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Send  Share  RSS  Twitter  12 May 2010

INFOTECH: Harnessing the Full Potential Of the Storage Cloud


Recent Gauteng Business News

Cloud computing has become something of a buzzword of late, and is being billed as the ultimate solution to organisations' resource and storage challenges, providing a virtualised environment with unlimited capacity and resources available on demand on a pay-as-you-go basis.

The promise of the storage cloud is an environment which is scaled granularly to accommodate long-term growth and well as short term needs, while at the same time maintaining a fixed cost per gigabyte of resources used.

"However, the reality of cloud technology has been somewhat different.

Despite the potential benefits, companies that have embraced this technology have been faced with the stark truth that cloud storage needs to be effectively managed to ensure the costs do not spiral out of control," says Steven Woods, South African Country President at Compass Management Consulting. "The absence of an effective storage management strategy integrated between business and IT can doom a virtualised storage project, meaning that the cloud solution will neither add value nor reduce operational costs."

Challenges to achieving cloud benefits

Cloud based storage can provide a host of benefits, such as on-demand access to storage resources when it is needed. But in order to leverage the capabilities of the cloud cost effectively, organisations need to quantify their existing capacity and future growth plans, because the complexity and cost of managing storage is constantly increasing.

"It is vital to use capacity planning for maximum availability and optimised utilisation without having a negative impact on application performance, while at the same time ensuring the right capacity for growth without over investing in resources that will not be used," Woods adds.

Due to the nature of cloud-based storage, managers also need to bear in mind that they are no longer managing individual servers but rather, an enterprise-wide Storage Area Network (SAN) and need to understand how each business unit or department's requirements and consumption will affect the organisation.

Another issue that comes into play is data lifecycle management. As data ages, businesses may be tempted to simply throw more storage at the problem, rather than migrating the data to a lower cost storage platform. However, this is no longer a cost effective option. Every gigabyte of data needs to be managed carefully, and as data ages businesses need to define the criteria and processes for migrating data so that this outdated information does not place a burden on storage resources.

"Added to this is a need to change the culture within organisations. One of the problems experienced by organisations that have implemented such a system is a tendency for people to simply store everything, as there is no motivation or incentive to delete or re-categorise data, due to the belief that storage is limitless. If this is not managed correctly it can become yet another unnecessary expense," Woods says.

Five key areas to making the cloud work

"Because the practice of virtualised storage is a relatively new and immature one, and requires a shift in thinking towards integrated business and IT as well an enterprise-wide view, successfully implementing cloud-based storage can be a challenging process," says Woods.

An effective storage and data management strategy is paramount, and needs to include several aspects: knowledge of existing capacity and optimised utilisation; the ability to forecast short term resource requirements and long term growth needs; effective tiering for data prioritisation; categorisation and migration linked to data security; and perhaps most important the mechanisms to manage the demand for storage resources.

These needs highlight five key areas that need to be addressed in order to implement an effective data and storage management system that is aligned to the needs of the business:

1. Data backup and recovery - backup schedules and data retention strategies need to be aligned to data lifecycles as well as regulatory compliance requirements. Backup and archiving should be managed as complementary processes, and archived data needs to be moved and indexed within a tiered storage environment that is based on well defined policies, and should be searchable and easily retrievable.Backup should be used to create copies of data as a layer of protection in case of corruption or accidental deletion.

2. Transparent data migration - all storage hardware tiers need to be supported by the data migration technology. Software solutions for data migration need to be fully integrated and supported across all physical storage tiers, server and application platforms and hardware virtualisation technologies.

3. De-duplication - de-duplication needs to be implemented not only for backup but for other storage solutions. The impact of this on performance and capacity management then needs to be assessed. User policies for the storing of multiple versions of data need to be documented, implemented and enforced. Where possible these processes should be automated to reduce redundant and unnecessary storage use.

4. Virtualisation - storage virtualisation technologies need to be thoroughly researched before they are implemented. In order to prevent being locked into a solution, the limitations of the technology need to be investigated, as well as the process for migration. This ensures that should an alternate solution be implemented in future the migration process will be fully understood.

5. Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Planning - supporting infrastructure needs to be put into place to achieve storage objectives, and additional costs for site-to-site bandwidth should be factored into the overall cost of the storage cloud solution. Strategic planning and testing of the Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity Planning solutions should be performed on a regular basis and updated as the business evolves.

As the business requirements for storing, accessing, protecting, retaining and securing data continue to evolve, the complexity and cost of the storage environment grows. Data volumes are ever increasing, and organisations need to ensure that they have a well defined, flexible and fully integrated data and storage management strategy in place that is aligned with business needs.

"Cloud-based storage solutions have the potential to provide enormous benefit for large global organisations. However they do not remove the need for effective management strategies. In fact, this technology makes effective management even more important to enable flexible access to fully optimised resources and cost effective delivery," adds Woods.

"To harness the benefits of cloud storage technology, businesses need to be aware of the potential pitfalls and work actively to avoid them and overcome challenges," he concludes.

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