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Issue of September 2003 

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Vendor Voice: Storage Consolidation

Consolidate storage in a modular way

Consolidating storage resources with modular storage systems can help meet storage management challenges, without impacting availability and performance. by Sudhakar Rao

To be competitive, businesses increasingly rely on information to make day-to-day as well as strategic business decisions. But just amassing data and information is not the answer—the key lies in transforming this information into knowledge. Therefore, information has become a valuable asset for any organization. Consequently, the amount of data that is stored, and the amount of time it is kept online is perpetually growing. But while the amount of data and information is growing, the resources to manage the growth in data and information are not incremented. This presents a considerable challenge to companies striving to exploit information for competitive advantage, and to storage administrators responsible for storing, managing, and protecting that data.

Adding to the challenge are competitive pressures, market globalization, customers, partners, users, and technological advances—which are changing the way enterprises do business and use technology. With information becoming the key to success for businesses, the amount of data that is being collected (about 250 MB per person, per year), and electronic transactions are increasing rapidly. Many companies are losing ground in the race to turn available data into valuable business knowledge. Indeed, for some companies, storage requirements are doubling or tripling every three to six months.

Beyond just pure growth in data storage requirements, non-stop access to information by external and internal users is becoming more important than ever. While it is widely acknowledged that unscheduled downtimes are unacceptable, companies are realizing that performance is becoming equally important. Recent studies indicate that an average website visitor waits only six seconds for a response to a request before heading for another website.


To meet the increasing storage requirements, companies need to add more capacity to its existing storage infrastructure. But unfortunately, when they add more capacity, they do not have the resources that are used to manage these storage systems. Existing storage administrators either have to become much more productive (manage many more terabytes), or many more administrators will need to be hired.

According to IDC, storage administrators have to become 60 percent more efficient every year just to keep up with the growth. If the average administrator is responsible for 2 TB (terabytes) of storage and nothing is done to make them more efficient, it is estimated that there will be a need for more than 1.35 million administrators by 2004. But even if there were enough administrators available, we should remember they are expensive resources.

Adding to the storage management challenge is the fact that storage resources can be widely distributed throughout an organization and can be server-based or external (as in a SAN or NAS). Internal or server-based storage, as the name suggests, is storage that is located within a server (DAS storage). External storage encompasses all disk storage systems located separately from the server system. But when storage is widely distributed throughout an enterprise, managing it is difficult. For example, if storage is a mix between internal and external, and spread throughout an organization, how is information shared? How are storage procedures standardized? Here's the challenge. How do companies keep pace with growing volumes of information and demand for always-on, instantaneous access, while the resources to manage that information are not even close to increasing at the same rates? Will adding more storage systems solve the problem?


The answer to all these issues lies in consolidating existing storage systems into a more manageable storage architecture. Storage consolidation can not only support increased storage needs but also simplify operations, and improve resource utilization and efficiency. By consolidating or re-centralizing storage companies can benefit from efficient usage of storage, maximization of server capabilities, increased open floor space, lowered management costs, reduced storage devices, reduced software licenses, and decreased hardware and software management costs.

Storage consolidation is centralization of storage within an architecture that allows it to be shared by multiple hosts. In view of this, consolidation takes the shape of multiple servers attached directly to a single storage system, or consolidation of the existing storage onto a SAN.

But the storage system that could be considered for consolidation is largely dependent on the existing storage architecture within an organization. Generally, most organizations use widely distributed storage architectures, which are a mix of server based and external storage systems. In such cases modular storage systems would be ideal since these offer buy-as-you-grow options. They scale from less than 1 TB to well over 20 TB, compared to monolithic storage, which can scale in excess of 70 TB. Most modular storage systems allow components to be removed or added without bringing the systems down. Many of the features that were previously only found on monolithic systems are now available on modular storage systems.


But while considering buying a modular storage system organizations need to consider some vital attributes of the modular storage system that are key to storage consolidation projects. Since information and data volumes are perpetually growing the modular storage systems have to be scalable. It means that the modular storage system that is considered for consolidation should not only meet the existing storage demands but also has to meet the storage demands of the future. Generally, when higher capacity is considered, then performance takes a back seat. But a strategic consideration while looking for scalability of a storage system is that performance should not be compromised as the solution scales to higher capacity. The bottom-line is that scalability from a storage system should be sought on two parameters: capacity and performance.

Apart from providing the required scalability coupled with performance, the modular storage system should be able to support a variety of hosts. It is because most organizations have a mix of platforms and operating systems supporting various mission critical applications. In order to avoid some of the mission critical applications not being able to connect to the centralized storage, or for that matter, the storage system not being able to support some future applications, it is imperative that the modular storage systems implemented should provide the widest connectivity possible.

Further, the modular storage system should be able to provide maximum terabyte capacity per footprint. This is the method used to estimate the amount of real-estate space a storage system requires. Environmental constraints form an important parameter that is considered for storage consolidation. Factors like power consumption, and floor space become important parameters during consolidation. So when choosing a modular storage system, do consider the amount of data that can be packed within a specified floor space.

Besides, one should understand that storage consolidation is more than replacing old storage systems with new ones. It involves moving the data from old systems into new systems. Therefore, data migration becomes an important part of any consolidation strategy. If you want the consolidation to be successful, then plan the data migration carefully. Prior to the implementation of any new storage system, a careful analysis of the existing storage environment needs to be done, and specific plans need to be drawn for implementation of a storage consolidation system. A successful plan will ensure that the migration project is accurate and efficient. It will minimize the frustration involved with the migration of data between dissimilar environments, and will decrease the risk of data loss or corruption during the migration process.

Therefore, it is clear that for an organization to avoid the complexities of managing the increasing data and information growth in storage systems, they should go in for consolidation of the storage system. Consolidating storage resources with modular storage systems can help meet the challenges of efficient management of rapid data growth and improving an administrator's productivity, without impacting availability and performance. Consolidating onto modular storage systems can simplify operations, reduce TCO, and improve productivity and resource efficiency.

The writer is a Technical Consultant at Hitachi Data Systems.

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