Data growth, complexity spur storage consolidation

Streamlining storage now priority to better manage data surge, lower datacenter costs and improve business continuity, but challenges such as system downtime and compatibility have to be addressed, observers say.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor

Growing volume and complexity of data, as well as the increasing costs of maintaining one's data center are forcing companies to turn to storage consolidation to streamline data capacity. However, organizations will need to manage system downtimes and help IT managers familiarize with the new management software for successful implementations.

Eric Goh, managing director for Singapore at EMC, said the need for streamlining storage is due to the growth of corporate data outpacing the capabilities of legacy storage infrastructure. This growth can be attributed to the increased use of technology and internal processes as well as the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) phenomenon, he added.

He also identified the natural disasters that afflicted Japan and Thailand last year as timely reminders for companies to realize the importance of storage consolidation.

"For 2012, we are seeing many companies prioritizing storage consolidation so as to better protect through reduced backup and recovery windows and more effective disaster recovery solutions," Goh said.

The complexity of data is another factor pointed out by Ng Tian Beng, managing director at Dell South Asia and Korea. Large enterprises typically rely on structured data--or information organized in a way that can be made sense of easily--but data collected is difficult to manage currently because it is collated from different platforms and modes, he explained.

He added that having ready access to data is now more critical than ever, and this makes it more important companies to streamline their storage operations.

Beyond data growth and complexity, the increasing costs of running data centers are also spurring companies to find ways to optimize their storage strategies, said Joe Ong, managing director for Singapore at Hitachi Data Systems (HDS).

"New physical servers would be required to store the ever increasing data and, as a result, power consumption rises, which in turns translates to higher cost of ownership. This problem is further compounded by the looming uncertainty on the economy as well as declining IT budgets," he explained.

The growing interest in storage consolidation was reflected in a recent ZDNet Asia survey, which revealed that 32.2 percent of the respondents planned to implement the technology ahead of server virtualization, which had 30.2 percent, and storage virtualization at 29.3 percent.

The survey, conducted between August and October last year, was sent electronically to ZDNet Asia's Southeast Asia audience. It garnered a total of 378 respondents across 16 industry verticals, including IT and technology, education, government and manufacturing.

Challenges in consolidating data
However, according to Ng, some companies are still relying on purchasing more storage hardware to meet the data growth. Others would depend on legacy storage technologies that were not developed for large volumes of data and the different platforms in which the information is collected, he added.

The Dell executive cautioned against these methods though, saying that companies can end up with dead-end growth paths, limited point products, wasted capacity, system complexity and skyrocketing costs.

"Moving away from legacy technologies is a first step," said Ng. "Instead of merely adding more storage and consequently, more cost, organizations also need to look at adopting more flexible and scalable storage solutions to manage their growing data through consolidation and virtualization."

That said, the journey toward storage consolidation can be challenging for organizations.

Ong, for one, pointed out that the biggest challenge companies will face is the system downtime during consolidation. This is because different data types supporting a range of business applications often reside in standalone data storage units and these have to be switched off before integration between the different environments can take place, he said.

Furthermore, many companies' storage systems tend to be direct-attached storage (DAS), or traditional silos that have been operating on separate platforms, and might not be compatible with each other, said Alvin Goh, senior manager for system engineering and professional services at NetApp. This would make it difficult for the data to be moved to a single, unified platform, he added.

Thus, storage consolidation could result in a costly revamp of the entire system, not to mention the aforementioned downtime which affects the company's performance and business continuity, the executive said.

Goh added that determining what data to consolidate or eliminate could also be a problem.

"Capturing and retaining relevant business data is essential for business analytics. However, with the huge volume of data that companies generate on a daily basis, it takes time to differentiate what is business-critical and what is just taking up storage space," he said.

EMC's Goh suggested companies prioritize where data is stored during the consolidation process, too. This is because many allow data growth to be allocated to tier-one storage hardware, which is usually the most expensive, he noted. "If more applications reside on the same array, it can become difficult to associate the most relevant or important information with the best performing hardware", this preventing the company to take full advantage of the benefits and cost savings associated with storage consolidation, the managing director said.

In terms of equipping IT professionals, NetApp's Goh said employees would need to familiarize themselves with the management tools governing the consolidated storage. If not, the new system may present even more complexity, he said.

Plan carefully
To mitigate these risks, he advised companies to plan their migrations carefully. The plan should include the full definition of what, where, when, and how to migrate the data in accordance with the storage vendor's recommended best practices in order to accelerate the process and reduce business impacts and risks, he elaborated.

EMC's Goh added that a well-organized consolidation plan should include a feasibility study based on the storage type, storage requirements, ROI (returns on investment) projections as well as a tiered storage service model based on the company's business requirements.

To minimize disruption to operations, he said companies need to implement in phases, paying attention to details such as aligning the migration of storage or introducing new applications and services with the expiration of a service or contract.

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