Storage services providers are embracing different models for delivery.
By Kirby Wadsworth
The demand for storage has doubled in each of the past few years and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. As the amount of stored data grows exponentially, old storage infrastructures and storage management processes are becoming progressively more outdated. Yesterday's systems and processes can not cope with the challenges of even the immediate future. New technology does offer the promise of dramatic improvements, but the expertise to implement technology-based solutions is scarce.
At the same time, the role of IT is changing rapidly. Many organizations now look to IT as the key factor in organizational success. For new economy companies, enterprise value is driven by revenue growth. Even established companies are increasingly looking to IT for competitive advantage. IT must focus its energies on increasing revenue through customer acquisition and retention-quickly bringing new products to market, mining value from corporate data, and improving customer service and product quality.
The strategic value of IT no longer lies in the implementation and management of the computing and storage infrastructure. Paradoxically, information has become even more of a strategic asset. It is now imperative that firms move quickly to implement effective data storage and management solutions, relieving IT of non-strategic infrastructure tasks, while allowing an increased focus on the business value of the data itself.
It's not surprising then that some IT managers are becoming comfortable with selective outsourcing of non-strategic activities, from security firewall monitoring to help desk services. With all the storage-related issues at hand, it may make sense for IT managers to look for outside assistance in implementing storage solutions. While many firms recognize the urgent requirement for effectively managed storage, they are often overwhelmed by the implementation issues of designing, deploying, and operating enterprise-wide storage systems. A new breed of storage service vendors has emerged to relieve the burden on IT resources, to provide stable expense budgeting, and to simplify the storage management process.
More than 50 services providers have sprung up in the last 12 months to address end users' need for simplicity and sanity in the face of the mounting storage nightmare. Some IT shops, particularly those of new economy businesses, embrace the idea. But many-even those who have successfully outsourced other aspects of their IT operations-remain uncomfortable about outsourcing control of business-critical data.
Two models of storage services firms are emerging: local management of remote data and remote management of local data, al-though some providers offer both.
Early storage services providers built centralized storage data centers located off of customers' premises. This model, typically marketed as a "storage utility," may appeal to users with high levels of storage pain, but it brings up issues of data security and data control.
Another storage services model, sometimes referred to as "storage assurance providers," delivers managed storage ser vices within the customer's environment. Storage assurance firms design, deploy, and manage private storage infrastructures, allowing them to address customer concerns about data security and control.
Storage assurance provides remote management of local data. In a recent article on the subject, the industry consulting firm In-fusion described storage assurance in this way: "Storage assurance providers provide expected storage services according to a pre-determined SLA [service level agreement], at Quality of Service levels that meet the client's business requirements."
Storage assurance vs. outsourcing
On the surface, storage assurance and traditional outsourced storage have a number of similarities, but inside, the two models are different.
Traditional storage outsourcers deliver remote storage capacity via a dedicated storage network. Customers' application servers are connected to the storage provider's network (either public or private), and data is stored and retrieved from remote disk farms over the network. Additional services, such as backup, archive, and restoration, are usually available. A predetermined menu typically determines service availability.
In contrast, a storage assurance firm designs, implements, and manages a storage solution primarily at the customer's site. However, a storage assurance firm may also include off-site services. Storage assurance firms can collaborate with traditional outsourced storage providers to integrate off-site services into the client environment and to augment those services as necessary to meet conditions specified in the service level agreement. As is the case with outsourced storage providers, a storage assurance firm assumes the risks that are associated with all aspects of storage infrastructure deployment, thereby alleviating issues of staffing, technology, and strategic resource utilization.
Much has been made of the so-called "storage utility." However, a storage utility differs significantly from electrical, phone, and other utilities. Telephone calls are distinct events: a connection is made, data or voice transmitted, and the connection is broken. In addition, electricity, gas, and water flow in one direction and, assuming adequate quality, the source is irrelevant to the consumer.
In contrast, data storage is persistent, the relationship between user and supplier is persistent, the flow of service is continuous and bi-directional, and the ability to instantaneously retrieve stored data from the source is critical. The storage of business-critical data is not a generic commodity delivered by a public utility.
With the storage assurance model, the relationship between the customer and provider is dedicated. The storage assurance firm delivers storage infrastructure services at all customer locations. Deciding where the data resides is strictly determined by business requirements. It is the responsibility of the storage assurance firm to provide primary storage services and business continuity services, integrated with local and remote application systems, as defined by the SLA. In this way, storage assurance is an important service to IT organizations concerned about data security and control.
- Flexibility and scalability-With storage assurance, companies have increased flexibility to quickly respond to changing business requirements. Companies purchase exactly the level of service they need. As those requirements change, the provider adjusts the SLA accordingly, adding capacity or other functionality non-disruptively.
- Maximize IT productivity-A storage assurance firm essentially works as an extension of an IT organization, adding value and expertise while enabling existing IT staff to focus on other critical business initiatives. The storage assurance firm also handles all vendor relationships, freeing IT management and staff time.
- Manageable expenses-Storage assurance delivers a high return on investment because expense is limited to services required and delivered. The storage assurance firm can add value to an IT organization while reducing total cost of ownership. Rather than a rapidly depreciating capital investment and balance-sheet burden, storage costs move to their proper place-a single line item in the annual operating expense budget.
Storage assurance firms have emerged as a new category of storage services because users urgently need flexible and scalable storage solutions that also address concerns about security and control.
Kirby Wadsworth is vice president of marketing at Storability Inc. (www.storability.com) in Southborough, MA.