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Taming the Storage Budget Beast

August 24th, 2009 No comments

Phil Goodwin

Some economic experts think that the economy is improving – or at least getting worse less fast. Let’s hope so. But for all you IT managers, the budget situation for the rest of 2009 and 2010 is likely to remain tight. Storage, which is consuming an increasing share of the CapEx budget, will be heavily impacted. Nevertheless, business continues – you need to address growing data volumes and increasingly stringent SLAs without increasing headcount or CapEx. Lots of platitudes available about doing more with less – insert your favorite here. Fortunately, there are some simple strategies for coping. Obviously, the best choice to make-do with what you have without sacrificing results or the budget.

Listed below are four steps to making the most of what you have. But first, a little math. According to The InfoPro, average array utilization in data centers is just 35%. The average storage growth rate is pegged at 50% compounded annually by some accounts. Thus, an “average” IT organization could last fully two years before hitting 80% utilization, the top end of the best-practice range. Of course, the trick is finding and enabling that storage. Now for the steps.

Step 1: Find out what you have

In contrast to The InfoPro numbers, user surveys report 70%-80% utilization. Who’s telling the truth? Probably both – the discrepancy is how you measure the numbers. Utilization can be measured by data written to disk (which might explain The InfoPro numbers), by storage provisioned (which might explain the user numbers) or other measures. The problem is, few users go through the laborious task of measuring every LUN, adding them together and doing the math on a regular basis, regardless of the measurement. Even fewer have visibility across the enterprise to generate a comprehensive number.

In the mainframe world, nearly all shops have a storage resource management (SRM) tool. In UNIX/Windows environments, very few do. Yet, SRM products can give – and maintain – utilization data essential to optimizing storage. A good SRM tool not only aggregates data and gives visibility across the enterprise, but drills down to find out which LUNs are over-provisioned and which are over-utilized. Of course, they can do much more, but unlocking 10s or 100s of TB of available space alone makes them worth the effort.

Step 2: Adopt thin provisioning

Nearly all Tier 1 and Tier 2 storage array vendors currently support thin provisioning. Lots of good resources on the Web to explain thin provisioning if you’re not familiar with it, so we won’t digress here. Bottom line, thin provisioning allows you to pool all the over-provisioned storage and makes it available to every application on an as-needed basis. No more guessing as to how much storage to provision to a given LUN and no more LUN-shrinking and expanding exercises.

Now, I can guess what you’re thinking: “OK, smart guy, I’ve got more than 100 TB of storage and hundreds of applications. How do I get from ‘thick’ to ‘thin’ without a major disruption to the organization?” First, select a “thin aware” file system. “Thin aware” file systems are essential to staying thin over time. Without one, a “thin” file will become fat over time and requires manual intervention and downtime. Second, look for a data movement tool that works across any operating system, is storage hardware independent, and can move data from “thick” to “thin” online (no app downtime) and can automatically reclaim the unused storage. Between the two, you’ll get thin and stay thin, technologically speaking. Can’t help with your waistline, though.

Step 3: Implement deduplication

Deduplication is one of those immediate-impact schemes to free up storage space. The biggest offender of duplicate storage is backup and recovery (B/R). By the very nature of B/R, we back up the same stuff over and over. Dedup appliances can address the issue, but add another layer of devices to manage in the data center and add more storage to it as well.  A better solution is to have deduplication integrated directly with your B/R app, that can work at a global level (such as remote offices, data centers, and virtual servers) so that it’s never stored in the first place.

Step 4: Archive unstructured data

The bane of a storage manager’s existence is obsolete and orphaned user storage. E-mail is often the main culprit. Trouble is, manually removing it costs more in human effort than it saves in disk space. Fortunately, there are products out there that can automatically move this data to the archive storage of choice. Best of all, you get to set the policy regarding time frame, size or whatever other criteria you decide to trigger the movement to archive. All of those duplicate PowerPoint presentations will be consolidated in to a single instance. Once archived, the data should still be fully discoverable for legal requirements. The users still have full access to the data. It may take a few seconds to recover, but recover it will without tracking down tapes in a vault. Oh, by the way, did I mention it would dramatically reduce your B/R window as well? No need to backup the same thing over and over.

None of these steps are dependent upon the others. Any of them will extend the life of your current storage infrastructure. Taken together, you may be able to ride out the current economic downturn without buying a single MB of additional capacity.

The NetApp CEO Succession: Tom Georgens succeeds Dan Warmenhoven

August 20th, 2009 No comments

Another day for NetApp in the headlines, this afternoon the news hit the wire that the current CEO of NetApp (Dan Warmenhoven) is retiring and Tom Georgens will be taking his position. Dave Hitz’s blog post broke the news to the world at around 4:30 PM.

Dave quotes: “Today Dan Warmenhoven, our previous CEO, announced that Tom Georgens is our new CEO. Dan will continue as Chairman of the Board, and he will also have a new role, reporting to Tom, focusing on relationships with major partners. His title is Executive Chairman since he’s an executive of the company as well as a board member.”

