While the latest in technologies offer regional enterprises wide choices in storage systems and connectivity options, the underlying problem of considering information management in silos remains, and might continue to do so for sometime. Sathya Mithra Ashok investigates.
Storage of enterprise data is no longer a simple case of saving the said data, in its modern form, it is the more critical task of information management.
“We believe that today information is the most important asset for an organisation and losing this information can cause a lot of organisations to go out of business. This is why we believe that storage is no longer just an add-on to networks. It is something that complements existing infrastructure in a data centre,” says Roudy Eid, UAE presales team leader at EMC Middle East.
If you look at storage systems they have multiple options from a connectivity perspective and offer connectivity to fibre channel, to iSCSI and ethernet and very soon, there will be also more FCoE. So perfectly integrating storage systems with an enterprise network is no longer a very complex task.
Many of the bigger storage vendors in the region believe that their larger customers are well on their way to adopting the mindset necessary to view storage as a crucial IT investment instead of as just another hardware buy.
However, whether an organisation possesses the right mindset or not, the increasing number of storage options available in the market continue to make investment, integration and management of storage a relatively complex, if not difficult, task for most enterprises. Integrate with ease
If you were to believe vendors, integrating storage into a functioning network is a relatively easy task for the majority of today’s enterprises to achieve.
“It is not really difficult to integrate storage. The thing is that if you look at storage infrastructure, as long as we have a way to connect to an existing network, whether Fibre Channel or iSCSI or IP protocol, it is not difficult,” says Walid Gomaa, StorageWorks business unit manager at HP Middle East.
Eid agrees: “Adding any storage infrastructure to a consolidated network is a straight forward process today. If you look at storage systems they do have multiple options from a connectivity perspective and they do offer connectivity to Fibre Channel, iSCSI and Ethernet and very soon, there will be more of Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE). So perfectly integrating storage systems with an enterprise network is no longer a very complex task.”
The difficult job in creating any storage environment, according to them, is the planning that has to precede it.
“When you connect storage systems and apps into a network, the first thing we need to understand is the current network infrastructure. There are different ways of connecting storage to existing apps and network infrastructure. This means the methodology varies depending on whether it is a Fibre Channel, iSCSI or IP network. Enterprises need to also consider the application they are running, the availability they will require on it and the current availability of the network. If there is a lack of proper availability, they will need to create a network for the application,” says Gomaa.
In other words, enterprises will need to plan storage and integrate environments based on the applications they are running, the performance levels they need for each of these and the service levels that are acceptable to them.
Anthony Harrison, server and storage management expert, Symantec MENA explains it thus: “There are a range of ways to do storage integration, depending on what you have and what you need. If you are just starting off and all you have today is direct-attached storage, then the quickest and easiest way to add capacity is using something like network-attached storage. As the size of your environment and the number of applications grow, the justification for a dedicated SAN increases, typically using Fibre Channel connectivity. Thirdly, if you are running critical applications in a cluster environment where multiple servers need access to the same storage, you need a configuration that eliminates single points of failure, so this requires a full SAN fabric with multiple host bus adapters per server, at least two SAN switches and multiple connections per storage array.” Getting over obstacles
Though storage integration with an existing network might appear simple, the fact is that challenges abound for regional enterprises. For one, there is the issue of determining the right storage ‘connectivity’ based on the information stored and the service levels required.
Once this is done, there comes the demanding task of moving information from the current storage infrastructure to the new platform.
“The challenges come when you need to move to the new storage – it’s like a hermit crab outgrowing its shell; while it’s between homes, it’s vulnerable. The best way to do the migration (and minimise that risk) is by copying your data to the new storage using something like host-based mirroring; the data is copied in the background while the application is up and running. Once the two copies are in synch, you just tell the application to write only to the new storage and the data has been successfully re-homed, freeing up the old storage for repurposing or retirement,” says Symantec’s Harrison.
Successfully finish that step, and the next one would involve proper, efficient centralised management.
