Storage economics just do not add up. Expenditure on data storage within enterprises is rising at between 15% and 20% annually, way ahead of underlying IT budgets where growth is typically running at 8% to 12%. And that spend is targeted at data volumes that are increasing by 50% each year.
What is behind those: Multiple factors, among the chaotic state of most business’s email archiving policies, the regulatory pressures organisations find themselves under to keep the right amounts information for the relevant amount of time, and the ‘back up everything’ culture that dominates.
Email is the biggest culprit. Vast quantities of duplicated and often-unimportant email are stored alongside compliance-prescribed documents simply because organisations find it impossible – or too costly – to draw a distinction between the two. “The notion is you have to keep it all because there is no way of separating the important from the trivial,” says Praveen Asthana, director of storage and networking at Dell.
In his role as director of Dell’s enterprise storage and networking business, Praveen Asthana is responsible for the multi-billion dollar division’s product development and launches, worldwide marketing and strategic partnerships. A renowned storage expert and patent holder, Dr Asthana earlier spent over a decade in IBM's storage systems group developing and marketing a broad range of storage products before joining Silicon Valley storage technology start-up Zambeel.
He draws on one recent, seemingly innocuous example: new parents email, on average, 5MB of baby pictures to a handful of work colleagues, many of whom will then send the attachment on to others within the organisation. When that is replicated, backed up several times and then archived, the result can be as much as half a gigabyte of data from just one ‘private’ email.
Aside from a lack of storage policy, another critical issue for storage revolves around the current “cellular” view that most IT organisations have of data, says Asthana. “Most organisations maintain separate islands of storage. And that persists even where they have adopted storage area networks [SANs] – they have a SAN for web, a SAN for ERP and so on.”
Not only is that difficult to manage, it is very expensive, he stresses. Most organisations handle this by throwing resources at the problem, but the systems under management have very low utilisation rates – not something that CFOs like to hear about.
Those are just the headline issues. But according to Asthana, a series of developments have enabled companies to take the first steps towards some future ‘storage Nirvana’ in which all of those problems are minimised or even go away altogether. In adopting these new approaches, says Asthana, businesses can can move some way towards attaining the realistic possibility of a storage budget with a growth rate of zero.
One key way forward, says Asthana, is to apply the principles of grid computing to create a unified storage fabric: grid storage, as he calls it. On the path to building that fabric, organisations must avoid cul-de-sacs. “Don’t use storage technology targeted at single-use silos or proprietary solutions,” he says.
The obvious roadblock today is proprietary storage. He counsels that companies should select vendors that adhere to the SMI-S interoperability standard developed by the Storage Networking Industry Association of users and vendors that aims to provide a means of running multi-vendor storage devices in a shared network.
The unified fabric he has in mind needs to span more than just storage. Asthana advocates the same underlying network protocol should be used across wide area networks, local area networks, storage area networks and elsewhere. “The aim is to get to a world where you can use Ethernet for all these,” he says.
In a storage environment, the task of gravitating towards that single fabric of Ethernet, means embracing Ethernet-based iSCSI SANs. That does not mean immediately abandoning the traditional interconnect based on fibre channel: many vendors offer systems that can employ either fibre channel or Ethernet.
The switch to iSCSI will be accelerated soon when the data movement speeds of these SANS start to match those fibre channel devices: “10 gigabit on copper [Ethernet cable] is right around the corner,” says Asthana.
With that infrastructure in place, organisations need to take the next key step to storage Nirvana: classification. In order to differentiate the trivial from the vital, they need to start classifying all their data. Ultimately that will enable them to enforce automated, policy-based archiving.
Without that, organisations have little chance of making a dent in that 50% data storage growth rate, he says, and move towards storage spending growth of zero percent.
As organisations come nearer that ambitious goal, storage economics will start to make more sense.