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Cover Story: Storage Management

Selecting the right storage platform reduces TCO

A well-designed network storage architecture helps control storage expenditure and reduce TCO while managing explosive growth in data volumes, and ensuring high-availability of data to end-users say Akhtar Pasha and Abhinav Singh

Texas Instruments India saw its data triple from 3 TB in December 2000 to 9 TB in 2001. Today the company sits on a mountain of data—40 TB in all. Ensuring that this data is available to TI's chip designers all of the time is a formidable task. Kameswar V Nagavarapu, General Manager, IT, Texas Instruments (India) Pvt Ltd says, "Designing and planning networked storage is very critical and is the 'life line' of the company." He adds, TI's chip designing activity depends on data availability, which in turn depends upon careful planning, designing and deployment of scalable storage solutions.

In an enterprise set-up designing and planning the selection and deployment of networked storage is critical. Based on the company's business goals and future plans, with regard to expansion and growth, enterprise storage needs to be scalable. Organizations need to be in a position to optimize their storage resources and bring down the TCO. The ability to recover data in case of any eventuality—planned or unplanned—and policies for maintaining business continuity are other key components of any storage architecture.

"Ultimately NAS and SAN will merge. An enterprise SAN over Fiber Channel provides dedicated point-to-point connections between servers and disks without any IP contention" — Vinod Sadarangani, Vice President-Information Technology, Orange

Professional Services Growing in Popularity

Designing network storage can be taxing; it is a complex task. Companies are often assisted in the task by the professional services divisions of storage vendors or integrators. Consultants such as Movinture Storage Networks help organizations design and implement networked storage. Consulting firms offer design, planning and implementation services.

Design is considered a full service rather than an ad-hoc pre-sale quick fix. The focus lies more on integrating boxes, both existing and those freshly purchased.

N. Ravishanker, assistant vice president (IT), Bank of Muscat says, "After our merger with Centurion Bank, we will make an RFP for building an enterprise storage network across the organization. At that time we plan to hire the services of a neutral consulting firm for designing our network storage architecture. We want someone who can evaluate and suggest relevant products, and implement the same. We don't plan to take the services of storage hardware vendors because their solutions tend to be biased."

Adds Prashant Prakash, founder and chief strategy officer of Netkraft Pvt Ltd, "Being an IT Services company, storage is one area that's not our core-competency. Taking the services of a storage vendor will result in getting tied down with that vendor's products. For this reason, we have chosen Movinture Storage Networks, as they are neutral and provide a holistic view of our storage infrastructure required for business continuity and disaster recovery."

That said, many companies such as HDFC bank, TI, iGATE prefer to design networked storage architecture in-house. P. S. Karthikeyan, the chief delivery officer (CDO) at iGATE Global Solutions Ltd (IGS was formerly known as Mascot Systems) says, "We prefer to design our own networked storage architecture with inputs from subject experts. IGS is a BS7799 certified Company and has taken a conscious decision not to outsource any activities that are directly related to our business activities and information security."

Kameswar adds, "Being a global semiconductor design company we would like to design our storage architecture ourselves. We leveraged our IS team's storage and networking skill sets and know what best fits our requirement." He adds the spec prepared by TI is given to the vendor and the company tests their products itself.

Smaller companies tend to go with the storage hardware vendor for designing and implementing networked storage. "A lot of organizations don't have the expertise in-house," says Arun Rawtani, country TSG manager, EMC Information systems NV. "Designing and implementing storage requires a combination of networking and storage skills."

What's the best storage platform?

Karthikeyan says, "The general criteria that we would use to pick the right storage solution is to identify the problem that needs to be solved and analyze which solution will provide the greatest return on investment (ROI). This would include factors such as capacity, performance, scalability, manageability, and dependability, and last but not the least, the cost factor."

Madhusadan Rao B, business manager, Apara Enterprise Solutions (P) Ltd. says, "It's important to select a storage solution that's independent of any hardware platform that you are working on, such as HP UX or Solaris. The solution should be scalable and if the enterprise shifts to any other platform tomorrow, the storage solution should be compatible with that platform as well."

Surajit Sen, regional manager west, Network Appliance adds that the most important thing is that organizations must ensure that they base their architecture on open standards that are flexible, and can accommodate all the protocols (TCP/IP or Fiber channel).

