Lower TCO with NAS consolidation

In addition to lowering overall costs, consolidation improves performance, availability, scalability, and service levels.

By Chris Taylor

ne of the most significant factors in lowering IT TCO today is to simplify and enhance the utilization of both servers and storage resources in complex IT infrastructures. Many organizations experience common business challenges that complicate storage management and lead to high costs and redundancies. By implementing NAS consolidation, IT organizations can solve these business problems and significantly reduce TCO.

Many businesses are unaware of the current state of their IT infrastructure. Before an organization can simplify its network, it must first analyze the current situation and gain an overall picture of the network.

Many organizations distribute multiple, low-cost “single-application” file servers throughout the enterprise. As the organization grows, more servers are added to support the growth. However, server utilization in these situations is often low, averaging 15%, because many servers are over-provisioned in an attempt to reduce risk and provide scalability. These servers are also unconsolidated, which makes management difficult, backup and recovery complex and costly, and maintaining high availability a huge challenge.

Most Windows servers store their data on internal or captive external disk subsystems. The use of NAS and SANs is the exception. With predominantly captive/internal storage, Windows storage utilization averages only 25% to 35%. Large Windows environments (90TB+ of usable storage) may have utilization rates as low as 15%.

NAS consolidation

NAS consolidation allows extra storage space to be added to a network without shutting down servers for maintenance and upgrades. Consolidating NAS resources reduces the number of servers and improves performance, availability, scalability, and management service levels.

For example, an enterprise may reduce seven file servers into one NAS device. Consolidating servers in this way can increase utilization rates to as much as 60% to 80%.

Within a Windows environment, radically reducing the number of file servers increases utilization and productivity and reduces costs, management overhead, and complexity. It also allows faster access to data because the data is centralized and provides better data retention, compliance, and protection.

For example, most NAS solutions are compatible with Windows 2000/2003/NT and simplify migration to Windows from Unix platforms. NAS file servers look and act just like any other Windows file server, rely on the Windows Domain Controller for authentication of Windows clients, and integrate seamlessly in a Windows Active Directory structure. As such, security administration and server overhead are drastically reduced. And as more organizations adopt .NET, this type of solution will allow them to easily migrate to .NET server technologies.

Within a Unix environment, NAS consolidation improves data protection, reduces performance bottlenecks, and allows data to be shared across platforms.

For example, most NAS solutions deliver high availability and reliability to support critical business operations, rapid restores, and efficient backups, as well as to allow heterogeneous sharing of data between Unix and Windows environments. And consolidating Unix and Windows to a single storage solution allows for interoperability testing between platforms, migration of data from one platform to another, and ease of management across both platforms.

In both Unix and Windows environments, by consolidating large amounts of both structured and unstructured data on NAS, IT organizations can take advantage of the NAS systems’ backup utilities to back up and recover the data more effectively and efficiently and to increase availability and service levels. Once NAS consolidation is in place, an IT organization can modify its infrastructure to further reduce TCO by implementing one or more of the following solutions.

Tiered storage

Software tools can be used to identify and classify the organization’s different types of content and data and how often they are accessed. This information then helps to prioritize data into Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 storage. Tier 1 data is placed on high-availability, relatively expensive storage resources, while Tier 3 data would have low-availability requirements and be stored on the most inexpensive storage resources. By using a tiered approach, the organization can prioritize data and ensure that it is only paying high storage costs for priority data that should be easily accessible. Using tiered storage in a consolidated NAS infrastructure optimizes storage capacity and reduces redundancies, which in turn reduces overall expenditures.

Server consolidation

Server consolidation allows organizations to efficiently manage and optimize server and storage resources across the enterprise. Consolidation can increase server utilization to 60% to 80%, which lowers costs and makes provisioning for server and storage capacity faster, in turn making it easier to respond to new business requirements.

Consolidating server and storage platforms enables business benefits such as increased performance, centralized management, reduced TCO, and improved security and resource utilization.

Server consolidation is more than simply replacing a collection of smaller servers or storage devices with fewer, larger ones.

Server consolidation enables organizations of all sizes to simplify yet optimize their infrastructure through the implementation of clearly defined processes.

Content management

Consolidated NAS allows organizations to go further down the road with content management and free up capital and resources to go after larger projects. By consolidating structured and unstructured data onto a NAS device, the data is now centrally located. Once the data is centralized, administrators can determine data-retention policies by using content management software to look at how content is created and exploited and, most importantly, determine what to do with the data after it is exploited. Centrally stored data means that data can be moved to less-expensive storage devices such as tape libraries or controlled by hierarchical storage management (HSM) software.

Consolidating backup, recovery, and archiving

By consolidating servers and the data residing on those servers, such as home directories, and files that consist of structured data (such as databases) and unstructured data (such as Word documents) to a NAS solution, the data is now in a central repository. Data can then be replicated to another NAS device for backup/recovery, thereby improving recovery time objectives (RTOs) and recovery point objectives (RPOs). In addition, with the appropriate tools administrators can analyze the data and decide how often it’s accessed and the criticality of the data and then determine the right classes of data and associate service levels with the data. Also, with the data in one location it can be more effectively and efficiently pushed to tape or other low-cost storage resources.

File virtualization

File virtualization, or the ability to virtualize systems over a heterogeneous storage environment, is an up-and-coming technology. While NAS consolidation can solve business challenges by reducing costs and complexity, file virtualization enables organizations to share files over heterogeneous storage devices.

Chris Taylor is director of professional services and solution sales at Evolving Solutions, an IT consulting firm (www.evolvingsol.com).

This article was originally published on December 01, 2005