Consultants urge IT to build strategic storage plans

Posted on November 01, 2002

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By Heidi Biggar

While some IT shops have built strategic storage plans, analysts say the adoption rate should be much higher, especially among mid-sized and large companies about to embark on large storage investments (e.g., a storage area network) or those looking to standardize their storage environments.

"What's scary is how many IT shops haven't even thought of building a strategic plan for storage," says Jamie Gruener, a senior analyst with the Yankee Group.

A little more than a third of users polled at a recent storage conference had a strategic storage plan in place. However, Gruener believes the actual adoption rate is much lower among the general population.

Regardless, users are beginning to think about strategic storage plans—and for good reason. Few IT administrators today know what type of storage systems they have, how much capacity they've got, or how much capacity is being utilized and by which applications.

What users do realize is that they need to do something to improve the efficiency of their storage environments and to get corporate buy-in for future storage purchases, says Gruener. "IT has a hangover from its [former] storage purchasing habits...of just doing their own thing."

Gruener says that strategic storage plans can not only help administrators gain control of their current infrastructures, but they can go a long way in justifying future spending by showing how storage purchases can directly impact the corporate bottom line. Strategic storage plans do so by linking IT operations—systems, networks, and management software—with specific business goals. "They are the bridge between IT operations and business objectives," says Gruener.

Strategic storage plans address questions like the following: Will implementing a SAN or consolidating storage resources improve the service level of a particular business application? What new business initiatives will drive future storage demand? How will automating key storage functions affect business objectives?

The one drawback is that storage plans are not always easy to implement. Recognizing this, the Yankee Group devised a multiple-step framework that is designed to guide users through the implementation process.

The first step is getting buy-in from IT and corporate management. Gruener suggests leveraging "CIO power" or forming a committee or an IT council to build consensus for the plan. He also recommends enlisting business line managers to provide insight into specific business objectives and to assist with initial capacity forecasting. "You must know where your business is headed, how IT will service it,...and what your appetite for risk is," he explains.

Next you create a schedule for completing each phase of the project and then establish a process for reviewing the plan annually. The key is to treat the plan as a "living document" that can be modified to reflect a variety of changes (e.g., new levels of risk, price changes, etc.).

Once this groundwork has been laid, you're ready to do a storage assessment of your current deployments (including storage systems, management software, storage networking, and automation) to see what is and isn't working and to establish near-term and long-term priorities.

"This is where you evaluate what you have deployed, scope out and prioritize application data, consider a 'wish list' for what needs work, and document best practices for what is working," explains Gruener.

This is the part of the process where you'll need to ask a lot of questions about the components of your storage infrastructure: What type of storage systems do you have and are they being fully used? How big is your SAN and can it be scaled? How much data have you migrated to network storage, and has it affected network capacity/performance? Do you have a de facto standard for storage management? What is your backup-and-restore practice and success rate?

Armed with this information, you're ready to go to the next step and begin planning. This necessitates taking a full inventory of all capacity, mapping that capacity to specific applications, and then using historical data (e.g., past capacity usage) to chart future growth, says Gruener. To capture this data, users should consider using storage resource management software. (For more information, see "End users attest to the benefits of SRM," InfoStor, September 2002, p. 28.)

As for some general tips, Gruener says users should expect faster growth in storage than they have in the past and plan for 20% to 30% reserve capacity. He also recommends sizing systems for double-digit growth and mapping applications to the four components (store, network, manage, and automate).

Next, users can begin to set goals. This means aligning storage plans with business-wide initiatives (e.g., establishing chargeback capabilities for users or departments, or consolidating storage). The idea is to map the strategic storage plan into business continuity or other large IT plans. "These plans are complementary, not competitive," says Gruener. "Users can leverage the processes in place for business continuity and disaster recovery in their strategic storage plans."

Once you've determined what you've got and what you'll need, it's time to do a gap analysis. "It's your chance to defend your needs," says Gruener, "and one way to do so is to make sure you know what's required to meet your business objectives and, conversely, what's needed to support IT initiatives for storage."

He recommends making a list of specific requirements for storage systems, networking, storage management, and automation, and then mapping this information to your vendor selection methodologies (e.g., ROI and TCO).

Not surprisingly, when it comes to making financial decisions, more users now favor using in-house-developed business processes, rather than ROI or TCO, or vendor-developed methodologies, to evaluate vendors and technologies.

In fact, in a recent IT spending survey conducted by the Yankee Group, 39% of respondents said they used their own measure of cost-effectiveness when making purchasing decisions. Yankee says users cited low confidence in vendors' methodologies and lack of strong third-party options as reasons for developing their own tools. The Yankee survey polled 200 IT organizations at companies with 500 or more employees.

The next step is to map specific features to vendor offerings. Gruener recommends building a matrix, which allows you to see how individual companies/technologies stack up against each other and to your decision criteria (e.g., product breadth/depth, price, support, stability of the vendor, etc.).

The hope is that one vendor's product/technology will surface as being head and shoulders above the others, leaving you with the task of negotiating a deal.

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