Designing storage network architecture, be it NAS or SAN, depends upon a number of factors. The general practice at mid- and large enterprises has been to outsource their network storage design and planning to the storage hardware vendor.

S. R. Balasubramanian, vice president-IT at HDFC Bank says, "The network storage design is outsourced to the hardware vendor. We explain the current as well as future requirements to the vendor and based on that the vendor suggests a storage architecture. The IS team takes the final decision on the architecture."

The first step will be preparing a blueprint of the enterprise based upon its current and future business requirements. Storage vendors have professional services divisions that provide consulting services.

Avijit Basu, marketing manager, NSSO, HP India says, "The first step will be to understand the company's business objectives and goals and to conduct a storage assessment where we analyze the company's present and future storage requirements."

Storage assessment

While doing storage assessment, the consulting team analyzes the kind of applications used by the customer, the number of servers running diverse OSs and the kind of throughput required. The growth of data and disk utilization has to be analyzed and mapped to the enterprise's business goals in order to meet its future storage requirements. If the enterprise has a distributed storage architecture, the first step will be to consolidate data at single point for centralizing data management and simplifying backup procedures. A vital point is to separate OLTP (On-Line Transaction Processing) data from that generated by applications that aren't mission-critical. Qualification of OLTP data helps in deploying business continuity solutions.

Mapping storage technology to the blueprint

Having identified the enterprise's storage requirements, the next step is to select the appropriate storage technology. For storing files in a departmental set-up where the applications aren't mission critical, Network Attached Storage (NAS) is an ideal solution. These filers communicate using Network File System (NFS) for Unix and Common Internet File System (CIFS) for Windows environments. FTP, http, and other networking protocols can also be used with NAS filers. NAS is platform independent, and using a filer improves network performance as the NAS device is an appliance, and consequently it performs better than a typical server would in the same role. NAS is typically used for storage consolidation on a LAN.

If an enterprise is thinking of storage for a back-end or OLTP application, that's where a SAN comes into the picture. SANs are networks that are dedicated to data storage. Unlike in the case of NAS, a SAN is separate from the LAN. Companies benefit by moving storage related traffic off the LAN onto the fiber channel-based, SAN that offers faster performance and lower latency. SANs also let companies opt for remote storage (up to 10 km).

Due to their fundamentally different technologies and purposes, it's not necessarily a choice between NAS and SAN. Either or both can address an enterprise's storage needs. In fact, the lines between these technologies are starting to blur. Down the road companies may choose to back up its NAS devices to its SAN, or attach NAS devices directly to the SAN. This is exactly what Orange does for its network storage infrastructure. Vinod Sadarangani, vice president-IT, Orange says, "We are using NAS as an online secondary storage and backup option instead of tapes."

Can NAS and SAN be used together?

DAS (Direct Attached Storage) is losing ground to NAS and SAN. A combination of NAS and SAN termed as Enterprise Storage Network (ESN) makes sense when an enterprise has different applications and bandwidth requirements within its IT infrastructure. For instance, consider an engineering company that manufactures a product. This hypothetical company's messaging storage can be done on a NAS filer while the Supply Chain software (deployed for the manufacturing set-up) can use a SAN. The same is true in case of banks. A bank can rely on NAS for non-mission critical applications, and SAN for its core banking application.

Ravishanker of Bank Muscat says, "ESN is picked based on the application. We are planning to implement both NAS and SAN."

For mission critical applications such as core banking, enterprises can implement a SAN and for storing e-mail and hosting intranet data, they use NAS.

Sadarangani of Orange says, "Ultimately NAS and SAN will merge. An enterprise SAN over Fiber Channel (FC) provides dedicated point-to-point connections between servers and disks without any IP contention. NAS isn't designed to take heavy loads, it would choke the LAN network."

Business continuity planning and DR

Enterprises need to identify their backup requirements and define critical parameters such as recovery time objective (RTO) and recovery point objective (RPO).

"Business Continuity Planning also includes service level agreements for restoration of data. There should be flexibility regarding what data is to be recovered in case of a disaster. OLTP and mission-critical data should take the priority over e-mail," says Rawtani of EMC. Bandwidth availability for recovering data is crucial. Trying to simultaneously recover all of an enterprise's data can end up choking the fattest data pipe.

ROI on Storage

CIOs need a comprehensive plan to address the high cost of managing distributed storage, or storage will remain a budget buster. That's why they have their own way of justifying investment in networked storage to top management.

