Storage Efficiency Key To Managing Fast-Growing Data

Managing the growing amount of accumulated data can be difficult for any business, but those that apply the right management tools will find ways to increase the efficiency of their storage environments.

That's the key takeaway from a panel on storage efficiency presented this week at the COMDEXvirtual conference.

Moderating the panel was Camberely Bates, managing director at The Evaluator Group, a Boulder, Colo.-based analyst firm, who said the huge growth in the storage industry is well-documented.

However, Bates said, the conversation needs to focus on the strategies businesses need to better manage their storage while improving storage efficiencies.

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Improving storage efficiency has definitely become a top-of-mind issue for customers, said Paul Clifford, president of Davenport Group, a St. Paul, Minn.-based solution provider whose primary focus is on storage.

"Customers think about efficiency because of the cost of storing their data," Clifford said. "It used to be less of a concern because customers didn't need so much capacity. But capacity keeps growing, and needs to be managed efficiently."

Efficient management of storage will only become more important, Clifford said.

"Customers are keeping data forever, which is very expensive," he said. "They're not deleting data. Are you going to get the C-suite executives to come down and decide what to delete? No. And the IT guys don't dare delete anything."

How to measure storage efficiencies has become a top-of-mind issue for CIOs, Bates said. Working with clients, Evaluator Group found six different types of measurements she said were very straightforward and very easily understood.

They include the total usable capacity over the lifetime of their storage and the cost of migrating storage over time, measured in cost per GB per year. Bates said these two measurements are often combined into one in customers' minds.

The third is performance, especially in tier-one applications running in heavily virtualized environments, Bates said. This includes storage bandwidth measured in terms of what is used both inside and outside the data center. "Neither of these are actual cost measurements, but they get translated into costs after they measure the performance," she said.

The measurement of environmental issues such as GBs stored per Watt or per BTU or per cubic inch of data center space are also becoming critical, Bates said. "It dictates (clients') ability to respond to their business needs especially as their capability to provide power and cooling (changes)," she said. "Thus, some of them have actually turned to managed services providers for their ability to expand, so this is critical."

Data protection administration and storage administration are the last two factors, and are two for which there is no industry-wide standard of measurement, Bates said. These are often considered soft costs for which it is difficult to measure ROI, or return on investment, she said.

John Webster, senior analyst at The Evaluator Group, called virtualization one of the top technologies impacting storage efficiency.

Server virtualization consolidates multiple physical servers onto a fewer number of physical servers, but also puts a lot of pressure on storage environments, Webster said.

"To relieve that, you can use compression and deduplication to reduce the amount of physical storage that you need," he said. "You can use solid state disk to improve performance for applications that are getting storage from virtual machines. You can use thin provisioning as a way to allocate storage as you need it without pre-allocating large storage in volumes. And you can use snapshots to speed up the backup and recovery process."

Next: Virtualization, Flash, And Other Tools To Increase Efficiency

Dennis Martin, founder and president of Demartek, an Arvada, Colo.-based analyst firm, said that Flash storage not only speeds up storage performance, it also changes some of the other measurements of storage efficiency. For instance, the number of IOPS per Watt falls with SSDs because of their performance and low latency.

When looking at Flash storage on a dollars-per-GB basis compared to spinning disk, Flash will be higher, Martin said. "What we're finding, though, is Flash in the enterprise space is beginning to get close to the price points for enterprise hard drives ... Now when you look at it in terms of dollars-per-IOP, all of a sudden it looks pretty attractive."

Webster said that solid state disk when combined with lower-cost disk can increase efficiency by running high-performance applications in Flash storage while taking advantage of disk storage for capacity.

Shahin Pirooz, executive vice president of engineering operations at Centerbeam, a Saint John, New Brunswick-based managed services firm, said he is also seeing increased use of storage virtualization as a way to increase efficiency, but less in terms of virtualization of physical SANs and more in terms of virtualizing how those SANs are accessed.

Pirooz cited advanced virtualization technologies from companies like Hewlett Packard and EMC which allow companies to spread data in small chunks between SSD and high-capacity SATA drives. This spreads the cost and I/Os of specific applications based on the way people are using that data, he said.

"So, effectively, if you have a high-I/O application, where a large amount of the data in that application is not touched frequently, that component of the data architecture can be moved to SATA disk dynamically, and the high-accessed data can be moved to Flash disk, and Fibre Channel could be the mid-tier which allows the gap between the two," he said.

WAN optimization, which gets rid of a lot of the overhead related to transmitting data, is also a key part of increasing storage efficiency, Pirooz said. "That allows us to send less and retransmit less, and therefore take more advantage of the 'pipe' and make it virtually appear as if there's a much larger pipe when in fact you're just not sending as much data as you used to," he said.

Storage management as a tool for increasing efficiency is becoming more useful as it becomes more of a holistic tool which also includes server management, Webster said. For example, he cited VMware's vCenter, which offers an increasing number of tools for managing both servers and storage.

"VMware is moving in the direction of giving users the ability to do things either within vCenter or kick off storage management types of operations in the storage environments (instead of) using intelligent storage controllers to do them," he said.

Management of IT infrastructures is moving away from having specialized storage or server or VMware administrators to a generalist who understands the entire data center stack, Pirooz said. As a result, he said, storage vendors like EMC have built into their software the ability to allow a VMware administrator with no storage experience manage allocation of storage capacity to specific virtual machines, or for disaster recovery use.

"I don't need as many storage administrators any more," he said. "I just need a few people who understand the back end core infrastructure (and can) keep it healthy and running. But the VMware administrators are doing all the LUN mappings and everything through the VMware infrastructure."