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IT execs choked by storage costs and complexity

The demands of storage can strangle a company's IT budget. Quick fixes won't solve the problem, and neither will hiding your head in the sand.

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CIOs are in the middle of a storage crisis, but much of it is of their own making.

Sure, the cost and complexity of storage is real, and you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone in the business who could argue otherwise. The proliferation of data, as well as compliance and other legal regulations, is creating a data retention nightmare for companies that they can't seem to wake up from.

 The din and clutter could scare the heck out of anybody.
 Charles Brown
CIO Fire Materials Group
But storage doesn't have to put a stranglehold on businesses. Experts say it's just a matter of understanding what you need and where to go to get it.

"There are people out there who haven't put in any kind of storage resource management [SRM] and they are drowning in complexity," said Brad Wood, senior director of enterprise technology at Corrections Corporation of America, a private correctional services company in Nashville, Tenn.

Wood, who uses an SRM package from Symantec Corp., a Cupertino, Calif., company that specializes in security, management and business continuity products, said the Sarbanes-Oxley Act continues to put huge demands on his storage infrastructure. As a highly regulated business with a huge compliance-induced retention policy, it was impossible for Corrections Corp. to add another storage array and call it a day.

"I should have looked at SRM sooner," Wood said. "[Doing it] late in the game was a bit painful."

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"We see companies ignoring the problem," said Joe Trupiano, director of marketing at MicroNet Technology, a Torrance, Calif.-based provider of disk-based storage products. Or they're putting it on the backburner until they can afford the more expensive solution. Unfortunately, he added, "companies operating without storage plans are like companies operating without legs."

Greg Schulz, founder and a senior analyst at The StorageIO Group in Stillwater, Minn., agrees. He said many CIOs, particularly in smaller and midsized companies, have just figured out they can't operate business as usual but are not yet tackling the problem head-on.

IP-SAN gives midsized firm room to grow
Charles Brown, CIO at Fire Materials Group (FMG) in Tempe, Ariz., said as his company grew, it needed a scalable platform allowing it to have a business continuity strategy that was acceptable to his clients.

To FMG, a medium-sized business that manages the safety requirements (including legal, historical and maintenance) of mostly public, Fortune 500 companies, a break in service could have serious repercussions for businesses, as well as lives.

FMG looked at numerous options including a traditional host bus adapter within a storage area network (SAN), as well as SCSI storage and fiber optic switches.

The company decided on an IP-based SAN technology from Boulder, Colo.-based LeftHand Networks Inc.

"We were growing faster than we could handle," said John Estok, FMG's IT director. "So, internal storage within the servers was making less and less sense." Despite a bad experience with a previous IP-based SAN implementation that left him unenthusiastic about the technology, Estok said the SAN instantly gave him more capacity. "It also gave us the technology to do the real-time replications between our site and our disaster recovery site -- and those SANs can replicate all day long.

"FMG has also put in place two SAN clusters, with one supporting all production servers and a second cluster supporting new, redundant systems in a hosted collocation facility. "Our goal was in achieving five nines," Brown said. "When we were small a couple minutes wasn't a big deal, but now it is. NAS didn't have the performance as much as the SAN technology." 
It's not hard to see why, Schulz said. In the past, the solution was just to buy more storage. Now, it's not only about backup. Today, a CIO has to ask about bandwidth, scalability, management, archiving and retention. Then there are technologies: networked-attached storage, storage area networks, Fibre Channel.

"People get hung up on the technology," Schulz said. There's a misconception that it's the storage solutions themselves that are more complex, he said, when in reality it's just that buying storage is more complex.

Schultz said there are solutions out there that are not so difficult. If that's the case, where's the challenge?

"Most midmarket CIOs don't have the resources or expertise to dedicate to figuring out a solution," he said. "Vendors need to help them navigate the waters."

Charles Brown, CIO of Fire Materials Group LLC (FMG) in Tempe, Ariz., said, "There's so much information out there. The vendors, the technology out there … the din and clutter could scare the heck out of anybody."

For Brown, going to the channel and finding a solid valued partner (FMG partners with CDW Corp.), played a huge role in his company's storage expansion. "We looked for a vendor that had enough depth and breadth and bandwidth that would put their best foot forward."

The high cost of doing nothing

"The cost of storage can be directly related to the lack of [business continuity] planning," said Josh Howard, data storage specialist at CDW, a large computer reseller based in Vernon Hills, Ill.

One reason storage costs so much is because companies are thinking of backup in traditional terms, Howard said. "Stop doing it the way you've always done it."

With limited IT budgets and IT staff, experts say they're not underestimating the struggle of the midsized company. Still, they insist that by addressing their storage requirements, businesses can find dozens of options that will fit their needs and budgets.

"I've seen people do some really great things," Howard said. "They're getting the most of their budgets without having to sacrifice redundancy."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Kate Evans-Correia, News Director

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