There are a whole host of resellers trying to make money by offering managed storage services through intelligent and innovative solutions to manage the disk space that their customers have bought. The more terabytes a reseller can manage, the more efficient the provider, and the cheaper the storage offering can be. One way to enable administrators to manage growing terabytes of storage is to use software to handle the mundane provisioning, alerting and reporting tasks. Software also allows resellers to hand off as many of the provisioning type tasks as possible to the customer. It is far better to give the customer control over the storage he uses because he tends to know what he wants to do with it and how long he needs the storage.
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In order to successfully manage customer's storage, resellers need to implement an infrastructure that allows storage to be efficiently managed. Let's take a look at the tiers of storage that might be required for a managed storage services contract.
First, resellers need to assess the spinning disks themselves. Two categories of disks are recommended here: Fibre Channel (FC) and SATA. Fibre Channel disks provide ready access to frequently used information. SATA disks store information that customers still want online, but don't necessarily have to be retrieved as quickly as the data on FC would be.
The second part of the storage concept is the ability to access and retrieve stored information as necessary. In a managed storage environment, the use of tape backup might not be the most beneficial solution – either from the perspective of the customer or the business itself. Tape is significantly more expensive than some types of disk backup, resellers need to be intelligent about what is backed up to a disk system and when -- or if -- it is finally archived off to tape. Great saving can be had for both resellers and customers by replicating data to a second storage platform and then periodically archiving to tape.
Managed storage services tools
Managing the storage itself is relatively easy, but resellers looking to add value should consider storage management tools. Let's look at two methods and example products that can be brought to bear to make administration easer.
The Acopia solution enables a reseller to provide a single name space that sits in front of network attached storage (NAS) or storage area networks (SAN). Rather than have many physical file servers requiring users to map drives, a single namespace, somewhat like the native DFS in Windows allows many disparate storage platforms to be identified using one network name. Resellers can use the product, setting policies to direct and redirect data to the appropriate spot, as defined by the customer. Resellers can configure the data policies to hold all new information on FC disks for a given number of days before transferring it to slower disks.
Administrators can also implement a policy -- with or without customer buy in -- to forcibly redirect any file, like MP3 files which do not meet the data policies and could slow the network, directly into slower storage. Acopia doesn't yet have a connection to a tape library system to provide that final layer of data classification but it's certainly on their roadmap. Acopia solution enables a reseller to provide a single name space that sits in front of NAS or SAN networks rather than have many physical file servers requiring users to map drives. A single namespace, somewhat like the native DFS in Windows, allows many disparate storage platforms to be identified using one network name.
Resellers can use the product, setting policies to direct and redirect data to the appropriate spot, as defined by the customer. Resellers can configure the data policies to hold all new information on FC disks for a given number of days before transferring it to slower disks. Administrators can also implement a policy – with or without customer buy-in -- to forcibly redirect any file, like MP3 files which do not meet the data policies and could slow the network, directly into slower storage. Acopia doesn't yet have a connection to a tape library system to provide that final layer of data classification but it's certainly on their roadmap.
Compellent has an interesting offering in the categorization space. The system works by exposing multiple layers of storage (FC, SAS, SATA etc.) in a single logical unit number (LUN) and using policies on the storage platform itself to decide where new and old files go. Since Compellent is a standard storage platform, the tape library capabilities are there, using the standard NDMP protocol. This kind of solution works well for resellers because it allows them to control their storage costs inside the storage platform and move infrequently accessed files to slower, cheaper disk while appearing to the user as if the files are in a single location. This, clearly, can save the storage provider quite a bit of money on disk.
Managing storage provisioning
Customers don't want resellers to throw lots of expensive disk storage into arrays never to see it used; however, customers don't want to run out of disk at an inopportune moment. It falls to the reseller to provide a solution that allows both the customer and managed service provider to know what's happening on the disk array and at what rate the array is being filled. By automating storage provisioning, resellers add value by allowing customers to easily track storage usage.
For the sake of administrative ease and responsiveness to customer requests, it is nearly always best to allow the customer to allocate storage and set their own data storage policies. Resellers, of course, should act as a trusted adviser during the purchasing process and offer advice about how much storage a customer should buy.
Another facet of provisioning is the ability to tell little white lies to customers. Generally, customers will always ask for more storage than they want and are ever likely to use. The storage platform chosen must allow storage space to be allocated as needed. For example, a customer might buy 100GB of storage, but the platform should only use the actual space occupied on the disk arrays.
The customer can then be billed either the entire amount or an amount per gigabyte used. Provisioning and reporting in this manner gives the customer the confidence that they have a contracted amount of storage and enables the administrator to procure only the disk space required, as identified with the capacity management application.
These days most storage platforms have Web-based applications that customers can use to see how much storage is being used. Resellers can customize the application to show only the storage elements that a given user can control and present that in a browser interface.
Storage capacity trend analysis
Let's take a look at the capacity trend analysis. Picking a sample application such as Storage Horizon from Monosphere, we see that being able to work out not only by how much raw disk utilization is growing but also having an individual break down of what each storage type is doing is the most important management indicator.
Any capacity management program will also need to take financial information so the storage business can assess how much capital expenditure is required over a two year period and also facilitate what the operational expenditure for the storage infrastructure will be. This helps companies understand how their storage costs are increasing and lets them plan their budgets. It also lets the storage providers plan their procurement cycles. The only thing worse than having lots of disk spinning with no data on them is not having enough disk spinning in the racks and customers baying for your blood.