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Data Storage and Infrastructure Management

December 28th, 2005

The volume of data generated and stored by businesses is growing at an uncontrollable rate and companies have invested substantially in IT systems to help manage this growth. The challenge they face is how to manage their data storage infrastructure cost-effectively. This means developing smarter ways to juggle spend without compromising quality of service.

One approach that is proving successful in the development and maintenance of a business-focused IT infrastructure is managed services. More and more businesses are recognising that an effective way to reduce overall IT spend and, more specifically, the high cost of data storage is to outsource the provision of IT services to a third-party supplier. But businesses have become wary of 100 per cent outsourcing contracts under which they lose control of the output and direction of the IT environment. A managed approach is now a popular alternative for businesses looking for a middle ground between an in-house or a fully outsourced approach.

So what is driving the explosion in volumes of data that companies are generating? It has been driven by the need for businesses to offer better services, bespoke interfaces and generally better communication with customers. And data-rich applications like customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise content management (ECM).

Businesses are moving so quickly that the concept of having a ‘silo’ of available storage to meet all their storage needs is the dream for most client organisations. Stored client and corporate data has become the lifeblood for generation revenue.

With the explosion of data being led by the need to improve quality of service to customers, enterprises are also striving to ensure that quality and system availability levels remain high across the infrastructure. Failure to meet these expectations can have a disastrous impact on a company’s shareholder value, brand and customers.

Businesses are also looking at ways to meet the challenges posed by a change in the metrics by which service levels are measured. The evaluation of quality of service is shifting from technical measurements of IT resources to business-user criteria.

Companies are also beginning to acknowledge the critical role that data plays in long-term corporate stability. This has prompted businesses to consider the nature of the environment in which data is stored and effectiveness of their recovery systems. As a result companies are adopting a more strategic approach as they recognise that contingency to guarantee a robust and reliable IT infrastructure is critical. With this in mind businesses are looking to storage vendors and partners to provide high quality, reliable, scalable and cost-effective storage solutions that include managed storage provision.

As part of this process businesses are striving to source an effective method of data distribution. The adoption of storage area networks (SANs) has proved a popular solution for bringing spiralling storage costs back under control.

Despite the increased adoption of SANs, businesses are still failing to recognise that their infrastructures are rapidly becoming outdated. This is because they have neglected to make long-term plans which take into account the speed at which technology develops and changing market forces.

Another factor that has hampered the development of well-managed storage infrastructure is the lack of open standards amongst storage vendors. Businesses are finding themselves locked into vendor relationships that fail to offer cost-efficient solutions for the long-term management of escalating volumes of data.

Having identified the barriers to an effective storage infrastructure, businesses must establish an approach that best suits their requirements. Adopting a managed approach to storage can offer significant benefits to a business.

However, it is first important to take into account a number of factors that such a strategy addresses:

– The impact on the corporate reputation and brand if the IT infrastructure underperforms

– The time spent on system deployment and implementation

The current and ongoing shortage of individuals with the range of skills required to maintain a complex heterogeneous IT infrastructure

– The return on investment that can be realised from the redistribution of in-house skills

Having considered these factors, businesses can then see how a managed approach can benefit them. It is important to recognise that an effective managed business function is achieved through assessment, planning, execution and evolution.

A managed approach takes into consideration an enterprise’s full IT strategy, which improves the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of all elements of the infrastructure. Planning and consolidation can work to reduce operating costs by improving efficiency and maximising the allocation of personnel.

Through the adoption of a long-term strategy and the effective forward planning of data management, an enterprise can make more efficient use of existing capacity and have greater control over the movement and location of data. For example, as it’s been estimated that approximately 65% of online data is rarely accessed, businesses should look to free up online resources for more core business applications.

Unsurprisingly, consolidation presents companies with one of the biggest management issues. As it involves bringing the data storage reserves of a company’s many departments, groups and lines of business under a central resource. The challenge is to find an affordable scalable storage solution that fulfils the needs of the overall business, whilst still meeting the storage needs of the individual units.

This requirement for flexibility is exacerbated as corporates increase their demand for enough high-availability storage to service the growth of their business. Any changes required to facilitate these needs must be driven by the business, not by the outsourcer, thereby ensuring control is maintained.

Another challenge facing companies is ensuring they have the necessary skills to take advantage of existing and new technologies. A managed approach can help in providing access to specific skills, reducing ongoing training costs and improving staff retention.

The effective management and control of a comprehensive back-up solution is critical to minimising business risk, but companies are failing to make thorough disaster recovery plans or are adopting inefficient processes. By integrating their business continuity planning into a managed storage infrastructure, businesses will be better placed to develop a comprehensive disaster recovery strategy.

A common mistake when upgrading systems is to automatically renew systems without first undertaking an audit of existing storage infrastructures. Advances in technology and changes in the cost of different solutions mean businesses should perform periodic audits of their IT infrastructure to make sure that they are getting the greatest benefit for the least spend.

In the current economic climate, businesses must do everything possible to drive down cost, whilst protecting their assets. Without a storage and infrastructure management strategy, companies will continue to waste money and put their businesses at risk and undermine their corporate reputations.

The success of a managed approach hinges on the co-operation of the entire organisation. The buy-in of the board is vital for the effectiveness of any managed infrastructure. It results from the dependence on the adopter to provide a level of transparency across business processes.

Companies should also seek to use a partner with a genuine understanding of their business needs. It is vital in the current corporate environment, to ensure that a partner has a reliable support infrastructure, suitably skilled personnel and can guarantee levels of service. Failure to meet any of these critical elements will threaten the success of a managed services approach.

As IT infrastructures develop and become more complex, it will become more important for service providers to have an understanding of both networking technologies and the applications that run on them. This is particularly important as companies move towards more IP-centric networks that facilitate an increasing array of plug-and-play applications.

This shift towards a more application-focused infrastructure further highlights the case for open standards in data storage. As standards become more defined and universally accepted, the rush to storage attached to the network is bound to accelerate.

The pressure to drive down cost from the IT budget will undoubtedly increase so businesses must seek the most cost-effective and high quality solutions available. Businesses must take an intelligent, well-informed and strategic view of the options available to ensure that they are making informed decisions that will guarantee cost savings and long-term stability. By selecting the right partner for the provision of a managed IT infrastructure, businesses can face up to the challenges of an ever-changing environment head on.

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