Storage Expo preview: Get to the bottom of storage efficiency

It is easy to be glib about such things as storage efficiency. In principle, things are clear enough – for example, cut through a lot of the rhetoric about green IT in general, and green storage in particular, and we see a picture of reducing power, cutting costs and removing operational overheads.

In some ways it was ever thus, but from San Diego to London’s Docklands, datacentres are coming up against some hard stops. The problem has been building up for a while.

“There is no point in such-and-such supplier coming and telling me about their latest blades,” said one CIO to me a year or so ago, “when I cannot even get enough power into the room to run the things. I have tried to tell them but they will not listen.”

Well, now the suppliers are listening – the message is loud and clear. Having in many cases run out of capacity, IT needs efficient servers and efficient storage, and suppliers are queuing up to demonstrate their own credentials.

For a start, we are seeing a most welcome level of competition between suppliers in terms of the cost-effectiveness and power efficiency of their base kit. In addition, there are a number of specific technologies that are enabling better use of storage hardware – we expect spin-down of disks to become a more general feature of the larger arrays for example, and solid state disks will likely also play a part in the storage architecture.

But there is far more to efficiency than a power-optimised hardware platform. Making the best, most efficient use of storage assets, needs software that can manage both the hardware platform, and the data that resides there. There are a plethora of options, from data classification, migration, archiving, indexing and de-duplication, all of which play their part.

We also have storage virtualisation – this has seen limited success thus far, but looks set to achieve wider adoption over the next couple of years we also expect more widespread use of provisioning technologies, such that storage can be allocated as it is required from the wider pool.

Such technologies are all well and good – but what is preventing organisations from adopting them? This is very much a carrot and stick question. When a business case for a new technology is being put together, either one must present a compelling explanation of business gains (the carrot), or an equally compelling reason why the procurement is unavoidable (the stick).

Despite best intentions and long-term benefits, efficiency-oriented technologies must fight for priority with all the other possible procurements an organisation might wish to consider at any given moment. And even if an efficiency-related technology may look attractive in principle, it then needs to be deployed in what is unlikely to be a green field: both infrastructure and operational (or even political) hurdles may need to be overcome before it can be accepted in practice.

On this last point, it has repeatedly been shown that without the right people and processes in place, even the best technology in the world can go to waste. This is not just about getting it right at the top: the rank and file have a major role to play when it comes to efficiency improvements (and, furthermore, there is generally the will to do so, particularly if there is a green benefit). Where organisations sometimes fall down is in ensuring that employees are fully appraised of what is planned – at this point the front line can feel ignored, and may offer up unnecessary resistance as a result.

All in all, of course, it is worth looking into what technical innovations exist that may make for a more efficient storage architecture. But there is more to storage than technology alone. By considering efficient storage within the wider context of more efficient IT service delivery, organisations are more likely to reap its benefits.

Jon Collins, service director at Freeform Dynamics, leads a panel on Architecting for Effectiveness and Efficiency in the keynote programme at Storage Expo the UK’s definitive event for data storage, information and content management. The event features a comprehensive free education programme and over 100 exhibitors at the National Hall, Olympia, London from 15-16 October 2008.

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