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Sun 5 Jun 2005 04:00 AM

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Drowning in data

The management and security headaches associated with escalating storage capacity were the central issues at this year’s Storage World conference. With vendors offering a number of innovative products and espousing new approaches, the under-pressure data centre manager had at least plenty of potential solutions to mull over.

|~||~||~|“I wouldn’t like to be a data centre manager these days,” said Jason Phippen, director of product marketing for Computer Associates (CA) at the Storage World Middle East conference in Dubai last week. “Many years ago I worked in an operations role, but managing storage for the medium or large customer has become a daunting task. Storage administrators and data centre managers must deal with 24 hour by seven days a week systems, regulatory compliance and 40% data growth, with no end in sight to that growth. For example, many companies are mining their own databases to create new splices of data for other applications. Data growth is almost viral,” he explained.

Storage World Middle East 2005 was marked by discussion of the management and security headaches associated with this viral growth in data, with a number of end users highlighting their own experiences on the topic.

Soubhi Abdulkarim, IT manager at the Aspire sports academy has been at the sharp end of this dramatic data growth.

Aspire is a school for aspiring young sportsmen, which aims to produce international class footballers and Olympic standard athletes. The college uses up to date technology to assess the athletes, including creating video archives of pupils in action, which can be called upon to analyse performance.

Aspire also handles video and other data from similar colleges across the world, leading to a spiraling demand for storage, which has already exceeded expectations. The school opened in September 2004 and the 4 Terabytes of capacity it started with has already been filled up. The college expects demand to exceed 100 Terabytes within two years.

The Aspire network is also highly dispersed with a mobile workforce utilising data on a variety of mobile devices from notebooks to PDAs and flash disks. As well as contributing to an ever-increasing store of data, this set-up makes it more of a challenge to secure and manage the information.
“Authentication is key, we had to define who had access to data, especially information that is floating wirelessly around the many fields used by the academy,” said Abdulkarim.

“We use biometrics and single sign on to access the network. This is easier for users and also more secure as people can easily remember one ‘difficult’ password, and therefore will be more inclined to change it frequently,” he added.

The stringent security is necessary because of the high-risk situation the college is in due to having a sports stadium, which is open to the public for events, as part of its complex. The academy also has to take into account the unpredictable nature of the children who study at the school.

The message that while hardware issues are becoming easier, management is becoming more difficult, was echoed by Salem Al Rowaihi, IT strategic planner at Saudi Aramco.
“Disk storage costs are decreasing but management costs are increasing as software becomes the focus of development,” he said.

Software solutions are key to managing and culling value from the masses of information stored by the enterprise, but it creates problems of its own. Virtualisation, by abstracting data stored on a variety of vendor’s disk arrays, has reduced vendor lock-in in hardware terms. However, as enterprises utilise high value software features, they become introduced to another brand of lock-in, as storage software standards only cover basic feature levels.

“Vendor lock-in is unavoidable with information lifecycle management (ILM),” said Phippen. “However, many customer combine this lock-in with relationships with multiple vendors in order to maintain price leverage and silo information within the company. This brings its own complexities such as the need to maintain service contracts with each company,” he added.

With each step in storage strategy leading to more complexity, frustration seems inevitable for end user charged with managing data in the enterprise.||**||

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