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Storage consolidation landmines

Storage consolidation projects can be slowed by business politics and management preferences. Storage operations expert Brian Peterson explains how to avoid these storage consolidation landmines.

IT managers around the world are furiously adding storage to their data centers, and consuming 22% of total IT budgets in the process, according to Storage magazine's 2006 Purchasing Intentions Survey.

Storage managers commonly report 100% growth compounding annually. This constant incremental growth creates many smaller pools of storage that bleed operational efficiency. Since Moore's law states that new technology becomes 50% cheaper and 200% denser every 18 months, consolidating older legacy storage into larger pools using contemporary storage technologies may be the best way to deliver return on investment (ROI) to your customers.

However, storage consolidation projects are laden with political landmines. If not properly detected and disarmed, these political barriers will complicate the technical solution, and trying to avoid them just creates unnecessary complexity.

Although there are many types of political landmines, three hold considerable significance.

  • Decentralized storage mine: When separate pools of storage are created for specific applications or groups.
  • Management pride mine: When existing management resists change as a result of investing much effort and political capital in getting to the current state.
  • Business territory mine: When management resists storage consolidation in favor of empire building.
  • The decentralized storage mine

    The political mine field: IT shops where application owners are held directly accountable for application availability and funding is approved on a project-by-project basis. It is then passed from the project team to the infrastructure group who purchases a specific solution. These environments are ripe for consolidation.

    Mine detection: Look for separate clusters of application-specific storage. Each project manager likely purchased and installed his own storage separately. The disparate storage pool is probably administered with separate server and storage teams.

    Potential damage: When consolidation efforts do not address storage centralization issues the technology tends to be more complicated. The customer will ask that applications be kept in separate virtual storage area networks (VSAN) or storage pools. True ROI may not be realized due to increased complexity and reduced efficiency.

    Mine disarming: First make sure senior management supports storage consolidation. Encourage them to implement a chargeback system. The storage team should develop a service-oriented architecture (SOA) to which application owners will subscribe. The SOA model creates standard service request interfaces, service level agreements (SLAs) and the publication of key performance indicators (KPIs) to customers. As a VAR, you should help the storage manager develop a strong trust relationship with business application owners.

    The management pride mine

    The political mine field: IT shops that invested incredible effort to get where they are today. This is especially true when it comes to storage teams; most have experienced intense and recent growth. Whether the current state is pretty good considering the strains or it is in shambles, a lot of ego is tied up in what they have built.

    Mine detection: Look for this issue in shops where the storage manager and administrators have been around for some time. The storage team will be sensitive to designs that effortlessly solve complex problems. The perception within the organization may be that they were incapable of solving this problem on their own; it may leave the team defensive.

    Potential damage: Discrediting the storage team by not involving them in the solution won't serve the project well. Discredited admins no longer have leadership's ear. The incumbent storage team should be one of the account champions.

    Mine disarming: Establish a strong rapport with the storage manager. Empathize with the events that have brought them to current state and involve them in the solution. Broadcast praise for his or her bravery in past battles and their courage to embark on this consolidation activity. When the storage manager is well received and confident in his organization, your opportunities will expand.

    The business territory mine

    The political mine field: IT shops without dedicated storage teams. This issue is especially prevalent when IT support teams are departmental and based more on business function than on delivering a unified service.

    Mine detection: Look for this problem where operating system support teams own and administer the storage infrastructure. Sometimes common functions are further delegated to facilities and application support groups. A centralized storage service may not even exist yet. Consolidating storage means consolidating job functions. People are sensitive to change like this.

    Potential damage: The managers and technical teams that support portions of the storage service may fear that job scope reduction will increase the risk of demotion or layoff. They may berate the consolidated service and complain that it is too slow or inflexible. Without a true champion, the consolidation effort won't succeed long term.

    Mine disarming: This issue can only be solved with the support of senior leadership. They must understand the value of consolidation and the risk that this potential problem presents to the organization. Convince them to build a consolidated storage team out of existing resources. Make the new storage team a desirable group to work in. Select the best of the best players, consider paying the admins according to market salary research, and entice them with new technology and training.

    Properly identified and defused mines will not impede the your ability to add value -- it will only help your storage consolidation project succeed.

    About the author: Brian Peterson is an independent IT Infrastructure Analyst. He has a deep background in enterprise storage and open systems computing platforms. A recognized expert in his field, he held positions of great responsibility on both the supplier and customer sides of IT.

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