How good is your storage system?

The key to a successful storage system is a policy for storing data and managing your storage infrastructure.


David Gabel

Managing your storage isn't something that you just start doing one day. Storage management is something that you've been doing all along.

Don't believe me? Do you back up critical data so that you can restore in the event something bad happens? That's storage management. Well, it's a small, beginning piece of storage management.

Of course, you know where your backup tapes are, right? And you know where any other kind of backup media are, right?

But do you know how long it will take for you to be up and running in the event of a problem? And do you know, further, whether that time lag is appropriate for your organization? If you had to restore, right now, do you know how to begin?

Do you understand the health of your storage devices?

Have you taken less critical data off your principal storage devices and put it onto secondary or tertiary storage, implementing hierarchical storage management (HSM)?

If you can't answer all of those questions with a yes, odds are you could be doing a better job of storage management than you are right now.

Generally, managing anything means getting a handle on what that thing is doing so that you can then control, to a greater or lesser degree, the managed item's actions to direct it to a desired outcome. That sounds like a very high-falutin' concept, but it's simple, really. You observe what your storage infrastructure is doing -- how it's behaving, how long it takes to back up data, how long to restore, where the data is, etc. Then you begin to set down policies and rules for that infrastructure, including hardware and software, so that you can accomplish what you want that infrastructure to do.

"In the past," says George Symonds, vice president of product management and development for Legato Software, "people just said, 'Here's what I have, and here's what it can do, and so that's what we can deliver to the organization." Of course, that kind of approach to managing storage leads to a lot of grumbling in an organization about the attitude of the IT folks. You can stop that grumbling by using storage management.

Moreover, if you find that you're managing more things with fewer people all the time, you'll find that using some storage management products will help you become more efficient, so you can do more with less. "Say that one manager can handle 1/2 terabyte of storage," postulates Paul Ellis, product line manager for IBM Tivoli Software. "With storage management, that manager can manage 7 to 10 times that amount. So you can do more with less money."

And that's important as budgets for IT departments shrink in a down-economy era.

But where do you start? Well, you're already backing up your data, and that's the place to start. You can buy storage management products that will automate the entire process, telling you where the backups are, how long it takes to back up, and how long it takes to restore. It's important to have the ability to automate such procedures, according to Ellis, because "30% of unplanned outages are caused by human error." Take out the humans operating your backup operation, and you remove that human error.

If you are doing that, then you might consider HSM, which will allow you to maximize your media usage. You want to move some of your data to secondary and tertiary storage, but which? Storage management software will allow you to set up rules for which data gets moved where.

There is some disagreement about the utility of HSM software at this point. Ellis says it saves costs in media and offsite storage, while Symonds says Legato hasn't gotten into the field yet because HSM takes up more management time than it saves in storage costs. You should check it out for your organization to see if it is worth your time and effort.

You can go further. While backup and restore management is the bread-and-butter of storage management, you can investigate site recovery management, disaster recovery and even go to analyzing the state of your hardware infrastructure to ensure you have enough storage capability, but not more than you really need.

Storage management is waiting for you to apply it. Take a look.


About the author: David Gabel is executive technology editor for TechTarget.

This was first published in August 2002

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