Storage decisions once were easy. You bought a computer, and it came with an internal hard drive or a storage array. But in recent years, storage has become more complicated as the technology evolved and new rules and regulations mandate the retention of vast classes of information for many years. Add to that the growing threat of stolen data and identity theft and a morass of other technical and business issues, and you've got a pretty perplexing set of concerns.
As businesses spend more on storage systems, there are questions that can't be ignored. Storage decisions can have an impact on the bottom line and, in some cases, how well a business performs. That's why more companies are looking at various kinds of storage services and outside advice as a way to answer some of those questions.
Storage services are divided into four areas. Two aren't new: hardware maintenance and support, which includes physical repair, troubleshooting, and warranty upgrades; and software maintenance and support such as operating systems and infrastructure software, installation, and migrations.
Among the new services is storage consulting, which covers strategic, architectural, operational, and implementation planning. There's also a broad category of management services that includes systems operation or support, capacity planning, asset management, availability, performance management, security, storage on demand, and backup and recovery.
Economics is driving many storage decisions, as businesses try to consolidate large storage infrastructures and rein in storage spending. The total external controller-based disk storage market was $3.5 billion in the first quarter of 2005, 11% higher than the year-earlier period, according to IT advisory firm Gartner. Storage vendors such as Dell, EMC, IBM, and Network Appliance all experienced double-digit growth.
Other factors driving demand for storage services include regulatory compliance, information-life-cycle management, security, and storage on demand. In a survey of storage professionals that Gartner conducted in August, 69% cite compliance as the No. 1 driver, followed by information-life-cycle management (56%), security (44%), and storage on demand (31%).
Storage on demand has emerged as a growth area. Several of the survey respondents report that 70% of the storage they provision in 2008 will be purchased on a usage basis, and outsourcers are adding storage-on-demand services. These utilities are being built around tiers of storage for backup and primary disk storage so different tiers can be assigned based on the business value of the data.
Pay Per Use
Many service providers have entered the market. MCI, which is being acquired by Verizon Communications Inc., in September launched Utility Storage Service, a pay-as-you-go service model, at the heart of which is a Client Central portal where customers can view attached servers, track volumes, monitor utilization, and add, move, and delete storage capacity. "The service allows customers to plug into a shared storage fabric on a per-gigabyte, per-month basis," says Rick Dyer, director of product management at MCI's enterprise hosting services.
The MCI service alerts customers when their capacity threshold is reached, letting them request additional storage. MCI also provides back-end capacity-storage management and planning, including storage area network discovery and path management, performance and event management, and file-system-level storage-resource management.
Professional storage services can be critical in linking storage infrastructure decisions to business requirements. HIP Health Plan of New York, the largest HMO in the New York area, contracted with GlassHouse Technologies Inc. to create a road map for storage that would let it deal with myriad regulatory issues, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. "GlassHouse conducted a thorough analysis of our storage needs and developed an architectural blueprint," says Tom Ko, HIP's director of data-center operations.
In addition to helping HIP meet regulatory mandates, the infrastructure has enabled it to use storage as a business differentiator, by, for example, being able to call up an image in response to a customer query. "HIP was keen on having a storage infrastructure they could expand," says Steven Foskett, GlassHouse's director of strategic services. "By keeping more of their data online, they're able to not only meet regulations but also satisfy customers."
Another GlassHouse customer, Allianz Life Insurance Co. of North America, developed a tiered storage architecture, with tier one consisting of EMC arrays, tier two Network Appliance devices, and tier three EMC's Centera. "We like to keep things simple," says David Kaercher, VP of infrastructure. "Previous companies I've worked for have had islands of SANs. Here we just have a single enterprise storage environment."