I really like how Dave Hitz begins his blog; unfortunately the last year has been a losing battle for Dan Warmenhoven, though Dan had a great track record of bringing NetApp from 50 employees to 8000 employees during his tenure. Dan has been with NetApp since the very early days and though his succession Tom Georgens was identified several years ago, the timing of this move raises a lot of questions. NetApp also declared their quarterly numbers today, which sure indicated a profit growth for the past quarter.

Though it was fully expected that Dan Warmenhoven would retire, it remains to be seen if during his last days as CEO of NetApp whether he had any major differences with the board after the Data Domain battle. Tom Georgens comes with a wealth of information and has worked for companies like EMC, LSI Logic and has created some very strong partnerships with various players in the Data Storage industry, his immediate future direction may remain the same as Dan Warmenhoven. In a long run it still remains to be seen if Tom Georgens and his team would grow the NetApp business independently or stage NetApp to be purchased.

I still have doubts about Dan Warmenhoven retirement announcement at such a time crucial time when the company possibly went through rocky times, Dan’s the vision and leadership grew the business over 15 years to this level and then one afternoon decides to step down with any prior notice to the Storage – Wall Street Community, sounds a bit strange. Dan will still continue to be the Executive Chairman of the board, but we should see his role fade slowly but surely over the next 6 months.

We wish Tom Georgens Goodluck & Success in this new position.

Storage Economics – Hardware Maintenance – Part 2

August 6th, 2009 No comments

This blog post is a continuation of yesterday’s post about various aspects of Storage Economics as it relates to Hardware Maintenance cost.

To read about Storage Economics – Hardware Maintenance – Part 1

Topics we covered in the previous post included

The concept of Hardware Maintenance

The Strategy related to Hardware Maintenance

The Facts about Hardware Maintenance

The beliefs about Hardware Maintenance

Here are a few other components related to storage hardware maintenance services as it fits into a concept of Storage Economics.

There was an interesting post yesterday by David Merrill at HDS regarding how a customer in the APAC market has been able to leverage Independent Service Providers for various different assets that they own and how they decide what stays with the manufacturer and what is being maintained by Independent Service Providers.

The Plan for Hardware Maintenance

Hardware Support: Support on storage assets could be available through Independent Service Providers (ISP’s), which could help reduce CapEx, OpEx and improve ROA by levering the existing technology on the floor for a longer time span.

Remote Support and Diagnostics: Independent Service Providers can enable storage frames for remote call home features, remote support and perform diagnostics for troubleshooting.
Code Upgrades (firmware) and Engineering: This support is typically only available through the manufacturer. But here is a fact; at the end of a 3 year life cycle of the equipment (when you start paying for off warranty support) how many times have you seen code upgrades being offered to customers, since vendors are more focused on technology that is current today).

Global technical Support: Global 24 x 7 technical support is often provided by Independent Service Providers as a part of service offerings.

Onsite Certified & Trained engineers: Independent Service Providers typically hire the same engineers that have been working for the vendor and redeploy them onsite for services

Spares: Spare parts are standard offering through Independent Service Providers to have them shipped at the site within the 4-hour SLA or possibly store it as onsite spares.

SLA: Normally Independent Service Providers SLA’s are matched to vendor specifications.  Also a custom tailored support plan can be created for the test and development systems – non critical systems, which might not need the utmost priority.

Software Support: In most cases Software support can be continued with the vendor, which enables you to receive software updates for your host environment or any other layered software. If your storage platform is more than 5 years old, may be you can investigate into dropping the software support.

The Pricing for Hardware Maintenance

So typically off-warranty hardware maintenance services may be available to you at 50% to 70% discount of vendors list price since these organizations do not have a sustaining engineering cost.

This will help increase the life of the asset you already own on the floor, which is fully functional and operational.

This will further help you reduce your CAPEX (by not purchasing new assets), reduce your OPEX (by reducing your maintenance cost) and improve your ROA (an asset you have already paid for).

This savings will need a 12-month cycle to fully qualify since hardware maintenance services are charged on a monthly basis.

With 50% to 70% savings per device (Storage Frame), if you have an environment with 1PB storage, your organization could see a savings of millions of dollars over 3 years and a 5PB environment might see a double-digit million dollar savings over 3 years.

Is this something that sounds interesting and can help you overall preserve your CapEx and reduce your OpEx?

Your Alternatives for Hardware Maintenance

Are people within your organization ready and open for this concept?

Do your homework in selecting the right service provider.

It is okay to consider giving the Independent Service Providers a partial environment that might consists of Test and Development Systems, to get a better feel for their services and response times.

Compare service offerings from multiple independent service providers.

Ask the right questions and see how long transition plans would take for a cut over.

Ask questions related to outages in these environments and the Independent Service Providers experience around it.

