User guidelines for setting storage policies

Storage resource management is the key to monitoring, assigning, and controlling storage capacity usage.

By Elizabeth M. Ferrarini

A strong management policy can help an IT department reduce the time and cost of managing network storage and, at the same time, keep network servers from turning into data dumpsters.

Pressure to contain corporate spending, combined with Lotus Notes servers reaching 95% capacity, propelled Mark Mooney, chief technology officer at textbook publisher Houghton Mifflin, to issue a storage policy throughout the company. Working with a steering committee of business unit managers, Mooney rolled out a storage policy limiting all employees to 100MB of e-mail space on the Notes servers. Mooney says that within days of putting the policy in place, capacity on most of the Lotus Notes servers shrunk to about 70% to 80%. He adds that he stayed within his budget by eliminating the need to buy more servers.

Mooney isn't alone in his thinking. Other major organizations have also taken steps to put network storage policies in place. These policies define what gets stored, how much space employees get assigned, and what kinds of housekeeping tasks employees must carry out if they exceed their space allotment. Moreover, these policies leverage the overall corporate employee computer usage policy, defining acceptable employee business practices for using servers, and the actions taken by the company if employees don't follow these rules.

For more than two decades, IT departments at colleges and universities have carried out storage policies as a way to allow students equal access to network storage. On the other hand, to date corporate America hasn't widely embraced network storage policies. Some analysts agree that a lot of companies haven't thought much about managing storage, just adding it where and when it's needed. Farid Neema, a storage consultant with Peripheral Concepts, a consulting firm in Santa Barbara, CA, says this attitude is changing: "Companies now realize that employees abuse storage space if no one is paying attention to it."

Using storage resource management (SRM) tools combined with a network storage policy, an IT department can easily set space limits and unobtrusively monitor the rate at which storage capacity is used. SRM tools can also suggest strategies to take to get storage management under control.

However, such IT policies often cause grief among employees, which can result in a push-pull relationship between both camps. Realizing this, Neema says that "organizations need to educate employees about how to manage their storage." To this end, some IT departments have designed their network storage policies to minimize employee complaints, while controlling storage usage with a firm, yet flexible, grasp. The following guidelines include some of their practices.

Test drive

Test driving an IT network storage policy can help determine a workable policy for the entire corporation. That's the route Upjohn Pharmacia, in Kalamazoo, MI, has taken. Linda Eschevarria, a systems engineer, is part of a Windows NT group tracking storage space on 29 servers used by 5,000 employees. "Our IT policy specifies what employees can and can't store on network servers. Eventually, this policy will go to human resources, then legal, and become part of a corporate computer usage policy."

Likewise, Larry Miner, an IT specialist at U.S. West in Bellevue, WA, currently tracks storage usage on 17 servers, each with about 1,000 users. Most of his work consists of determining the best way to set space allocations in a Windows NT environment. Miner's recommendations go to a corporate compliance group that makes the final decision on a corporate storage policy to be followed by 50,000 employees.

SRM tools

Most IT storage administrators recommend investing in SRM tools to ascertain current storage usage patterns. SRM software from vendors such as BMC Software, High-Ground Systems, and W. Quinn Associates encompass centralized, detailed monitoring, alerting, reporting, and trending of specific storage resources, such as disk partitions, files, and data.

For example, U.S. West's Miner uses W. Quinn's QuotaAdvisor to set thresholds on specific space allotments by attributes such as files, directories, and disk drives. He sets QuotaAdvisor to alert him if a space allotment is about to be exceeded. With W. Quinn's DiskAdvisor, Miner runs real-time reports, such as a listing of files with certain extensions.

Helen Flanagan, a Windows NT systems administrator at Staples' corporate office in Framingham, MA, uses HighGround's Web-based Storage Resource Manager software across 75 servers to look at historical space reports by attributes such as disk, partitions, and users, and to get alerts if those attributes get near or exceed a threshold.

Administrators such as Flanagan recommend setting fixed space allotments as needed, and establishing procedures for how alerts will be handled. Flanagan says that giving all employees the same amount of space can work if they all perform similar functions. But, for a growing environment, she says that, "You need to talk with individuals about their storage needs, and accommodate any future storage requirements they might have."

At U.S. West, Miner has assigned space allotments to groups, and monitors that space by directories. Some groups have 250MB per individual, while others have 500MB per individual. Whenever someone comes close to exceeding their space allotment, QuotaAdvisor sends both the employee and Miner an alert, usually via e-mail, telling them to remove some documents. Miner has decided not to set up QuotaAdvisor to lock an employee's write privileges if they don't free up space.

DiskAdvisor has helped to cut down on calls to the IT department. "If someone wants a larger directory space, we can give them a Web-based report listing files they may want to archive or to delete," Miner explains. "They can click on a file name and delete it. If they need more space, they have to get approval from their business unit."

Steven Toole, marketing director for W. Quinn, says that some customers, particularly investment firms, don't bother employees with space allotment alerts. He says the alerts get routed to the help desk only. "These individuals can look at files and then take action."

At Staples, each IT department carries out its own storage usage policy and acts as a watchdog for the corporate storage policy, which covers Internet use. To this end, each employee can negotiate a pre-determined amount of personal space on the server. Flanagan monitors their space usage, and sends them e-mail alerts if they exceed their space allotment. "Sometimes people forget to delete multiple versions of PowerPoint presentations. The alerts allow you to talk with them about their storage needs."

