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Helping storage administrators save money: Telling both sides of the story

There are ample ways your storage administrator customers can save money, but make sure they understand the pros and cons of each technology.

In a recent article for SearchDataBackup.com, Curtis Breville highlights 10 things that storage and backup administrators can do to save time and money. While all his highlights are accurate, it is important for a solution provider to also point out the potential downsides of a solution to their customers. Success in the channel is based largely on expectation management, and that means telling both sides of the story.

We'll address the first five points Curtis outlined here, and we'll follow up on the remaining five in a subsequent article.

Tape. Tape is generally perceived as the most cost-effective backup medium, but are storage administrators buying new libraries? According to end-user-focused studies conducted by Storage magazine, spending plans for tape libraries, drives and media have been dwindling. A few years ago, 47% of respondents to the publication's Purchasing Intentions survey planned to increase tape spending while another 34% expected to maintain previous spending levels. In the Spring 2009 Purchasing Intentions survey, only 19% of respondents said they'll increase their spending, while 29% will decrease tape spending (look for the full report on the Spring 2009 Purchasing Intentions survey on SearchStorage.com in early May). And does tape really save money? There is a cost to store, transport and retain that data. And there's a cost to protect or encrypt tapes as they leave the data center -- one that can't be ignored, since the cost of an exposed tape leading to lost customer records can be even more expensive. On the other hand, disk-based backup systems that can perform deduplication can replicate this data to another data center, yet the whole process can be done behind the customer's firewall. Disk-based backup is a safe and simple alternative to tape. Disk isn't cheap, but neither is tape when you consider all of the related costs.

MAID. For many data centers, archiving old data makes sense, but as we point out in our article, "All MAIDs are not created equal," there are differences in the types of MAID available; with some of the major manufacturers' solutions, you have to help the customer organize their data placement techniques so that data can take advantage of a drive that can power down. MAID systems count on zero activity for a period of time to be able to power down. You have to make sure that the data is inactive enough that the technology has a chance to allow that to happen. If you don't consider this issue carefully when guiding your storage administrator customers toward the choice of a MAID system, they may end up never saving money on power and cooling; worse, if these drives spin down and spin up too often, they actually consume more power.

Data deduplication. Curtis' story implies primary storage deduplication, and with primary storage deduplication you have to be careful. First, for deduplication to work, there has to be duplicate data. While this may seem obvious, oftentimes people forget that deduplication is very effective at reducing storage usage on backup devices but not so good on primary storage. That's because on primary storage, there simply is not that much duplicate data, unless it is a server virtualization environment. Make sure you set customer expectations considerably lower for primary storage deduplication.

Compression. Real-time compression on primary storage works but for now only on data on a NAS-based file system. Real-time compression devices provide excellent compression of all data regardless of how much duplication there is, with minimal impact. This is something you should be talking to every customer about. Right now, however, these technologies do not work in a block-based environment, so iSCSI and Fibre Channel are out. Look for customers with large NFS/CIFS environments.

Thin provisioning. Again, a great technology and you should be talking to every one of your customers about it. But it's important to understand that while many vendors are offering thin provisioning, the approach varies by vendor. Some are really just doing dynamic volume expansion in the background -- a technique that consumes more storage and has a greater impact on performance than true thin provisioning. Also, only a few thin provisioning-aware systems can do what is called reclamation, whereby the space used by files can be reclaimed for use by the storage system after the files are deleted. Those that can't perform reclamation start putting on a little weight, and it's important to consider that when analyzing the ROI of a thin provisioning system.

In a subsequent story, we'll follow up on the remaining five points that Curtis mentions in his article on SearchDataBackup.com. Here's that article:

Ten ways storage and backup administrators can save time and money

Here are 10 ways storage/backup administrators can save time, effort and money.

Tape. Tape is the reigning champion of low-cost storage. For example, the Sun Microsystems Inc. StorageTek SL8500 tape library holds 8,500 tapes. An LTO-4 tape cartridge holds 800 GB of data natively, 1.6 TB at the industry accepted 2:1 compression rate. 8,500 x 1.6 TB equals 13.6 petabytes of information stored. An LTO-4 cartridge costs approximately $50 per cartridge. Assuming the tape library will be around $500,000, $425,000 for tape cartridges to hold that amount, and say $75,000 for 10 tape drives to read/write the data, you are looking at storing 13 petabytes of data for $1 million. There's no denser, less-expensive storage solution that can even get to $2 million for the initial cost outlay to store that amount of information. Plus, since tape is sitting idle not requiring any electricity or extra energy, the amount of resources necessary to maintain access to the data is hundreds of times lower than what it would take for disk. To secure the media offsite, the cartridge is mobile and can be sent from one site to another for data security/disaster recovery.

Read the rest of the story on how storage and backup administrators can save time and money, by Curtis Breville.

About the author

George Crump is president and founder of Storage Switzerland, an IT analyst firm focused on the storage and virtualization segments. With 25 years of experience designing storage solutions for data centers across the United States, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS and SAN. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland, George was chief technology officer at one of the nation's largest storage integrators, where he was in charge of technology testing, integration and product selection. Find Storage Switzerland's disclosure statement here.


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