Saturday, January 31, 2009

Storage Efficiency

So, I've been sitting here thinking that with the current economic distress everyone is looking to save money. In the storage business, this means an almost myopic focus on something called "storage efficiency". Everyone wants to get the most "bang for the buck" that they can right now, and they really don't want to talk about much else, and that's really too bad.

I say it's too bad, because for those few who are bigger thinkers, people who are willing to go out on a limb and take a more strategic view of things, right now is a great time to make some changes that will, at the end of all this, leave their business with a stronger, better, more sustainable storage infrastructure. Or better yet, should those at the top of the IT pyramid actually have magically found some stones, they could create an entire IT organization that's better, stronger, and faster than it is now and one that even operates more efficiently than the one they have today.

Unfortunately, what I'm seeing is fear and the result of that is that people are pulling back. They are dragging out or postponing projects, turning the screws on their vendors to reduce costs, and some are laying off people or even going so far as to outsource. I won't even go into why I think that anyone who outsources today is both a fool and a traitor to this county, that's for another time/post.

To those few who have the courage to build instead of tear down. For those who recognize opportunity in the current economic climate, I say bravo. To the rest, I give the Bronx Cheer.

But back to the topic at hand. What I find interesting is that this myopic focus on "Storage Efficiency" on the part of both the consumers of storage and the resulting response from the vendors of storage. All of the big storage vendors have some kind of "Storage Efficiency" marketing strategy going. The blogosphere is full of arguments about how vendor A's storage is very inefficient, and the supporters of vendor A defending that vendor's storage efficiency. In the end, I don't think that any vendor's storage hardware in inherently more efficient, or less efficient, than any other vendors. It's all about how you lay out your applications on that array, how well you manage the space, and how you are able to properly tier the data. In other words, in the end, it's about people. In this case, Storage Architects and Storage Admins who do the grunt work of managing a company's storage infrastructure on a day to day basis. If they are good and are allowed to obtain the tools that they need, you get efficient storage utilization. Otherwise, you end up with very low utilization rates. My fear, however, is that with all of this focus on "Storage Efficiency" from a hardware perspective that those folks in the trenches won't be allowed to get what they need in order to truly make a company's storage more efficient than it is today. Management will fall prey to all that marketing hype and think that if they just switch from vendor A to vendor B that all of their problems will be solved. Oh, and to pay for that switch and since it's going to be soooo much easier to manager vendor B's storage, lets lay off a couple of those Storage Admins we aren't going to need anymore. Again, for those folks I have no sympathy, and they deserve the disaster that's waiting for them just around the corner.

In the end, I think that given the opportunity to do some storage virtualization in conjunction with server virtualization and network virtualization that storage could become very efficient. When you do all three together, you end up with a very efficient data center, as well as a very green data center. Yes, that's right, I said green data center. I fully realize that green sooooo 2008 and no one wants to talk about it anymore (back to that myopic focus on "Storage Efficiency"). But I think that if you look at the big picture, that the more efficient your storage/servers/networks are, the greener they are. That means reall dollar savings folks, so let's not stop talking about "green" just yet.

So, in my opinion, for those that are willing to invest in the future, I say build a "virtual datacenter". Some call it "Unified Computing", some call it "Cloud Computing", and some have other names for it. But as I see it, it's just creating an environment in which business users can run the applications they need in order to operate the business. I think that the "virtual datacenter" would allow for containerized applications. This means that the user's applications including the code and the data, would be in some kind of portable container that could be easily moved, expanded, shrunk, spun up or spun down, depending on the needs of the business. Add to this a way for business users to deploy their own applications into the environment and you completely change the relationship between IT and the business.

Yes, I know this concept isn't for the faint of heart, especially in today's economic climate. But in the end I truly believe what you would have is a much more efficient, flexible, responsive IT organization which has a much better relationship with the business. Heck you might even end up with IT being viewed by the business as something other than just a cost center which needs to be controlled! Yeah, I know, fat chance, but I can dream, can't I?


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