Juggling the spend, managing the data

Simon Ratcliffe, senior consultant storage at Dimension Data, looks at smarter ways to approach data storage infrastructure.

The flood of data generated and stored by businesses is growing at an uncontrollable rate and companies have invested substantially in IT systems to help manage it.

But how can they manage their data storage infrastructure cost-effectively? It means developing smarter ways to juggle spend without compromising quality of service.

One approach that is proving successful in the development and maintenance of a business-focused IT infrastructure is managed services. More and more businesses are recognising that an effective way to reduce overall IT spend is to offshore the provision of IT services.

But businesses have become wary of 100 per cent offshoring because they lose control of the output and direction of the IT environment. A managed approach is now a popular middle ground.

So what is driving the explosion in the volumes of data that companies are generating? The need for businesses to offer better services, bespoke interfaces and better communication with customers, along with data-rich applications like customer relationship management and enterprise content management. 

Businesses are moving so quickly that the concept of having a silo of available storage to meet all their needs is a dream for most client organisations.

With the explosion of data being led by the need to improve quality of service to customers, enterprises are also striving to ensure that quality and system availability levels remain high across the infrastructure.

Failure to meet these expectations can have a disastrous impact on a company's shareholder value, brand and customers.

Businesses are also looking at ways to meet the challenges posed by a change in the metrics by which service levels are measured. The evaluation of quality of service is shifting from technical measurements of IT resources to business-user criteria.

Companies are also beginning to acknowledge the critical role that data plays in long-term corporate stability.

As a result companies are adopting a more strategic approach as they recognise that contingencies to guarantee a robust and reliable IT infrastructure are critical. So storage vendors and partners need to provide high quality, reliable, scalable and cost-effective storage solutions that include managed storage provision.

As part of this process, businesses are striving to source an effective method of data distribution. The adoption of storage area networks (SANs) is a popular solution for bringing costs back under control.

But despite the increased adoption of SANs, businesses are still failing to recognise that their infrastructures are rapidly becoming outdated. This is because they have neglected to make long-term plans that take into account the speed at which technology develops.

Another factor that has hampered the development of well-managed storage infrastructure is the lack of open standards amongst storage vendors.

Businesses are finding themselves locked into vendor relationships that fail to offer cost-efficient solutions for the long-term management of escalating volumes of data. 

Having identified the barriers to an effective storage infrastructure, businesses must establish an approach that best suits their requirements. Adopting a managed approach to storage can offer significant benefits to a business.

However, it is first important to take into account a number of factors that such a strategy addresses (see below).

Having considered these factors, businesses can then see how a managed approach can benefit them. It is important to recognise that an effective managed business function is achieved through assessment, planning, execution and evolution.

A managed approach takes into account an enterprise's full IT strategy, which improves the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of all elements of the infrastructure.

Planning and consolidation can work to reduce operating costs by improving efficiency and maximizing the allocation of personnel.

Through the adoption of a long term strategy and the effective forward planning of data management, an enterprise can make more efficient use of existing capacity and have greater control over the movement and location of data.

For example, as it's been estimated that approximately 65 per cent of online data is rarely accessed, businesses should look to free up online resources for more core business applications. 

Unsurprisingly, consolidation presents companies with one of the biggest management issues. The challenge is to find an affordable scalable storage solution that fulfils the needs of the overall business, whilst meeting the storage needs of the individual units.

This requirement for flexibility is exacerbated as corporates increase their demand for enough high-availability storage to service the growth of their business. Any changes required to facilitate these needs must be driven by the business, not by the outsourcer, ensuring control is maintained.

A managed approach helps by providing access to specific skills, reducing ongoing training costs and improving staff retention.

And by integrating their business continuity planning into a managed storage infrastructure, businesses will be better placed to develop a comprehensive disaster recovery strategy.

A common mistake when upgrading systems is to automatically renew systems without first undertaking an audit of existing storage infrastructures. Businesses should perform periodic audits of their IT to ensure that they are getting the greatest benefit for the least spend.

Without a storage and infrastructure management strategy, companies will continue to waste money, putting their businesses at risk and undermining their corporate reputations.

The success of a managed approach hinges on the cooperation of the entire organisation. The buy-in of the board is vital for its effectiveness.

Companies should also seek to use a partner with a genuine understanding of their business needs.

It is vital to ensure that a partner has a reliable support infrastructure, suitably skilled personnel and can guarantee levels of service. Failure to meet any of these critical elements will threaten the success of a project.

The shift towards a more application-focused infrastructure further highlights the case for open standards in data storage. As standards become more defined and universally accepted, the rush to storage attached to the network will accelerate.

The pressure to drive down cost from the IT budget will undoubtedly increase, so businesses must seek cost-effective and high-quality solutions. 
 
Adopting a managed approach to storage can offer significant benefits to a business. However, it is first important to take into account a number of factors that such a strategy addresses:

  • The impact on the corporate reputation and brand if the IT infrastructure underperforms;
  • The time spent on system deployment and implementation;
  • The current and ongoing shortage of individuals with the range of skills required to maintain a complex heterogeneous IT infrastructure;
  • The return on investment that can be realized from redistribution of in-house skills.

In a nutshell

  • An approach that is proving successful in the development and maintenance of a business-focused IT infrastructure is managed services.
  • The evaluation of quality of service is shifting from technical measurements of IT resources to business-user criteria.
  • An effective managed business function is achieved through assessment, planning, execution and evolution.
  • A managed approach can help by providing access to specific skills, reducing ongoing training costs and improving staff retention.

September 2005

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