an object, but a service. Your company's storage provides both short- and long-term business object storage and retrieval services throughout the organization.

Once you see storage as a service -- rather than as an object -- you can more easily understand the need for management policies and the risks of a laissey faire (whatever happens, happens) attitude.

2. Defining clear storage management policies is more than just storage hardware and management software.

3. The ultimate goal of your storage service -- and any storage management policy tied to it -- is to deliver a cost-effective, guaranteed, uniform level of service over time to your end customers. Achieving this goal is one of the harder aspects of storage management. To to do so, you need to first determine a performance standard by which the quality of your storage service can be measured.

This is where a formal Service Level Agreement enters the picture.

4. Before you can implement a successful storage management policy, you need buy-in from all parts of the organization.


In well-managed IT shops, formal Service Level Agreements (SLAs) are common. Just as users should expect SLAs for application availability and response time, they should also expect SLAs for such storage services as information storage, retention and retrieval time.

SLAs are one of the cornerstones of developing a successful storage management policy.

However, the road to a successful SLA requires some sacrifice and education on the part of your "customers."

The three components to a formal SLA for storage management will often involve:

1. Defining storage limits or quotas for users;

2. Educating users and the organization about the need and benefits involved in establishing quotas;

3. Committing to attainable service levels, based on the established quotas in place.

The need for quotas: How they control usage to help you meet formal service levels

Before you put yourself on the hook for a committed level of service, you need to first establish a control mechanism. It is a fool's exercise to be held responsible for results without being able to exert some control over the process by which they are obtained. Without a measure of control, your success is entirely in the hands of others whose interests are not the same as yours. Your success becomes, at best, a random event.

To maintain control, you need to first establish limits (or quotas) on the quantity and manner of use of the storage service. For example, you should:

  • Limit the amount of storage one person or group can use
  • Limit the number of people that can be serviced from any particular point
  • The purpose of such limits is not to deny service to anyone. Rather, you need limits to make sure you can provide a guaranteed level of service to everyone.

    The amount of system resource available is finite at any moment in time. If you don't control usage, then you have no way to ensure your service-level promise for the next user will be met.

    An uncontrolled scenario leads to the same result for storage as it does for electricity. Power company brownouts and blackouts are the result of letting users consume as much as they want, whenever they want.

    If you don't control what one user or a group of users can consume at any given point in time, then sooner or later someone with a valid claim to service will be denied. When that happens, your SLA is violated.

    The need for quotas: How to educate your users about them

    Simply having the right technology is not enough to establish a successful storage management policy. You may need to go through a structured policy development process to address the institutional dynamics of change, and to help your clients accept limits where there were none before.

    This can be a sensitive issue because you may be asking your users to place limits on something they currently perceive as infinite or free. Before they will comply willingly to new quotas or limits, rational users need to know what's in it for them.

    Key message to your users: Quotas aren't about the denial of service, they are meant to preserve the ability to offer service consistently to all users.

    A new storage policy needs to be explained not only from the perspective of the good of the institution, but from the perspective of how each individual user will benefit.

    Of the primary benefits to each individual is that the individual need not be afraid that service will be denied at some point. If storage is left unmanaged, someone will be denied. This is a fact. The payoff for the individual's participation is that you are no longer at risk. You will not be denied.

    Success with storage management policies still takes a human touch. Storage management software will tell you if something is wrong, and it will help you fix the problem, but it won't deal with misunderstandings between users and system administrators.

    About the author: Bruce Backa is the CTO of NTP Software and our newest searchStorage expert to join the Ask the Experts panel later this week, under the category of Storage Management. A noted business leader and consultant in the IT industry, Backa has held past positions as chief architect, technologist, and director of several large-scale IT environments and global networks, including his time as director of technology at the American Stock Exchange (AMEX). In January 2000, Backa was also recognized as a Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. He was also appointed a member of the Governing Counsel of Technology Pioneers.

    Additional resources:

  • For more information on storage management or to view sample policies, please see the NTP Software white paper, "Do you need a storage management policy?" (Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader to view.)
  • Check our Storage Management Best Web Links.
  • Check our Storage Management "Ask the Experts" area over the next few days to ask Bruce a direct question on storage management.

  • Dig Deeper on Data storage strategy