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Bumping the glass ceiling: government regs, terrorism, email and tight budgets place new demands on storage and bandwidth. (Storage Networking).

In the early days of the nuclear energy industry, n energy official claimed that with the advent of nuclear energy, electricity would be "too cheap to meter." It didn't work out that way. I think about that famous statement when I hear IT people talking about declining storage and bandwidth costs and the panacea they think this will deliver. So far, it hasn't worked out that way.

Technological innovation has brought us stunning increases in the amount of bandwidth and storage you can get for the IT budget, but the tough economy and tight budgets have combined to apply even more pressure to reduce spending and optimize existing resources. Most IT people didn't expect this situation. But, just as relatively cheap gasoline doesn't reduce the pressure on carmakers to get better mileage, cheap storage and bandwidth isn't reducing the pressure to get more out of the storage and bandwidth resources that are already in place.

The pressure comes from many sides:

* Government regulations: Health care (HIPAA--the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and financial services (the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act) are creating a strong need for companies to archive more information than ever before.

* Terrorism: This has heigh-tened our awareness of the vulnerability of vital information and is driving the need for greater redundancy and data security. Organizations must move massive amounts of data at high speed, storing it and managing it at much lower cost as they contemplate disaster recovery scenarios that now seem all too real.

* Email and attachments: Consider the email that clogs your computer every day. A recent report by IDC (September, 2002) predicts that email volume will increase from 31 billion messages per day now, to 60 billion per day in three years, eating up more of your bandwidth and storage. And not only is there more email, most of it comes with attachments that are large, complex files--placing an additional drain on your bandwidth and storage. If you've marked up a word processing file with a tablet computer, you know that the handwritten notes can double the size of the file. And, while last year your colleague might have sent you a spreadsheet, next year it's more likely to be a video file that's 50 times larger.

* Constrained budgets: Now in its third year, the deep technology downturn has put shackles on IT spending. Most surveys of 2003 IT spending plans show little or no growth, and many show reductions. For the next year, and likely for much longer, there's little money for organizations to buy their way out of the bandwidth and storage problem.

So, despite dramatically lower costs for bandwidth and storage, the demand for these resources will continue to exceed the ability of organizations to satisfy it within limited budgets. For at least the next decade, we're going to see a fast-growing demand for software that simultaneously saves bandwidth and shrinks storage requirements. Fortunately, there are cost-effective ways for organizations to get more from their installed bandwidth and storage resources, so they can achieve the twin goals of reducing their cost of ownership and improving their return on investment.

An important and sometimes neglected area of potential improvement is to increase the efficiency of enterprise applications. Because Lotus applications are so widespread across large corporations, let's use them as an example. Large, enterprise-wide applications like Lotus Notes and Domino have more than 95 million users, and most of them are placing large and unnecessary demands on their organizations' bandwidth and storage resources. This is due in large part to the functions these Lotus applications perform, and to their basic design. Tens of millions of people work in the Lotus Notes environment to do email (with attachments), messaging, collaboration, custom applications and other business functions. Because of the way Lotus applications are designed--frequently replicating to hundreds or thousands of clients--Notes and Domino sites can realize large benefits from making more efficient use of their communications and storage.

There are four ways these enterprises can realize significant bandwidth and storage savings:

1. Improvements in online, Web-based performance: Large Notes and Domino enterprises may have hundreds or thousands of remote users accessing Notes through a Web browser. Lotus iNotes and QuickPlace make these remote users more productive, but performance bottlenecks make it difficult to realize the expected gains. New products that provide automatic network traffic compression can accelerate Web performance and provide real savings. A recent benchmark analysis by KMDS Technical Associates showed that iNotes and QuickPlace users experienced faster Web access with online HTTP acceleration, with up to 65 percent savings in network traffic.

2. Data movement efficiencies: In normal Notes and Domino replications, individual client systems are replicated frequently as users make changes to copies of a database. With heavy loads, this bogs down the network. A smarter way to do this is to track changes and broadcast these simultaneously to relevant users. Using the network's multicasting infrastructure eliminates the need for point-to-point replication, replacing hundreds or thousands of replications with one host server replication. This approach yields dramatic improvements in bandwidth utilization and can reduce network traffic by up to 85 percent for Notes and Domino applications.

3. Economies in data storage: Domino servers in large environments can require very large storage resources as thousands of users send messages and copies of large files (attachments). Now, new file compression products for Lotus environments can dynamically and transparently compress and uncompress files with no user involvement. KMDS benchmarking found that files stored on servers in such a compressed format can reduce data storage requirements by up to 85 percent. This is a significant improvement over older compression products that required active user involvement to identify, compress and then manually decompress a file. Today, new data storage efficiency tools for Lotus environments automate the process and apply to every large file that is shared across the corporation. The storage savings are compounded by the power of Notes' synchronization, resulting in substantial storage savings for an enterprise.

4. More effective data control and policies: Imagine if highway speeds were dictated by the slowest car on the road and none of the cars on a four-lane highway could pass the slowest car, even if the other lanes were clear. That's analogous to the way some network policies and priorities are strangling Domino networks. New data control tools enable network administrators to assign and prioritize bandwidth on an application-by-application basis. In this way, applications operate in an environment of dynamic priority--some applications will get bandwidth before others, based on policies set by the organization. This serves to improve both quality of service and network efficiency at the same time.

The history of computing and networking technology is one of fantastic, rapid increases in product capabilities--coupled with an increase in the demand for those capabilities that soon exceeds the available resources. This won't change, so the permanent challenge for IT departments is to use resources ever more efficiently, even as product capabilities grow at an accelerating pace. And, of course, they must do this while reducing costs. The bad news is that what we thought would be a panacea--abundant, cheap bandwidth and storage--is actually a burden and an endless challenge to IT. The good news is that a new generation of products can help IT wring much more efficiency out of their systems at both the O/S and enterprise application level, while delivering significant cost savings.

Gordon Dorworth is president and CEO of Stampede Technologies (Dayton, Ohio)
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Author:Dorworth, Gordon
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Date:Apr 1, 2003
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