It is completely okay to drill the Independent Service Providers technical folks with tons of questions related to your environment.

Here are some additional things to ask the Independent Service Provider:

Ask about recertification cost

Ask about reconfiguration cost

Ask for any hidden cost

Ask about spares that are used

Ask about spares procurement process

Ask about spares testing process

Ask to see their operations (visit the ISP)

Ask about support plan

Ask to access the online service calls portal

Ask about online web portal for advisories and errors

Ask about response times

Look into escalation plans

Look into call flow processes

Ask about gaps in service compared to the vendor

Ask for a dedicated trained engineer (based on the amount of business)

Ask about training for engineers

Ask for a dedicated account manager

Ask for a dedicated technical contact

Ask for sales contact for your account

Ask for escalation contacts

Ask for project plan related to the transition from vendor to ISP

Investigate how big the Independent Service Provider is

Check references, ask reference customers about outages, parts replacement process, about hardware – software issues and call ownership issues

Compare SLA’s

Check the viability of the support solution (tools, processes, escalation, risks, etc)

Do not make decision on pricing only

Determine contingency plans.

So where do you find these alternatives?

Well, your initial search can begin on the web. Following that, you should further inquire into the company and try to dig into their area of expertise. Ask them about their competition and inquire with the competition on support plans.

If you have a Storage partner, go to them and ask them to find an Independent Service Provider for your organization.

If you have Global Outsourcing partners, inquire with them, to see if they have any strategic partners they recommend.

Honestly, working with so many different customers over the world, I have seen Independent Service Providers do good, they help the customer reduce CapEx and OpEx, extend the life of the equipment and most importantly run the entire operations without any disruptions, but that said, I have seen many Independent Service Providers fail miserably to deliver on promised services.

Do the research and jump on this if it is a viable option for your organization.

Its all about Storage Economics!!!!

Storage Economics – Hardware Maintenance – Part 1

August 5th, 2009 2 comments

So on several occasions, I have written about Storage management and the cost reduction associated with it in terms of CapEx and OpEx. In this blog post we will talk about how your organization may further be able to leverage resources available in the industry to reduce TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) and improve ROA (Return on Assets) for the storage devices you own.

For example purposes, lets assume we are only talking about one single Storage device (frame) in the environment. Also for this blog post, lets assume the manufacturer (OEM) of the Storage frame is the vendor.

The concept of Hardware Maintenance

You purchased a storage asset 3 years ago. Spend a million dollars in acquisition cost on that storage device, also paid for software licenses, implementation cost, migration cost and training cost.  You are almost at a 2 million dollar mark to implement this Enterprise Class Storage, which includes your Tier1 and / or Tier 2 data.

How is this Storage frame doing today?

It’s working great, applications associated with it are robust, Thank God over the past 3 years we haven’t seen any outages in this environment.

Oh…………by the way, the vendor just visited today and is proposing we do a tech refresh in this environment.

The Strategy related to Hardware Maintenance

So the first question, are you ready for this tech refresh?

Is your business ready for this tech refresh?

Is your team ready and trained for this new technology?

Do you need external resources for this tech refresh?

Are there budgets and proposed growth in the business to pay for this tech refresh?

Do we really need a tech refresh?

Are your applications ready for this tech refresh?

Would your host environments be ready for this tech refresh?

What is that you are trying to gain by this tech refresh – Processing Power, Speed, Savings, Green Data Center, Power, Electricity, management cost, etc?

Are your users complaining about your application performance?

Is the number of users growing on these apps?

So how many Nah’s and Yah’s do we have on the questions above?

The Facts about Hardware Maintenance

The vendor is proposing a substantial savings and helping us reduce the TCO on these assets over the next three years.

Cost of hardware maintenance from the vendor for year 4, year 5 and year 6 (on the existing storage asset) is almost equivalent to the cost of purchasing new assets

We are being offered the best deal, free training, the vendor reduced the hardware acquisition cost by 20% and they have another 5% discount for the quarter closing tomorrow.

The beliefs about Hardware Maintenance

Hardware Support: No one other than the vendor can provide hardware support on the Storage assets because it is just too complex to manage.

Remote Support and Diagnostics: No one other than the vendor can provide remote support and diagnostics.

Code Upgrades (Firmware) and Engineering Support: No one other than the vendor can provide Code upgrades and Engineering Support.

Global Technical Support: No one other than the vendor has a 24 x 7 global technical support.

Onsite Certified & Trained Engineers: Only the vendor has trained and certified onsite engineers.

Spares: 24 x 7, 4 hour response spare parts logistics, only the vendor has it.

SLA: Only the vendor can provide a mission critical or a premium SLA that would include either 24 x 7 x 2 support or 24 x 7 x 4 support.

Software Support: No one other than the vendor can provide Software support

So, how do you get around these industry notions?

Please stay tuned for the next blog post on Storage Economics – Hardware Maintenance – Part 2 tomorrow.