Storage still a priority for IT despite economic problems

The economy may be in a recession, and the stock market may be going through convulsions -- prompting talk of possible hiring freezes and layoffs within IT departments. But at this point, data storage doesn't appear to be an area that many companies or other organizations are targeting for budget cuts.


The reason, according to a sampling of attendees at the Storage Networking World conference here this week, is simple: even with the economy struggling and Wall Street mired in chaos, the amount of critical data that needs to be securely stored continues to increase, with no end in sight.

For example, Gary Pedersen, storage manager for the city of Plano, Texas, said that thus far, at least, the IT department there is moving forward with projects as scheduled. From a storage perspective, he added, the amount of incoming data certainly isn't being reduced, despite the economic downturn. "Data is just coming out of everybody's ears," Pedersen said. "We have to keep up with it or we'll sink."

To help cope with the unending flow of data, Plano is looking at installing new storage equipment and storage-area networks (SAN). "We've got to revamp our whole storage system," Pedersen said. "We're beyond adding on."

The city -- population 255,000 -- currently uses a Fibre Channel SAN, which provides adequate bandwidth and performance, according to Pedersen. But he's evaluating less expensive alternatives, including iSCSI technology.

Pedersen also said that he was attending the conference, which is run jointly by Computerworld and the Storage Networking Industry Association, to learn about technologies that will become available a year or two from now. "I want to see what's here so we can prepare for tomorrow," he noted.

Paula Pollei, information systems manager at Materials Transportation Co. in Temple, Texas, said that the economic downturn hasn't affected funding for a document management project that she's undertaking. The company, which makes customized food-processing equipment and robotic systems for changing batteries in trucks and other vehicles, is installing the new system to help organize its vast collection of engineering plans and other records.

Materials Transportation has product diagrams that date as far back as its inception in 1946, and workers need to pull out the documents when customers call for help or replacement parts. "Everything's customized, so we have unique diagrams from every piece of equipment [we sell]," Pollei said. "We're going to computerize that."

But doing so requires a new storage system that will go well beyond the small, basic SAN that the company uses today, she said. Her mission at Storage Networking World was to find product information and possible vendors for the storage piece of the project.

The economy also isn't affecting storage plans at Leprechaun LLC, according to Ann Jones, a network storage engineer at the Fort Worth, Texas-based provider of data management outsourcing services for Medicare Advantage insurance plans.

Jones said that because of new federal rules mandating additional audits of health care records management practices, Leprechaun's business -- and its IT needs -- are increasing despite the gloomy economic conditions. "We're getting ready to buy new storage and new backup [technology]," she said. "We have [data] that's coming online faster than we can keep up with it."

The IT department in the city of Bryan, Texas, is in the second year of a three-year disaster recovery deployment that is designed to help protect its systems from data loss and downtime. Gustavo Roman, Bryan's IT director, said that since the city's fiscal year just began on Oct. 1, he expects the project to continue as planned. "You don't want to have a knee-jerk reaction," he said of the current economic problems, although he added that the project could face funding issues in the future if the crisis continues.

Likewise, James McCartney, a systems programmer at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, said that while the economic problems eventually could pinch budgets at the school, that hasn't happened yet. But even before the global financial crisis really hit home several weeks ago, McCartney said he already was planning to look for ways to save money on storage at Storage Networking World.

One option may be storage virtualization, he said. The university's IT department also is exploring the idea of creating multiple storage tiers to enable less critical data to be kept on less expensive storage systems. "We have everything on mostly high-end storage now," McCartney said. "We're looking for ways to trim that down."

Mike Martin, a senior storage engineer at a retailer based in the Midwest, said budgetary freezes were already implemented earlier this year, before the recent upheavals in the financial markets. No cutbacks have been made since then, though, and several new IT projects, including a virtualization initiative, are still on track, said Martin, who asked that his employer not be identified. "We're business as usual for all intents and purposes," he noted.

A senior vice president of IT at a large bank based on the East Coast said that its IT road map also hasn't been redrawn at this point. "This is not something that you can just change course at the flip of the switch," said the executive, who asked to remain anonymous. "If anything, there is more focus [on IT right now] from a risk management perspective."

And a systems engineer at a major national retail chain, who also asked that he not be identified, said his company has scaled back on some smaller IT projects but is continuing to proceed on major initiatives. He added that he was at the conference to find out more about technologies that the retailer wants to pursue to save money and increase operating efficiencies. Included among them was virtualization. "We're already doing it," the systems engineer said. "We're looking at how we can do it better."

Money has been budgeted for that work, but increasing the amount if needs expand likely would be a hard sell internally, according to the systems engineer. "You're going to have to justify going beyond that budget," he said. "You'll get to sit before the review committee and justify it. That's not going to be fun."

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