How can Organisations be helped to exploit Storage Management Solutions?

The amount of data stored by organisations continues to grow at a very fast rate. Indeed, as the figure below illustrates, the growth of data to be served has become one of the most important drivers impacting both the architecture and operation of IT systems. It is also clear from our work in this space however, that managing storage is not an area where many organisations excel. This begs the question, how active will the channel be in taking new storage solutions to market?

We know from conversations with IT professionals that most of the architectural attention is rightly focussed on the server side of ‘service delivery’, with storage utilised simply to support what is happening on the server. One reason for this is that, especially in small and mid-sized businesses, IT professionals tend to be generalists rather than specialists. The result is that expert storage knowledge can be at a premium.

It is also fair to say that until very recently in many organisations, storage has not been that high on the agenda, but this state of affairs is changing. The rapid growth of data being stored, coupled with the expectations of users to be able to access all data without limitations, is putting the storage infrastructure under stress. In addition wave upon wave of new legislation is compelling organisations to retain more data, or indeed delete information according to set rules. As a consequence the costs of data storage and management are becoming more and more visible elements in the IT budget.

Thus many companies are faced with the key questions of how to keep the cost of their storage use under control whilst the data volumes generated ramp up, and how to ensure that users can find key information in a convenient and timely manner. Against this background it is not surprising that many of the recent developments in storage management solutions have become increasingly prominent. For storage management, the ‘do nothing’ era is coming to an end.

The exact moment for a company to revisit its approach to storage management will vary by organisation. The balance point at which making changes becomes economically favourable is hard to judge, given that the breakdown of storage costs, especially operational costs, are still somewhat opaque. More strategic storage decisions are likely to be taken as part of a bigger review of infrastructure spending unless some outside, usually regulatory, factors intervene to stimulate a change of approach.

So what solutions could be of interest? Clearly storage virtualisation and thin provisioning, archiving and data deduplication are all tools which may be useful in certain scenarios. The challenge for many small and midsized enterprises will be to work out which solutions fit their own circumstances, particularly given the aforementioned lack of storage skills in house. If the basics of storage expertise are not present, it becomes quite a leap to expect such organisations to have the knowhow to adopt more advanced storage solutions.

Consider storage virtualisation for example. Whilst many mid-market organisations may have adopted x86 server virtualisation to some extent, the same cannot be said of storage virtualisation. In many ways if organisations already have a level of understanding of server virtualisation it will be easier for them to relate to the potential benefits of storage virtualisation. These include consolidation, resource usage optimisation, increased availability and resilience coupled with the ability to manipulate and protect data more flexibly and effectively.

However, given the limited understanding in the general IT community regarding such capabilities, a major hurdle to their adoption is clear to see. Who is going to educate the markets? So far the majority of the storage management solution vendors have done a less than effective job marketing and evangelising their tools, especially with respect to highlighting potential usage cases and achievable business benefits.

Until the vendors get better at such primary education there is an obvious space for the channel to step up to this particular plate. The need for sophisticated storage management is growing in small and mid-market companies, but they are crying out for “someone” to explain, position and deliver such solutions. While firms of storage specialists exist, it will be interesting to monitor how the broader channel community tackles storage management in the coming months and years.

Tony is an IT operations guru. As an ex-IT manager with an insatiable thirst for knowledge, his extensive vendor briefing agenda makes him one of the most well informed analysts in the industry, particularly on the diversity of solutions and approaches available to tackle key operational requirements. If you are a vendor talking about a new offering, be very careful about describing it to Tony as ‘unique’, because if it isn’t, he’ll probably know.