Protecting mid-tier storage investments

Hardware and software compatibility across platform generations reduces management and training costs.

By Joel Schwartz

Companies are increasingly challenged to find mid-tier storage solutions that will evolve with their business needs. They need hardware and software combinations that will provide a stable path to future growth while reducing IT costs, including ongoing management and training costs. Most importantly, they want solutions that will offer the highest level of investment protection.

Virtually all storage vendors promise hardware and software compatibility within product lines and across generations. Unfortunately, some vendors fall short of those promises. As a result, companies are left to

  • Restrict the expansion of workgroup solutions across the enterprise;
  • Invest in new hardware only to find that components and/or software are not compatible with the existing infrastructure;
  • Develop custom software or wait for the vendor to deliver software functionality;
  • Incur additional training expenses for new management software; and
  • Interrupt ongoing operations to implement new systems.

While each of these issues can adversely impact a company's return on investment, mid-tier disk arrays and software that are not developed with long-term product continuity in mind can cause several of these issues to occur simultaneously. To overcome this problem, many companies are evaluating solutions based on the ability to leverage existing investments.

Four key areas

To ensure an environment can quickly evolve with business requirements, a mid-tier storage solution should focus on investment protection and the ability to deliver non-stop results during periods of growth and change. This means evaluating four key areas: hardware, management software, training, and processes.

Re-usable hardware and modular packaging—Modular architectures offer multiple configuration choices for connectivity, performance, and capacity. With common reusable components (such as device enclosures, disk drives, and power supplies), IT managers are able to scale up from one system to another while maintaining a majority of the initial hardware investments.

Components of mid-tier arrays should be common with high-end systems to minimize operational impact as an organization's requirements grow. They also allow a business to grow without additional product training.

Management software—Management software serves as the foundation for networked storage, enabling IT organizations to tie together all their storage resources and to monitor and control them through a single management console. By providing cross-generation compatibility, scripts and management tools don't have to be changed. Thus, the platform can be continually enhanced while maintaining the same look and feel. This is particularly important as more software capabilities are used, because it becomes increasingly costly to migrate to a platform without the same capabilities.

To reduce costs, it is important that configuration, analysis, and control be provided by a central, easy-to-use graphical user interface (GUI) that can also be securely and remotely accessed anywhere at anytime.

Storage management applications should not only work with the various generations of the mid-tier product family but should extend to high-end arrays as well. Software functionality such as path management and data movement should be common across all platform levels, offering investment protection as storage infrastructures scale.

In addition, business continuity implementations are facilitated if users can transfer data between different hardware generations. For example, older systems can be re-deployed at secondary disaster-recovery sites, while newer systems are used at primary production sites. This allows IT to minimize operational complexity while adding new storage management features. All this results in greater efficiency, enabling IT departments to do more without additional staff.

Training—With continuity in hardware and software, mid-tier storage solutions remove the burden of re-training IT staff as new product generations are introduced. Administrators who are already familiar with the scripts, tools, GUI, and hardware components do not need to start from scratch and can instead focus on the latest feature sets, which reduces training costs.

Processes—With no change to the underlying hardware and management software, IT processes do not have to be changed. And, procedural continuity eliminates disruptions to the business, even during implementation of new initiatives such as extending an application from a workgroup to the entire enterprise.

Companies can maximize ROI by leveraging their initial investments in hardware, software, training, and processes. A mid-tier storage solution that offers this level of investment protection will enable a storage environment to accommodate business growth and new initiatives.

Joel Schwartz is the senior vice president and general manager of the CLARiiON Systems Division at EMC (www.emc.com) in Hopkinton, MA.

This article was originally published on December 01, 2003