Tips for choosing the right storage solution

Posted on March 12, 2009

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By Curtis Breville

-- With very few exceptions, it's rare to find two companies with identical data centers. Filtering through the numerous messages from storage vendors to figure out the best solution for your unique environment is a difficult task at best. 

Is the solution you're considering simple, accessible, reliable, secure, scalable, inexpensive, green, and measurable? Here are some general tips for choosing the "right" storage solution.

Simple:  Once the devices are all installed, the cables connected, and the policies and processes in place, the storing, access, and movement of data to and from one location to another should be done with very little human intervention.  Moving tapes to and from libraries for offsite archiving should be the extent of the physical effort required.  If time is being spent manually moving data from one location to another due to physical or file system space limitations, your solution is not a simple one and is taking more time than it should.  The simpler, the better.  

Accessible:  Can something go wrong and render your data inaccessible?  Of course.  Many of the problems that surround data not being accessible come from an oversight during a change in technology. Questions to the multitude of scenarios that could take place that can make data inaccessible need to be answered in advance of investing in a data management solution.  

Reliable:  Many vendors want to convince you that reliability is the only place to focus your attention.  Reliability is certainly important. It needs to be measured, proven, and tested many times to assure that data can be accessed and/or restored when needed. However, reliability is not something that comes in a box or is defined by having disk instead of tape, virtual versus physical, or automation versus manual.  Depending on how a vendor defines its reliability statements, they may or may not meet your individual needs.  

Secure:  In any given environment, there are holes in the security of the data.  It could be a lack of monitoring employees who access data, a lack of encryption, lack of knowledge regarding where the data really is and/or who is authorized to access it, etc.  Security comprises many different disciplines that change depending on the industry, the technology being used, and the type of data being stored.  Investigate vendors' security claims thoroughly in the context of your environment. The security features pitched up front may not be as valuable or practical as expected.  

Scalable:  There will be no more embarrassing meeting than the one you'll have with your boss, CIO, or CFO than the one four months after implementation of your new million-dollar-plus data management solution where you have to explain that you under-configured the solution and need more money to buy more hardware.  Your solution should be able to grow with your needs for at least five years.  Are the products you are evaluating today capable of growing with your business needs at minimal, incremental costs and effort? 

Inexpensive:  The market is full of solutions for storing, backing up, and archiving data.  Many are mature, time-tested, and will work effectively in more than 90% of data centers. If you think you must backup to disk or purchase a virtual tape library, keep thinking.  In some cases these technologies make sense.  In others, they add complexity, no additional reliability or security, and are much more expensive. 

Green:  If your solution to storing data that will seldom, or never, be accessed again is to put it on something continuously spinning, consuming power, and producing heat, which in turn requires more power consumption to cool, the total financial costs of such a solution need to be considered.  The "green storage" market is growing, with new and easier-to-use monitoring and reporting tools to go hand-in-hand with new energy-efficient storage systems.

Measurable:  Every step toward a simple, reliable, secure, scalable, inexpensive, and green data management solution needs to be measurable and defensible.  If you cannot produce reports that precisely and accurately show statistics, you leave your company at risk.

Curtis Breville is a senior analyst, storage management, with Enterprise Management Associates.

Related articles:
Analyst View: How to lower file-based storage costs
Do you really need a SAN?
Sense and sensibility about tape and disk


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