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11/6/2008
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Green IT Beyond Virtualization: Storage Matters

We save more and more stuff, drives get bigger and bigger, yet we must keep buying more disks to keep pace. Meanwhile, energy costs are through the roof. We can't go on like this.

Second of a three-part series
Is it time to do something radical with your storage infrastructure? Encouraging users to conserve space isn't working. For every conscientious employee who deletes files as defined by policy, three more are charter members of the "keep everything forever" club.

Maybe IT can't do much about these hoarders. But given the need to comply with industry and governmental regulations and, for many, a data storage volume increasing by 50% or more per year with the attendant expenditures on utilities, it's clear something must give.

If you maintain branch offices, as do the majority of the 560 business technology professionals who answered our recent InformationWeek Analytics survey on business continuity, it may be time to seriously consider consolidation of the storage infrastructure--data center, branches, and disaster recovery sites, everywhere data resides.

While consolidation might have been impractical just 18 months ago, technology that enables consolidation is now better, faster and less expensive, and options such as cloud storage can help as well.

In this second installment in our series of three articles focused on ways to improve the efficiency of IT operations, reduce your overall environmental footprint, lower ongoing expenses, and generally be more green, we'll examine these questions.

STORAGE CHALLENGES
In our experience, storage consumes as much as 40% of power and cooling capacity in the typical data center. And unchecked storage growth is a universal problem--whether you're an academic institution, a governmental agency, a large enterprise, or a small business, your IT organization is being challenged by never-ending demands for more storage capacity.

The Green Effect
Eliminating duplicate data cuts storage growth rates and the resulting need for additional hardware.

Minimizing or eliminating tape-based backups reduces ongoing acquisition and disposal of tapes and the associated environmental impact.

Migrating infrequently accessed persistent data to a massive array of idle disks, or more traditional Tier 2 storage, will lower power and cooling requirements.

WAN acceleration can eliminate local storage in some or all branch offices, eliminating power consumption and acquisition/upgrade/disposal cycles.
 
For a time, the stock answer was, "Disk is cheap." Maybe, but power and cooling aren't. Even with impressive technological developments by storage vendors and drive manufacturers, capacity hasn't kept pace with data growth rates.

Disks have certainly gotten bigger--up to 1.5 TB on a 3.5-inch SATA drive as of press time--but you still need more of them to meet demand, and that means more power and cooling. Significantly larger disk drives also make it seductively easy to put considerable amounts of storage in departmental servers and branch offices. For example, a low-end server with a few 1.5-TB SATA drives provides more storage than the typical midtier SAN of just a few years ago, and it does so at an astonishingly low price. Sounds great in theory, but in practice, a net effect is that too many organizations are dealing with storage reactively, not proactively. There's usually little or no time for comprehensive storage resource management and planning. If a branch office needs more storage, it's usually urgent, so you buy more disks. When they need to back up all those disks, you buy that newer, bigger, and faster LTO4 tape drive.

Problem is, over time, you end up with many remote locations with storage systems that rival what you likely had in your first enterprise data center, plus ongoing costs for consumables, such as tapes and utilities. To make matters worse, while disk drive capacities have increased tremendously over the years, operational speed hasn't, at least not proportionally. So despite the fact that we can store far more data, we can't access that data as quickly as we'd like. Backups, off-site replication, remote access, or data transfer operations are more challenging than ever.

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