In the current economic climate, it is vital to squeeze the value out of any IT investment. However, many CIOs continue to purchase storage solutions way beyond the performance and capacity they actually require. A common reason for this is the oversight that storage is actually there to serve the application and not the other way around.
Therefore more storage is bought, even though capacity of the existing system is hovering around 40-50 per cent. Would it not be beneficial to predict utilisation and ensure that storage will not be over provisioned?
The cost of storage today
Storage is an area that has suffered from not keeping pace with rapidly changing server virtualisation technologies and the inflexible nature of its manufacture.
Many vendors pushed the need for a dedicated, specific type of storage platform to fit each application. As a result, larger amounts of disparate systems were bought as the solution to ensure network storage capacity is always available no matter what the actual data storage requirement.
The economic situation has forced many companies to adapt their way of working. For example, project work is on the rise and therefore storage silos creep in to cope with individual projects. This becomes another resource which requires managing and, in today’s security conscious climate, storage devices should not be disposable or left with data on that is no longer needed.
Alongside all this supposedly ‘required’ storage is the obvious monetary and environmental cost of power, space and management resource usage in the data centre. Storage is incredibly expensive and adding more devices to cope with the rise in demanding server technology or project work increases the risk, cost, management and maintenance of a system. If consolidation is working well in other areas of IT, then why not apply this to storage?
A utility storage platform that is application-aware is now an option open to many organisations to help reduce needless financial expenditure and solve worries about security, reliability and capacity.
Application-aware storage is not a new technology, but it is now more financially viable for organisations other than blue chips to benefit from. Coupled with the widespread use of SAN (storage area network) technology and the markedly improved storage virtualisation products now available to improve infrastructure efficiency, the need to purchase excess storage is greatly reduced.
So what is it?
Storage is there to serve the application. Application-aware storage tailors storage and its services to individual applications based on performance, availability, recoverability, compliance requirements and value to the organisation. It is an intelligent system that combines NAS and SAN technology on one platform and is able to understand different applications and their usage patterns. Once understood, the system optimises data layouts, behaviours and Quality of Service (QoS) levels to ensure best performance.
Data is identified and stored by the application-aware disk in a mission-critical order. For example, data that comes from a company’s daily sales application or stock system is stored on the outside edge of the disk for rapid access. CRM data could be stored to mid-performance areas in the middle of the disk, while email archiving can be stored towards the high capacity centre of the disk.
Application awareness can be particularly useful for boosting performance in storage-intensive tasks such as archiving, backups, disaster recovery and index/search. Consolidating and tiering storage in this way increases disk utilisation in some cases by up to 80-90 per cent. Automated mission-critical storage also reduces administration time by up to 50 per cent and QoS is maintained. With the right expertise and resource, companies can manage this internally or look to outsource storage management to experts.
Hosting application-aware storage
Hosting storage in a shared environment helps to keep costs down. A shared platform reduces hardware, resource and power consumption costs, whilst providing a dedicated, secure location maintained by experts to store and back up sensitive data.
This is ideally suited for small to medium size enterprises that lack the space or funds to host storage solutions in-house. Using a shared environment also means companies will only pay for exactly what they use (for example per gig, per month) instead of paying over the odds for masses of storage that will never be fully utilised.
Take the application-aware storage route and companies will benefit from cost reductions. Less expensive, commodity storage disks and services can be better utilised for low-priority applications whilst the best performance, capacity and reliability is maintained for mission critical applications using the same storage pool.
With additional capacity now utilised in the storage system, it means less storage systems have to be bought, powered and maintained. At the same time, scalability is easier to manage, as an in-depth understanding of application workload means that provisioning a system is much more accurate and predictable.
Parameters and policies are easily set up for application-aware storage, which makes managing storage a lot easier. For project work, or where data need only be stored for a certain amount of time, the intelligent application-aware storage system can reassign that space to another project or application dependent on the set parameters. This can not only help with internal management of the storage estate, but also with external security compliance regulations.
Financial and regulatory rewards also come in the form of green computing credentials. Consolidating storage means less power, cooling and space is required and, if this is in a shared environment, then the carbon footprint reduces even more, helping companies to meet the Government’s environmental targets.
Intelligent, application-aware storage can also help a company with its ILM (information lifecycle management) strategy. Based on the value of different types of data to the organisation, greater control over its lifecycle is achieved with policies and automated processes for provisioning, mirroring, replication, snapshotting, data migration, and retention.
Application-aware storage in a shared environment gives companies the ability to reduce costs, improve efficiency and overall performance both immediately and in the future.
Mike Vinten is the chief executive for Thesaurus Computer Services and is responsible for driving continued growth of the privately funded business.