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Best practices in assessments build IT storage value.

IT storage assessments have recently risen in popularity, driven by the data torrent, by myriads of compliance regulations and by escalating storage management costs. Conducting a storage assessment is a lot like planning a home purchase. This article covers the business reasons for justifying an assessment.

Parallels between home buying and storage assessments

Storage assessment and optimization has been my occupational "hobby" for several years. I got hooked when working on a customer backup window problem back in 1995. Happily I was able to help them achieve a significant improvement in their backup schedule. I also maintain a Florida real estate license in the event the bottom drops out of the storage industry (not likely these days). Recently I bought a home in Pensacola. Deep in the buying cycle, it hit me. I was applying many of the same steps of a storage assessment in the home purchase.

The first step in buying a house is the financial "analysis", where you calculate what you can afford. This is like a Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) study, since it involves analyzing your income versus the cost of the house you choose. You expect to reach the conclusion that you have the down payment and the means to purchase the house--without wrecking your budget, your credit or your lifestyle. Like an analysis, a storage assessment examines your current budget and then balances that budget against the maximum value of the item purchased.

Ready for buying with your ideal house picked out, you continue with the next assessment phase, the "appraisal". A real estate appraisal is designed to assure both you and the lender that the property is worth the seller's asking price. The appraisal also covers intrinsic value of the property, such as large trees, landscaping and location. Like an appraisal, a storage assessment is intended to ensure that the current value and future value of storage assets are fully realized.

Next, the third phase is the "survey". A surveyor arrives at the home site and carefully measures the property boundaries to ensure that they are accurate--and to ensure that the buyer gets the area to which they are entitled. If the survey and the title search uncover no problems, you qualify for title insurance which further protects you against claims on your property. Like a survey, a storage assessment ensures that the assets are inventoried, accounted for and protected, and that you are not paying continuing charges for resources that you are not using.

Last, but not least, is the "inspection". The purpose of the inspection is to ensure that the structure of your new house and condition of the appliances are sound and will provide lasting benefits. Like an inspection, a storage assessment looks into your storage infrastructure and inspects for weaknesses, such as oversubscribed SAN switches, poor performing backup hardware or out-of-space conditions; and then recommends steps to correct the weaknesses. During the inspection in my own home buying experience, the inspector found that several of the windows were fogged up internally and needed replacement. Armed with this information I was able to leverage a $1000 window replacement credit prior to closing. The extra $1000 paid for all four components of the home assessment with some left over for repairs.

Obviously storage assessment and optimization involve a few more steps than buying a home. A storage assessment also addresses operational themes like service level achievement, effective chargeback, data protection and best practices. Let's explore when you would need an assessment and what you should expect from an assessment.

Signals that point to an optimization

What significant indicators dictate that you need an optimization? By answering a few simple questions you can get a feel for how well your IT shop is utilizing its resources. The following section covers four questions that deal with data growth trend, backup success, information lifecycle management and effective capacity utilization.

Data Growth Trend

"How much has my data grown, year over year, in the last five years?" Can you answer this question today with readily available statistics? How about growth by line of business?--Would you have to struggle to find your storage growth trends?

Employing best practices in growth management enables you to do effective capacity planning and storage provisioning for applications and users. More and more companies are saving costs by negotiating multi-year contracts based on their growth projections.

Backup Success

"What is the success rate for my application backups?" Tracking backup success rate and performing root-cause analysis for failed backups is a way of providing best practices data protection for your clients.

Of all the clients that we have assessed in the last three years, only two were in the high 90's backup success--a retail chain had 97% success and a telecomm business had over 98% success. Both employed an aggressive process for identifying root cause and restarting every failed backup. A regular program of metric tracking, root cause analysis and testing restores for backups are keys to best practice data protection.

Information Lifecycle Management

"Do we have an active data classification process to reduce our TCO and improve our service levels?" Information lifecycle management (ILM) is a process that groups information in categories based on lifecycle characteristics and business value (assigning performance, protection and lifecycle tiers to application data at birth). Data Classification is a component of ILM and is used to assign a logical class (or tier) of storage in the storage hierarchy to a data element.

Data placement should be chosen by tier, based on a balance of business need versus cost. At one financial client, the requirement for Tier 1 (mission critical) storage was only 28% of the total need; however, the Tier 1 storage amounted to 75% of the total storage. This imbalance cost the client particularly in TCO and having available funds for additional applications. An ILM approach helped this client reduce their costs while maintaining the same service levels.

Effective Capacity Utilization

"If we knew we had available free space, would we be buying additional storage?" Or, to put it another way, "Do we know what percent of our total disk (raw) capacity is occupied by application and system data?" As the number and size of applications grow, effective disk capacity utilization tends to drop. The penalty for good performance is often over-allocation (waste) of disk space.

Orphan space is unallocated raw storage that could be used for data but is hidden from applications. This wasted space can cost real money, either in the initial price paid for it or when it is neglected at new order time. In a recent assessment example, we discovered that a bank had a large amount of "orphaned" space. This waste turned out to be nearly a full terabyte that sat neglected.

Are you concerned that your IT shop is managing storage efficiently? If detailed analysis is not feasible, consider a single metric to track your storage index of efficiency (IOE). IOE is the cost to manage a gigabyte of storage per month (S/GB/Mo), for both disk and tape. Even though IOE varies considerably, it is meaningful if measured and trended in your shop. The rule of thumb still holds that disk is approximately 10 times more expensive to manage than tape. Why not move low-access or never-access data to tape when its lifecycle dictates?

Benchmark IT Processes

Do not overlook the process side of the equation. Reviewing policies, procedures and organizational structure against best practices is an important aspect of any assessment. These processes or "IT disciplines" include such important roles as:

* Storage Configuration Management

* Storage Change Management

* Problem Management

* Capacity/Performance Management

* Backup/Recovery Management

* Service Level Management

* Information Lifecycle Management

* Tape Operations Management

* Business Continuity Management

Ideally you want your processes to align with best practices; however, even if your processes rate very low, at least you could institute an improvement program. Implement a system to monitor progress against measurable goals.


Data is expanding faster than the capability to manage the storage requirements. Daily backups have broken the 7x24-hour barrier. Organizations are striving to reduce their operational costs as storage systems grow larger and more complex.

Start on the solution by employing a storage optimization. Start with an assessment of the current storage environment followed by a strategy and action plan. Reap the most value and effectiveness from your storage resource investment.

Just like you would when buying a home, call in the experts that have the storage optimization talent, tools and experience to make your assessment worthwhile. Having chosen the experts, you should expect to realize several times the cost of an assessment in storage processes, performance, availability, protection and product savings.

Fred Aylstock is a certified business continuity professional for Sun Microsystems, Data Management Group (Santa Clara, CA).

Opening shots in continuing stories ...
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:first in/first out
Author:Aylstock, Fred
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Date:Mar 1, 2006
Previous Article:Managing risk in the storage environment: the realities of risk.
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