“Managing your new storage as part of your existing overall infrastructure is necessary. In fact, it can be considered as more of an exercise than a challenge and, apart from including it in our recommendations, we work with customers to help them achieve this,” says Gomaa.
Beyond all of this is the necessity to cut costs.
“In the region, most enterprises tend to focus on capital expenditure but operational expenditure is often the bigger burden over the lifetime of the solution. Capital expenses (Capex), although high initially, decreases over time. Operational expense (Opex) tends to be initially high to cover the deployment and then drops back, only to rise again over time as solutions age and evolve, and as the burden of support and maintenance kicks in. Operational expense represents the majority of IT budgets over the lifetime of the solution. This is something that should be kept in mind when buying and integrating storage,” says Hesham Fayed, systems engineer at Cisco.
Challenges though there might be, storage integration and usage can be made much easier and more efficient with the adoption of proper planning and integrated management. Nevertheless, most enterprises in the Middle East continue to consider storage simply as hardware investments.
“What we are witnessing in our engagement with our customers is that they are still thinking in terms of silo apps – that is today I have an app, a requirement, and I will get the storage for it. Tomorrow, I might go for another app, then I will go for storage for it. It is an exercise in solving current problems alone. Organisations are not looking into the future or considering the apps in two years time. They are looking at what my information management strategy is. Most customers lack in this area,” states Gomaa.
While a comprehensive information management strategy can help enterprises to do a lot more with their storage infrastructure, as well as data centres, many vendors believe that only around 15% to 30% of enterprises in the region are considering or have in place any kind of strategy to manage their data.
Larger storage firms, like EMC, are trying to rectify this deficiency by providing a plan and guiding enterprises into the adoption and enforcement of a comprehensive strategy.Eid explains, “We work with our customers to implement an information infrastructure strategy. We generate a kind of reference architecture, and we help them deploy this in a phased approach. This usually includes four phases. Phase one consists of basically storing the information, but this time storing it intelligently and efficiently, according to the value of the information and according to the service level that you need out of this information,” explained Eid.
“The second phase of this strategy is to make sure that this information is protected and this is where an efficient back-up and recovery strategy is put in place. We ensure for our customer a very fast recovery and back-up, while reducing cost. This is done with technologies like de-duplication. And in protection, we have our customers attempting a disaster recovery solution and we have them secure this information against issues and against unauthorised access. This is where our RSA division comes into the picture.
“The third phase involves an intelligence layer and this is where our archiving solution, like e-mail archiving and content management archiving comes into the picture. And the last phase in our strategy is to help our customer develop the management for this information infrastructure. And this is where our enterprise storage resource management solutions come into play. This kind of a strategy certainly helps enterprises address their current and future concerns with storage since it tackles information safety and retrieval from all angles.”
Just as EMC, many other storage firms consult with potential customers on strategy adoption and usage. The current economic recession, they believe, will force many customers to temper unnecessary hardware purchases in storage and look to maximise existing investment, which will in turn open the doors to long-term planning and strategy enforcement.
“Hardware manufacturers are having to adapt to the new reality of people not spending; this will drive consolidation and commoditisation in the industry and reduce the number of hardware choices people can make. The only way to differentiate will be in software; how can I make better use of what I have so that when I do need to go and buy more storage, I can prove that we really have no spare capacity,” says Harrison.
The combination of reduced budgets and capacity requirements that increase relentlessly from month to month, vendors believe, will force Middle East enterprises into the new age of thinking where they will come to consider storage as an integral infrastructural element, rather than as a mere, requirement-oriented add-on.
“I believe there is a big change in IT that is coming and the case for this change is very strong. Today everyone is talking about cloud computing, virtualisation and virtualised data centres, infrastructure as a service and platform as a service. Behind all of that, grounding all of that will be information and its management. Enterprises will need to change their mindsets about storage because they will need information infrastructure that is flexible, scalable, adaptable, simple, efficient and cost-effective. This is basically why we believe that organisations will one day have to adopt comprehensive information management models and strategies,” concluded Eid.
Whether they heed this advice or not is something that we will have to wait to witness.
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