The case for storage outsourcing
In the past six months, the buzz surrounding outsourcing for applications, networks, and data centers has intensified dramatically. For IT managers, the multitude of options for working with outside providers can be overwhelming, especially given the high stakes of bringing external partners into a critical portion of the IT infrastructure.
Most recently, the storage industry has showed its hand in the services industry. Witness the emergence of storage service providers (SSPs), responding to the rising technological and management complexity of enterprise storage. The idea is to transform enterprise storage functionality into a service by creating a network of remotely administered, secure data storage facilities with dedicated connectivity to customer sites. Customers can target specific applications or functions to outsource or develop an externalization strategy for their entire data center.
SSPs free customers to pay for storage usage on a "per drink" basis, enabling high levels of operational efficiency and flexibility without the overhead of a complex architecture. Additionally, the provision of multiple sites provides organizations with broader functionality (e.g., multiple-site backup, recovery, business continuity, and data management services) in a cost-effective manner.
What drives outsourcing?
SSPs are emerging in response to the increasing complexity surrounding enterprise storage issues. Driving the growth are three convergent trends:
Human talent. The level of expertise required for managing enterprise storage systems has rapidly increased, along with the costs associated with retaining personnel. By partnering with SSPs, organizations gain access to focused storage expertise, presumably at a cost advantage over internal approaches.
Consolidated architecture. SSPs take advantage of the momentum in storage area network (SAN) architectures to establish enterprise-wide networked storage. This approach allows "data tone" to be delivered across the enterprise, ultimately from a remote location administered by an SSP. Users can then implement new technologies as needed, as opposed to limited upgrades because of distributed architectural and management complexity.
Connectivity. SSPs leverage new connectivity capabilities resulting from Fibre Channel protocols delivered across a fiber-optic infrastructure. This currently allows gigabit-per-second transmission rates across metro-wide distances, allowing "on-site" storage performance levels from remotely administered facilities. With SSPs operating their storage facilities as a network across the country, this will ultimately enable seamless access to enterprise data.
Services now available
This year, SSPs are expected to provide a level of functionality and performance beyond organizations` current remote-site resources. SSPs provide a secure remote site, an assigned team of storage personnel, all appropriate hardware and software, and dedicated connectivity linked to the main site.
First-generation SSP services address such enterprise storage needs as:
Storage resource management. SSPs advise customers on enterprise storage strategies. This capability should not be limited to remote facility implementations, but should also include enterprise storage solutions for customers` on-campus storage infrastructures.
Data protection and recovery. SSPs help customers implement a variety of backup, disaster recovery, vaulting, migration, and hierarchical storage management solutions for increased flexibility and faster implementation cycles.
Business continuity. For customers with very high up-time requirements or multiple-site demand for data sets, SSPs provide a cost-effective tool to offload heterogeneous data sharing, data replication, and cross-site consolidation.
Structure of SSP networks
The excitement surrounding storage outsourcing stems from its promise of high-bandwidth over a network of remote storage facilities. As SSPs roll out national facility networks in tandem with fiber-optic infrastructures, that level of service will come online.
In the meantime, the focus will be engaging one or two SSP facilities within a metropolitan area. That said, regardless of whether or not the SSP co-locates its data storage space with a physical hosting service or operates from its own privately built-out locations, the customer pays for:
Secure real estate. An SSP provides a secure, fire-suppressed storage facility. Customers should inquire about the physical structure of that facility and its access policy for its own employees.
Hardware and software. In most cases, the SSP owns the storage devices, unless it has an explicit remote hosting agreement with a customer. Network servers may also be located in the storage facility. Likewise, software licenses may or may not be included in the service fees.
Connectivity. Customers have a dedicated connection from the primary site to a remote storage facility. Ideally, the network connection uses Fibre Channel technology and SCSI commands. This connection eliminates protocol transfers, which degrade performance and affect application processing. Remote storage facilities equipped with Fibre Channel also provide the throughput and bandwidth of remote local systems. Software monitors available resources and remotely synchronizes the data.
While storage service providers represent a new market segment, their pace of development is rapid. In the coming months, SSPs will begin pushing new limits in enterprise storage, particularly with respect to Fibre Channel architectures and functionality.
Brad O`Neill is an account manager at StorageNetworks Inc. (www.storagenetworks.com), in Waltham, MA.