Good data storage is more than throwing money into capacity upgrades. You can have cloud-loads of capacity at your disposal and still suffer from cost and performance issues like all the other victims of underutilized and mismanaged storage architectures. But don’t sweat. With some next-level strategizing, you can take storage efficiency up several notches. This will give administrators a bit of relief in the process.
Upgrade to Tiered Storage
A while back, I wrote a post introducing the tiered storage concept. For refresher purposes, tiered storage is a high level strategy that involves storing data on different media. You will make the decision based on things like your usage, performance, and retention requirements. The exact structure varies based on individual company storage policies. But the tiered approach aims to meet the general goals of reducing costs and improving efficiency.
Tiered storage systems are typically comprised of three levels, with each tier representing a different level of importance in terms of both data and media. The following examples will explain:
Tier 1: Customer records, system databases, and other sensitive data goes here. Since this stuff is considered mission-critical, tier 1 data is best suited for top shelf storage media. These would be disk mirroring RAIDs and other high performance, high availability devices.
Tier 2: Production data, user files, and other data essential to your day-to-day operations goes here. Because it’s slightly less sensitive, NAS, SAN, and other storage systems that offer speed and availability at a lower cost are generally sufficient for tier 2 data.
Tier 3: Emails, archives, and other data you rarely use goes here. Cheap storage media such as CDs, virtual tape libraries (VTLs), and even tape is ideal for tier 3 data.
A good piece of software will simplify tiered storage management by using automation to eliminate tedious manual processes. A good tiered strategy built around company needs will help you maximize your efforts. For example, instead of following the status quo, you can roll your data strategy into a four or five-tier system. You can even migrate your mission-critical data onto media that balances cost and performance to further reduce storage costs.
Using a tiered storage system mean you will have a good start on your backup strategy as well. Knowing what is critical and what not in your systems will lay out the needs for the backup and disaster recovery plan.
Unify Your Storage Architecture
One of the most interesting debates in the storage community centers on unified storage. As the name suggests, unified storage is an architecture that allows you to manage data, files, and applications stored on different arrays from a single system. This type of architecture has quite a few benefits, including the following:
Simplicity: The simplicity of unified storage is obvious yet compelling nonetheless. Instead of individually managing a group of RAID systems, which are incredibly complex, administrators can man the ship from one centralized device. Efficiency gains often happen when you can reduce the hassle of maintaining multiple systems and work faster.
Flexibility: The flexibility of unified storage is tough to resist. Rather than being confined to single technology, you can pair a block-based RAID system with a file-based NAS device at any given time. The unified concept allows you to integrate and scale storage systems as your needs evolve.
Better utilization: Research shows that IT wastes as much as 60 percent of available storage capacity. Unified storage helps companies maximize capacity usage by providing universal support across the board. As a result, there’s no need to worry about spending too much on block storage, too little on file-based systems, or vice versa.
The next-level data storage efficiency we’re talking about can definitely be achieved with a unified approach. Having said that, vendor support will likely influence your ability to put it all together. If you’re using two or more vendors that don’t support open storage protocols, you may want to consider investing in a storage resource management (SRM) solution, which offers similar efficiency while limiting management visibility to compatible hardware.
Optimize Storage with Virtualization
Storage optimization is one of several ways virtualization is making life easier for IT managers. This technology lets you move the data you have on a flock of underutilized servers to a virtual SAN that offers centralized management and the consolidation of storage resources. Virtualization can also improve the efficiency of your disaster recovery strategy. By moving data on a number of disconnected systems to a centralized virtual environment, you can speed up both backup and restore times for the simple fact that its disk-based operations are considerably faster than what’s possible with tape.
While it may call for a significant investment upfront, virtualization can significantly reduce the overall cost of your storage architecture. Virtualization products exist for a variety of storage protocols, including popular options such NAS, SAN, and Internet Small Computer System Interface (iSCSI). Performance and scalability are probably two of the most important factors to look at when choosing a product. More than likely, you’ll be asking these virtual machines to shoulder a huge load in terms of data and activity, so it’s vital to find a product that suits the specialized needs of your organization.
Going Beyond the Basics
Lackadaisical data storage practices are driving up costs and complexity for companies at every level. In this case, a little outside the box thinking will go a long way in fostering a level of efficiency. This will improve reliability and deliver the return on investment the company expects from its storage strategy.