Businesses employ a variety of storage services to help them chart their way through proliferating storage options

Steven Marlin, Contributor

November 18, 2005

4 Min Read

It also helped Allianz expand storage economically. From a previous environment of 70 to 80 terabytes of direct-attached storage, the insurer migrated to one where it has close to 100 terabytes of shared storage, even as the company has grown at a 15% to 20% clip. "We've maximized utilization of existing and future storage assets," Kaercher says.

As the need for availability increases, companies are looking to their backup services providers to not only offer disaster-recovery facilities but to provide managed services as well. SunGard Availability Services offers a basic backup-and-restore service based on disk-to-disk-to-tape, on up to complete hot-site and failover capabilities with mirrored servers and disks, and vaulting solutions for storing archived data off site. "Customers want systems that blend disaster recovery and managed services," says Lenny Monsour, SunGard's director of product management.

Regulatory Requirements
One SunGard customer, PSS/ World Medical Inc., relocated its data-center operations from Jackson, Miss., to SunGard's Philadelphia center when Hurricane Katrina struck. "We do high availability with SunGard," says Brian Finley, chief technology officer of PSS/ World Medical. "We made Philadelphia our production site and relocated 35 call-center workers to SunGard's Atlanta facility."

PSS/World Medical maintains a full backup copy of data in Philadelphia and takes a snapshot once a day of its Oracle production database. "We take the snapshot at 2 a.m., with a recovery objective of 20 minutes." For regulatory purposes, PSS/World Medical is considering archiving data on nearline media, which is used to move data online quickly. To comply with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, it's required to retain seven years of sales-tax history. "We're looking at keeping all of that data online," Finley says. "We've talked to EMC and are looking at software-replication products."

For companies that need nearly instant recovery of all data, a new approach called "continuous data protection" is designed to instantly copy and back up all changes to data. The idea is to record every change to every data element--be it a Word document, a database entry, or an E-mail--thereby eliminating the risk of lost data.

The technology is offered by large systems vendors such as IBM and EMC, as well as niche providers such as Asempra Technologies, Revivio, and TimeSpring Software. It will appeal to financial-services and health-care companies under pressure to guarantee against lost data, while maintaining a high degree of application availability. For most companies, however, daily or hourly backups are sufficient.

Some companies are turning to storage-management systems to help them understand how much storage is being used for what apps. Bocada Inc. offers software that aggregates and analyzes information generated by systems-management software such as IBM's Tivoli and Hewlett-Packard's OpenView to give administrators greater insight into how their storage systems are being used. It helps managers whose companies are seeking to consolidate data centers and platforms.

"Administrators have got to provide greater visibility into their operations at the same time they're having to consolidate services and get costs down," Bocada CEO Mark Silverman says. "They need information to plan, strategize, and make decisions."

Cutting The Tape
Virtual tape operations, which use disk arrays to emulate tape, are rapidly coming to the forefront as companies seek to reduce costly and time-consuming tape operations. Grange Insurance Group implemented a virtual tape system that saved it $1,000 a month in shipping costs alone--costs that were incurred transporting tapes 230 miles from its main data center in Seattle to its backup site in Spokane, Wash.

The system uses a device that attaches to Grange's mainframe system that runs its core business applications. The device, Mainframe Appliance for Storage from Bus-Tech Inc., emulates an IBM 3490 tape unit so perfectly that only a few minor changes to the mainframe code were required.

In the Grange configuration, each data center has a MAS unit attached to a mainframe via a 17-Mbyte-per-second channel. The data is replicated to a Dell-based RAID 1-terabyte storage array and from there is replicated to Spokane. All tape-based operations continue to function exactly as before but without tape. Instead, data storage and retrieval use fast, error-protected disk storage.

Going to virtual tape has cut the amount of time required to do tape backups, freeing up time for nightly batch processing. "By elimination of physical tape handling, we can run more batch jobs over the weekend," says Dale Caldwell, Grange's systems programmer.

For business-technology managers, the challenge is to find a storage-service provider that's able to link its services to a customer's business objectives. Business-related service-level agreements should be crafted in terms of the stockholder's priorities, not tech-related terms, which have little business value, Gartner says. In regulatory compliance, businesses are likely to turn to providers that are first to market with services for assessment, architecture designs, implementations, and managed compliance services.

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