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Building a sound enterprise storage infrastructure
Owais Khan

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Owais Khan is Business Manager, Enterprise Storage, Compaq India. With over 17 years of experience in the IT industry, he is responsible for managing and marketing Compaq's entire Enterprise Storage product line. Owais is a published poet, and works with NGOs and other informal groups in his spare time.

With increased dependence on storage, it becomes imperative for businesses to have a sound storage infrastructure. Virtual Storage and Disaster Management are two trends that assure high data availability

Indian enterprises of all sizes are now realizing the significance of sound data storage infrastructure and data availability to their businesses. While enterprises were previously content with merely attaching additional disks or tape libraries to a server and backing up data, burgeoning data storage needs and events around the world have forcefully driven home the fact that data storage extends much beyond a backup arrangement.

Storage vendors have been on their toes trying to give enterprises the best in storage technology. Storage trends, present and future, are therefore strongly driven by vendor innovation, customer awareness and most importantly, the unexpected situations encountered in day-to-day operations.

Two of the more outstanding trends are Virtual Storage and Disaster Management. While Storage Virtualization is a futuristic storage technology trend, Disaster Management is an immediate and necessary business trend. The rise in demand for Disaster Management solutions by enterprises can be attributed to the September 11 attacks on the WTC. Storage Virtualization is the next step in the evolutionary process of Network Storage solutions that storage vendors have been providing.

Storage Virtualization

Virtual Storage refers to a scenario where storage is abstract and the concept of actual physical representation of a storage unit to the operating system and applications on a server does not exist. It is a fascinating technology that aims to make storage a utility like water and electricity. For a layperson, all that matters is the availability of water and electricity at the turn of a tap or flick of a switch, without having to think about the source and the path. Storage virtualization will make storage as utilitarian as this by ensuring that the operating system and the application on the server transparently handle storage in its dynamic form. Virtual storage will enable the storage solution to shrink and expand dynamically as required.

A closer look at the challenges posed to disk storage currently will help one appreciate the role of virtual storage. Enterprises today are faced with the challenge of unprecedented information overload, all of which is critical for their businesses. In today's extremely competitive business environment, it is imperative that maintenance and availability of mission critical data originating from multiple sources and systems in varied formats, across multiple users, at any given time is crucial.

Some of the problems associated with handling such huge volumes of data include physical space constraints, the cost of purchasing more storage infrastructure, and the availability of trained technical personnel to maintain and ensure smooth operation of the infrastructure. While accommodating growing data storage needs is important, this has to be done without disrupting routine operations. Thus, in addition to the constraints mentioned earlier, this brings to light the issue of accommodating the latest technologies and evolution that might necessitate the replacement of entire infrastructures. This will obviously disrupt operations, requiring more investment in infrastructure and training of personnel to handle the upgraded implementation.

Benefits of virtualization
Storage Virtualization, if successfully implemented, offers a wide range of benefits and capabilities that will address the issues mentioned above. The ability to deal with storage in abstraction ensures transparency of details like configuration, device specific features and characteristics to server applications. This in turn allows use of common management tools across disparate storage systems and a common set of features. Further, storage capacity can be added without affecting existing systems and applications. Data migration to ensure load balancing can be done without disrupting normal operations.

Consistent management tools across varying devices will ensure focused training on one set of tools for storage administrators. This facilitates error free management across devices and administration of greater amounts of storage by a single administrator. This also means that purchasing decisions would be based on costs, reliability, etc at the planned time of need rather than a decision for a predetermined vendor set done at an earlier time and driven by operational requirements. This solves the problem of skilled manpower resources. Therefore, storage management software will become a critical purchase decision.

Abstraction of disk storage also aids hassle free implementation of new technologies in the form of infrastructure or devices, without having to face obsolescence or business resistance. This in turn allows enterprises to reap the cost and technology benefits of new technology evolutions.

An enterprise-wide storage virtualization will therefore be revolutionary by changing the way storage is managed. While Storage Area Networks (SANs) are gaining popularity, embracing a virtualization solution with a SAN is the next logical step in achieving gains beyond connectivity.

Disaster Management
Unlike Storage Virtualization, Disaster Management is not a new concept or technology in storage. Storage vendors have had the technology, planning and implementation expertise in providing Disaster Management solutions for a long time. However, very few enterprises realized the need for sound Disaster Management plans till the September 11 attacks on the WTC. There has been a definite trend of enterprises implementing Disaster Management solutions ever since. The trend will continue, as enterprises now understand the urgency of a Disaster Management plan.

In storage terms, 'disaster' means the loss of mission critical data without which an organization will lose its ability to do business effectively. While implementing robust disaster management solutions is vital for business continuance, enterprises can work with storage vendors to develop contingency plans best suited for their business needs. Thus a combination of Disaster Management plans can be developed depending on the nature of business and the use to which an enterprise's mission critical data is put to.

Classifying business needs will help us understand the logic behind the planning that goes into disaster management. These business objectives can be classified as Recovery Point Objective (RPO) and Recovery Time Objective (RTO), depending on the nature of enterprises' businesses.

  • RPO is relevant in businesses where the accuracy of data (data integrity) is more important, such as in the manufacturing industry.
  • RTO is relevant in businesses where the availability of data (high availability) at any given time is critical, such as the hospitality and travel industries.
  • In several businesses RPO as well as RTO are equally critical in order to ensure smooth, accurate transactions and customer satisfaction. Enterprises in such businesses look for Disaster Tolerance or Business Continuance solutions, which literally mean solutions that can fully tolerate a disaster without any downtime, loss or damage. A good example is the financial services industry.

Based on the above classification either Disaster Recovery (DR) or Disaster Tolerant (DT) solutions can be implemented. While DR constitutes taking data backup regularly with the tapes being stored safely at a different site, DT involves setting up a replica of the primary storage solution at a secondary site located a certain distance away.

However, for any Disaster Management plan to work well, the most important requirement is the discipline in establishing a certain regimen to ensure data backup at regular intervals. Without this no amount of spend on infrastructure can protect an organization from a disaster.

To conclude, both storage trends discussed above are very strong. We will witness tremendous activity on both these fronts in terms of technological innovations from the vendors, as well as key infrastructure investment decisions from enterprises. With the role of storage gaining significance in recent times, storage planning and strategies will assume greater importance and will test vendor capabilities, providing an opportunity for competitive vendors to prove their mettle.

 
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