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Customer Information is Your Company's Life-Blood - Part III

Data storage can no longer be dismissed as a no-brainer. How data is stored and accessed is crucial to the success of customer relationship management (CRM) solutions and other mission-critical initiatives designed to better serve customers. This is examined in the third part of our series ....

Drowning In Data

As the need for data storage surges, so does its strategic importance.

You can see it in their faces. That anxious look IT managers get when asked if they have enough data storage to meet demand in 2001.

According to a recent survey by InformationWeek Research, over half the respondents estimate that their storage capacity is growing between 25% and 50% annually. Another 5% put their annual growth at a dizzying 101% or more.

It's no surprise then that the once ho-hum storage industry has become white-hot. This year it is expected that storage sales will hit $17.4 billion worldwide, according to market research firm Dataquest.

With that much money on the line, data storage can no longer be dismissed as a no-brainer. How data is stored and accessed is crucial to the success of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions and other mission-critical initiatives designed to better serve customers.

As such, storage requires the focus, energy and technical know-how of the best an organization has to offer in order to succeed. But first, why the sudden deluge of data? What can businesses do to prepare for it? And further, how to efficiently manage all of that data while keeping performance levels high?

How much information?

There are several factors driving the burgeoning demand. The InformationWeek survey cites an increase in customer data as the biggest driver behind the growth in storage purchases. And responsibility for the increase in customer data lands squarely on the shoulders of CRM solutions.

That trend will only accelerate in the future, as businesses continue to focus on enhancing customer loyalty and increasing their share of customers.

How data is stored and accessed is crucial to the success of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions

Adding to the data flood will be the dramatic increase in bandwidth looming on the horizon.

By 2005 it is estimated the world's bandwidth could grow one-millionfold. E-mail volume alone is doubling every eight to nine months; and much of it is being stored.

People are also increasingly likely to attach large files, photographs or music. But that's nothing when compared to video; 30 minutes of streaming video gobbles up 850 MBs of storage.

The spread of wireless communication is yet another factor driving the increase in storage demand. Especially when you consider all of the companies that maintain fleets of trucks to deliver products or that send out field service technicians to handle jobs on-site.

With the advent of CRM, many drivers now carry a handheld computer to enable a seamless flow of information to and from the corporate database and the field. And again, all of that data has to be backed up and stored.

Tracking electronic footprints

In some ways, when it comes to data storage, Internet companies like Amazon have the best and the worst of it. On the one hand, all of that instant access to user clickstream data-the electronic footprints that show where people go on the Web-is a one-to-one marketer's dream come true. Not only that, it is essential to the giant e-tailer's personalization strategy.

But in order to implement that strategy, the company must have access to the complete transaction histories of every customer in order to offer them suggestions for new purchases based on their tastes. And that requires a huge amount of data storage space.

Enterprise storage allows companies to scale up the volume of data more easily than with server-centric storage.

Some Internet companies are adding up to 250,000 MBs of capacity every day. However, for those that are ill-prepared to handle the massive influx of information, the dream has become a data-management nightmare.

Even old-fashioned manufacturers are dealing with data overload as they keep digital track of invoices, expense reports, marketing materials and other communications that used to be paper-based.

Scaling up to the volume with enterprise storage

So what can be done to stem the tide? Many organizations are turning to enterprise storage solutions to provide the answers. Enterprise storage allows companies to scale up the volume of data more easily than with server-centric storage.

And because enterprise storage connects to multiple platforms, companies can upgrade or change server hardware without replacing the storage, making it easier to scale systems as warehouse or Web hits increase.

With the increasing demands created by the Internet, companies are also now building entire storage area networks (SANs)-a separate network that can handle all of its storage needs without interfering with the main network.

In the competitive electrical utility industry, switching to an enterprise storage solution helped Portland, Oregon-based PacifiCorp not only add much needed storage capacity, the company also improved its system performance and shaved hours off its billing system's batch cycle time.

By improving customer billing, PacifiCorp was also able to improve its cash flow. "Every day that customers don't get our bill in the mail is a lost opportunity in payments for us," says PacifiCorp CIO Tim Meier.

Clearly, having the right storage system to meet the demand is THE make-or-break proposition in 2001. So go ahead and ask your IT manager about your storage situation. The look will say it all.