Kameswar explains that being a semiconductor design house, TI generates huge amounts of data that's shared and accessed by its chip designers. "If I'm able to provide high-uptime and availability to our chip designers when the load peaks, that's my ROI on storage. Storage has to be as seamless as networking."

Though ROI in terms of money may not be possible to define, there are tangible and intangible benefits that help justify investments made into networked storage.

MSSPs fail to take off

MSSP (Managed Storage Service Provider) as a concept has failed due to security concerns. The fear that an MSSP might disclose customer or business related data to a company's competitors is one reason why enterprises have shied away from the MSSP concept. Also, the lack of consistent bandwidth has been an impediment. MSSPs do not make sense in the Indian context.

According to Balasubramanian, "For a bank, data is critical—it is our data on our customers. This is an important asset to us and we need to maintain confidentiality. We own the storage ourselves but have given only the support function to an outsourced agency with proper access controls. We believe that MSSP is not a viable solution as of now."

Shailesh Agarwal, Country Manager-Storage of IBM India says, "Customers wanting to outsource storage to MSSPs have doubts about the reliability of remote connectivity."

Hosted storage services will not catch up in India as these models have failed world-wide. However, there is an important trend seen in the Indian storage market, that's managed DR services. Some enterprises are willing to outsource their DR site allowing storage service providers and storage consultants to manage their DR infrastructure. For instance Netkraft has signed a deal with Movinture to design, maintain, and manage its DR site. Netkraft's DR site will be hosted at Movinture's own data center and they will manage the entire storage infrastructure for Netkraft. Similarly Tata Teleservices Ltd (TTSL) has invested in EMC's storage infrastructure and it offers managed DR services to Indian companies. Asian Paints is using TTSL's storage infrastructure for DR.

Tape Automation products simplify backup

When it comes to backing up data there are areas where an enterprise prefers to hire the services of storage integrator, especially for managing Service Level Agreements (SLAs), and for managing tapes. DAS is still predominant in India and backup is often taken manually. A typical manual system consists of a single tape drive connected directly to a server for backup. A network administrator loads and unloads tapes physically while executing backup procedures. Sometimes people change, load or swap the wrong tapes. In such a system, it takes a long time for restoration and searching through stacks of tape cartridges to find the right tape. This long backup window prevents organizations from carrying out other activities until the backup is complete.

Texas Instruments India has invested in Quantum ATL libraries and this move has aided the company in reducing its backup window from 72 hours to 9 hours or less. Kameswar says, "We are able to backup our entire data in less than 9 hours. The ATL library offers faster backup and retrieval of data and it has helped in media management." Earlier TI was spending half a million dollars on media management.

Balasubramanian of HDFC bank adds, "We have a tape library containing LTOs with which we are able to backup from multiple servers (that are attached to SAN). Labeling and cataloguing is easier. We are able to back up multiple systems onto a single LTO library. This media is more reliable than DAT or DLT. We are able to operate at higher speeds with greater reliability and at the same time reduce the overall spending on media." Handling and off-site storage becomes easier as the number of tapes used drops.

Making that decision
  1. Know your business
    Business Goals, Corporate competency, business uptime, RPO, RTO
  2. Analyze what you do
    Analysis & break-up of data management tasks
  3. Know the exact process
    Full time equivalents, impact analysis, response time
  4. Know how much you spend
    Cost of ownership
Why Consolidation?
  • Reduce footprint (use fewer boxes)
  • Buy a lower number of software licenses for replication, backup and provisioning.
  • Reduce maintenance contracts (including costs of contracts)
  • Reduce staffing levels
  • Reduce network/SAN infrastructure
  • Reduce total cost of ownership (TCO)

Choosing the right networked access    
NAS (IP based) SAN (Fiber channel based) CAS (Content Addressed Storage)
Purpose For file sharing and a low-cost option for hosting databases. For transferring block data between servers and storage devices
For fast access to read only information Economic advantage Lowest cost to connect and share files
Takes the load of moving storage data off your LAN letting you perform server-less backups. Lowest cost online storage Typical applications
Software development houses, product design companies, for hosting small databases and data generated by workgroup applications. OLTP, data warehousing, ERP, large databases. E-mail archiving, content management, document retrieval
Source: EMC

Akhtar Pasha can be reached at Akhtar@expresscomputeronline.com

 
     
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