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Phil Jones,Shoden Data Systems UK: Three technologies for building a credit crunch-busting storage strategy

June 2009 by Phil Jones, CTO at Shoden Data Systems UK

Although data storage is often in the firing line when it comes to IT budget allocation, this is often because many organisations’ existing resources are not properly optimised. From unused capacity, to ineffective data replication strategies and unsuitable back up technologies, there are a number of areas in the datacentre where storage resources can be made to work harder and smarter.

An efficient storage environment needs to be transparent, flexible, and scalable; it is only by being able to get a clear picture of what resources are available and how they are deployed, that a storage administrator can exploit them to meet the business’ changing needs now and in the future. Unfortunately, in many of today’s datacentres the easy solution to the above issues is often simply to add more storage, but because managing storage is so much more expensive than purchasing it, this is not the best way to make budgets stretch further. Clearly this is not the right strategy.

However in the current market there are a number of technologies end users can rely on in order to squeeze as much benefit as possible per dollar; three technologies stand out as ones that can help organisations deploy a highly effective storage strategy even during challenging economic times: data deduplication, backup to disk and virtualisation.

Data deduplication has come a long way since it first came to the limelight a few years ago. Today it is a mature technology, making it a very strong tool to manage the backup of data, while improving resilience, and cutting costs. Data deduplication offers many benefits, such as affordable long-term data retention on disk instead of tape, dramatic reduction in the bandwidth needed to provide remote data replication and of course floor space, heat and power savings compared to traditional Automated Tape Libraries (ATLs). In addition, because data deduplication is compatible with all leading enterprise backup software products and easily integrates with existing infrastructures.

Disk is now taking over from tape as the backup medium of choice; the considerable advantages in using disk over tape, combined with the rapid decline in the cost of hard disk storage, have made this a steady trend in the past 18 – 24 months. According to a survey carried out by Vanson Bourne earlier this year, up to 72% of UK organisations have already or are planning to implement disk-based as opposed to tape-based backup in 2009; among the biggest proponents of disk-based backup is the financial services industry, with 64% of polled businesses opting for disk over tape. Disk-based backup offers a number of advantages such as being optimised for restore as well as backup, higher data integrity, and much more reliable backups and recovery. So why should organisations continue to invest in tape when it works out to be more expensive and less effective than disk as a backup medium?

On the other hand, virtualisation is a concept that has been around in various guises for more than 40 years, during which it has ‘hidden’ many different physical layers within the data centre, from servers, to networking, to applications and storage. One of the main benefits offered by virtualisation is increased simplicity of administration. Storage administration is one of the main contributors to the overall cost of storage, so end users are welcoming this technology with open arms in today’s downturn. In order to ensure the highest return, it is important to select the most suitable virtualisation technology by first identifying the real issue in the datacentre and then moving forward to address it. Unfortunately many organisations simply follow the ‘crowd’ without establishing what is causing the waste of budget and other resources and virtualise the wrong components.

The drive to reduce costs while continuing to support the business could be said to be the default mode that most organisations are working with today, and while IT is a key ingredient of the recipe for success for the majority of companies, it has not been immune to the current economic downturn. However it is possible to still deploy a highly efficient, scalable and flexible storage strategy with some targeted changes, and this is what organisations should focus on in order to remain competitive.

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