Upjohn Pharmacia's Echevarria says she isn't sure what the recommended IT policy will say about space allotment. For now, her group uses HighGround's Storage Resource Manager to track space usage by attributes, such as file extensions. If she sees an executable program in someone's server directory, she'll send him an e-mail message asking him to delete it. Likewise, if she sees an application program, she'll ask the employee to store it on a specific application server.

Another user recommendation is to have a senior IT member issue communications to department heads and their employees about the storage policy and the way it will be carried out, especially what housekeeping tasks employees are asked to do.

Before implementing QuotaAdvisor, Miner put up a Web page about the space allotment policy and sent out corporate communications to all those whose directory would be monitored. "Until you have an approved policy set up, getting people to follow it can be tough," says Miner.

Flanagan says she often gets caught in the middle of trying to take preventative measures to reduce storage, and at the same time to help accommodate individuals who require more space. She says some departments, such as legal, have certain ideas about how long things should stay on the server.

The IT department needs to present the policy in a way that employees can tolerate. John Webster, storage analyst for the Illuminata consulting group, in Nashua, NH, says, "They need to understand that managing storage has nothing to do with the cost of the physical media, but with safeguarding information and making it readily available without interruptions."

Users also recommend establishing backup procedures for mobile employees, or enlisting an e-storage service provider for mobile backups. Still other IT managers advise gathering historical data about storage patterns for capacity planning and budgeting, and looking at the feasibility of doing storage chargebacks to departments.

Corporate storage policies, based on assigning space allotments, offer a very granular, first step toward developing a network storage policy. What else is needed? Colin Rankine, a storage analyst at the Giga Information Group, in Cambridge, MA, says that a storage policy should include who owns what and how long to keep it; where you should move old files to; when to backup files; and how to handle backups for remote employees.

And what about SRM tools? Giga's Rankine says there is "a need to have one console view of how storage resources are being used. This console has to be integrated with backup and other systems management applications."

Elizabeth M. Ferrarini is a freelance writer specializing in storage management issues. She can be reached at iswive@aol.com

Turning a storage policy into a bestseller

Many of organizations solve their storage problems by buying more disk drives, not managing how the space is used. Mark Mooney, chief technology officer at Houghton Mifflin, in Boston, knows all too well that disk drives may be inexpensive, but throwing more disks at storage growth can only drive up the time and cost of managing more data. He says that the root of the problem is the discipline required by employees. "You need to educate employees about how to manage their storage." That's the challenge Mooney faced earlier this year.

At Houghton Mifflin, a corporate mandate to keep spending down put pressure on the IT department to stay within a certain margin of its budget. And keeping a lid on storage costs put additional pressure on how well the IT department would achieve its goal. Mooney says that 10% of all corporate spending goes for storage-everything from buying equipment to maintaining it.

Houghton Mifflin's IT department faced another challenge: Storage requirements were doubling every year. Mooney says, "We didn't have a systematic way to budget for storage because we didn't know what was fueling this growth."

Meanwhile, some administrators had reported that several Lotus Notes servers had reached 95% capacity and could experience an outage if filled beyond this level. Employees complained of the slow responsiveness of e-mail. Also, the search capability within the Notes database had ground to a crawl.

Mooney says, "You would think that with 2,500 employees using Lotus Notes for everything from e-mail to databases to collaborative sharing, we would've been doing a better job watching storage growth on these servers. We didn't think we had any problems."

A central group of IT systems administrators, assisted by local system administrators, used Hewlett-Packard's OpenView and BMC's Resolve SpaceView to look at storage trends on all Sun and IBM servers. This team found two consistent usage problems. First, employees in the educational book division archived documents to Lotus Notes servers, not the server set up for archiving. Mooney says, "We needed to have the most current version of a book on the right server." Next, editors had to stop saving all versions of chapters, both as e-mail attachments and as documents.

Mooney decided that a corporate storage policy for Lotus Notes provided a practical measure for first freeing up space on the clogged servers, and then containing storage growth on all servers. But, once wind of the policy got out, he says, "Editors called and said that complying with a storage policy would bring them to a grinding halt."

With support from the CEO, Mooney organized a steering committee made up of business managers from each division. "We sent all employees an all-hands memo signed by the CEO," he says. Each department also had meetings to discuss the memo. The IT department, with assistance from the business managers, sent files to editorial groups throughout the company. They had to either delete the files, or archive them on desktop PCs. The IT department also met individually with employees to look at their storage needs.

Houghton Mifflin's network storage policy allows employees to have 100MB of e-mail space in Lotus Notes. If they exceed the space as tracked by BMC's Resolve SpaceView, the IT department sends them a message.

The policy also outlines a variety of other storage procedures, such as where to store images. Immediately after putting the policy in place, Mooney says the capacity on most of the Lotus Notes servers shrunk down to between 70% to 80%. "We also stayed well within the margin for our budget as a result of not buying more servers."

Giving everyone the same allotment allows the IT department to wait and see who gets close to it or who legitimately requires more space. To date, Mooney says that about 300 employees have exceeded their space allotment. "Most of these are financial people who work with spreadsheets, as well as a lot of executives." He says that, overall, employees have disciplined themselves to manage their space and to realize that storage costs money. "If employees require more space, then we have to look at why and how to accommodate their needs," he says.

This article was originally published on September 01, 2000