SD2002: Are you ready to make storage a utility?

Users should be looking at a company-wide strategy in which storage becomes a utility. But getting organizational support is another dilemma altogether.

Storage gurus and users agree that a paradigm shift is taking place that will significantly improve storage management efficiency: the evolution of storage-as-a-resource to storage-as-a-utility. But some users say the likelihood of adopting this model is slim-to-none without organizational support of processes.

Richard Scannell, vice president of strategy for GlassHouse Technologies of Framingham, Mass., struck a chord with attendees at the Storage Decisions conference held in Chicago last week when he emphasized the importance of moving to a storage utility model -- which essentially calls for an internal storage services provider to be monitored and managed by existing staff with storage resources on-site.

"IT people are control freaks," Scannell said. "'[They say,] I'm not going to let the one thing out of my sight that could make me lose my job.' That one thing is data."

However, the convergence of storage, networking and applications demands process, and processes are enforced by the utility model, according to Scannell. Users have to loosen their grip and implement processes to meet data needs -- a task that users describe as easier said than done.

"With storage as a resource, our current processes are built around people knowing what they want: requesting storage, developing new applications that use it, then implementing them. Somewhere in the middle, it isn't working," said Randy Irving, systems technology for State Farm Insurance Companies of Bloomington, Ill.

"We have either too much or too little [storage]," Irving said, explaining that users who get huge amounts of storage only use small amounts, and those who get too little need more.

While several users, like Irving, said they might rethink their current strategy, they are doubtful that processes will be implemented.

"It's going to have to change the whole mindset that goes beyond it," said Dave Eldridge, systems analyst for State Farm Insurance Companies. It would require changes from management down and users budgeting for how much storage they think they need, he said.

According to Randy Kerns, a partner with the Evaluator Group, Boulder, Colo., the real issue is that storage managers need to have a complete storage strategy, one that is embraced at the CIO level and which encompasses how to do business. That said, Kerns agrees that many people probably won't implement storage processes.

"I think a lot of people are right. It's not going to happen in a lot of environments. It's very difficult to make organizational changes," Kerns said.

However, Kerns offered some advice to those seriously considering a move to a storage utility model. First, he said, do your homework -- figure out the value of your data. Then develop the business case and get input up the chain of management, particularly from the executive level. If the CIO supports your solution, it will have a better chance for success.

While the benefits of implementing processes are numerous, including better operations for better company economics, unchanged cost of management, and efficiency gains from tools, according to Kerns and Scannell, this solution may just be considered a good starting point.

Joseph Vrankovic, enterprise storage specialist of Research In Motion Ltd. of Waterloo, Ontario, said, "Processes introduce effective and efficient control of storage. It's also a medium by which to educate various business units." However, he added, "processes should not be regarded as only the next step, but rather as the very onset of IT strategic planning."

For additional information:

SD2002: Duplessie on why profitability rules

Managing storage complexity

Storage execs need to move toward utility model

Webcast: How to set up a storage utility within your IT organization

An expert's 2002 predictions

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