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Data storage: what’s needed is a cultural revolution
Benoît Hallez, Director of Bull's storage business

EXECUTIVE OPINION

Ph. Miltin

With continued and sustained growth in data volumes, a tactical response of simply boosting storage capacity will not solve the underlying problems of controlling cost, risk and performance. Taking stock of the current situation, and setting up a global data management strategy is now essential. But that involves a real break with the past...

30%, 40%, 50% annual growth... Analysts may disagree about the precise figures, but they all agree as to the general trend: the amount of data stored in company information systems is soaring. With the growth of multi-media, the number of very large documents is burgeoning. And as on-line services proliferate, customer data inevitably accumulates. Finally, with ever tighter regulatory and legal constraints, data is having to be stored for longer and longer periods of time. But the falling cost of storage systems does not go far enough to compensate for these higher volumes, with the result that costs are once more spiraling out of control.

In addition, the ongoing and massive expansion of storage infrastructures is giving rise to other worrying issues: because they tend to be complex and heterogeneous, maintenance is increasingly problematic, and this can lead to less secure, and more costly systems. Energy consumption is also becoming a major issue. And finally, risk - both technical and legal – is more difficult to control. Cost, performance, environmental issues, risks… when it comes to storage, there are a multitude of new challenges IT Managers will have to face; sooner rather than later.

Until now, the response to growing requirements for storage has nearly always been to tackle the problem from the hardware angle, by acquiring additional capacity. Clearly, this is no longer tenable, because it does not provide an answer to the root causes of the problem.. Before rushing to purchase new capacity, it would be wise to make a 'state of play' assessment of existing storage infrastructures. What is immediately obvious in the majority of cases? More than 50% of the storage space which is supposedly in such short supply is often not being used! The data is simply badly organized within the available space.

Moreover, in many cases no distinction is made between different types of data. For the sake of simplicity, and because no particular strategy has been established, everything is often just stacked up in a costly primary storage systemw, with security and performance levels designed for the most critical information. In this respect, many organizations are no better at managing their data than the average PC user, with the same security and performance levels for holiday photos as for a key business presentation, an erratic approach to archiving, en bloc back-ups, and no de-duplication of data...

This assessment may appear rather extreme, even brutal. Nevertheless it reflects reality in a large number of cases: but because there is no real operational urgency to address the problem, the reality is widely ignored.

So, rather than increasing capacity, the first response to storage issues should be to exploit existing infrastructures more fully, and capitalize on the many possibilities that exist for more intelligent storage management. A few simple and easily implemented rules and policies can bring about considerable benefits: data can be organized hierarchically depending on how critical it is, how the data is used, and the length of time it must be stored, thus saving costs and controlling risks. De-duplication of documents and, most importantly, of file attachments that clog up messaging systems; archiving, or even automatically destroying, any data that remains unused for a certain length of time; strictly limiting certain formats, especially video clips... all are valid options.

In order to implement this kind of global data management policy, an initial rapid assessment of the situation is required, followed by a more detailed analysis to define an action plan. After all, technology is just an instrument designed to serve this storage policy, and it is in this perspective that it should be chosen. Meeting current and future storage challenges therefore requires a double revolution: firstly a move away from investment in hardware to investment in services; and secondly, a move away from an approach based on data volumes to one driven by service levels.

We should not underestimate the impact of these changes, which represent a dual cultural revolution. For IT Managers and their teams, looking on storage as a service – including the service provided by external suppliers, as well as that offered to internal customers – represents a real break with the past. But managing this fundamental change and taking it on board is the price that must be paid today by anyone who does not want to end up drowning in their own sea of data…