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Making it work

Storage systems can prove to be challenging to deploy and use within organisations. Vendors suggest choosing the latest in technologies and implementing select processes to make it easier for enterprises.

Deployment challenges plague almost all technology choices. And it is more the case when the options in a particular technology area are re-launched or upgraded on a regular basis.

“In general, customers do face the same technological challenges around the world and it doesn’t necessarily vary from one region to another. The customers in ME region are willing to adopt leading edge technologies quicker than more developed countries sometimes,” says Ahmad Muammar, technology solutions manager at EMC.

“Today, IT organisations in the Middle East are moving faster than ever down a road that is constantly changing. With constant change, the typical challenges enterprises face are integration problems, escalating costs, and vendors continually changing models and asking customers to upgrade,” adds Basil Ayass, enterprise product manager at Dell Middle East.

“The ultimate storage challenge that every enterprise is experiencing is data explosion and in some cases an accelerating data explosion which requires a smart approach to optimise and manage the storage infrastructure. Secondly enterprises tend to have a complex geographically disparate infrastructure, mixed vendors and different types of technology in addition to the differentiation between different types of data being very muddled. So when anyone is deploying a new storage system it’s all about how they get the right data on the right piece of storage in the right place at the right time. Thus integration is key,” says Andrew Weiss, director of IBM Systems and Technology Brands at GBM.

As organisations in the region adopt technologies and respond to the latest trends, they face multiple challenges at the deployment level, including implementing the new and integrating with the old. While there is no magic formula to address these challenges, enterprises can start by buying right and by working to avoid common mistakes.

According to Ayass, “Insisting on buying virtualisation-capable storage that relies on open standards can drastically reduce complexity. Ever greater exploitation of virtualisation is a key element in integration efforts, and the deployment of flexible and intelligent storage systems is frequently the key to successful efforts.”

“Storage acquisition and integration is no longer a one-time project; it is becoming a recurring operational process and a crucial component in the IT value chain; data mobility between different storage systems, tiers and between data center is becoming a norm. Moreover, companies are continuously capturing new sources of information – internal and external, structured and unstructured, looking for new meanings and patterns in the data while searching for new customer’s value,” Muammar.

Process to change

There are a few processes that companies can implement in order to get more efficiency out of their storage implementations.

“Information Life Cycle Management (ILM) starts with a business decision to align an organisation’s costs with the changing value of its data.It is based on  a tiered storage approach to send less valuable data to less expensive (and responsive) storage media. The key to implementing such an approach sucessfully, however, is not the type of storage an organisation chooses but, rather, is the policies and procedures put into place to determine what data moves where, when, and how. Once these policies are in place, a complete picture begins to evolve that will incorporate long-term, enterprise-wide data archival needs,” says Ayass.

“Enhancing existing storage deployments into a lifecycle management application involves a storage consultancy engagement whereby we sit together with the customer and find out their specific needs and accordingly define a set of rules for a customised lifecycle management solution. To complement this task, software technologies such as HSM (Hierarchical Storage Management) and tools for performance monitoring, data classification and tiering are used,” says Weiss.

Change management is a critical aspect of storage management in the growing enterprise, and it has to be handled in the right manner.

“Prevention is better than cure, and the simplest answer is to think of the second and the third change, reduce their impact and eliminate their disruptiveness nature, before moving toward the first. Information will not, and should not, be hosted in the same repository through its life cycle. Its value goes up, down and could go up again, and no one wants to pay a flat premium price for all of his information,” says Muammar.

“As automated “change” is a key requirement today, technology should be able to move data between Tiers inside the storage systems cleverly, between storage systems efficiently, and eventually between storages in different data centres. There is also a common uncertainty about applications growth and storage needs that causes frequent changes, therefore, IT shops tend to, either overestimate or underestimate the requirements. Then, they find themselves facing either loss of valuable allocation of resources, or painful migrations and changes. With new automation technologies, (i.e. EMC FAST, Federation, Federated Live Migration – FLM, Virtual provisioning, etc.), companies now will be able to largely reduce the rate of changes and therefore the challenges associated with them,” he adds.

Weiss states, “Change management is about managing risk to the business. Virtualising the storage, understanding where the storage sits and where the data sits helps with change management. It is about taking the time to bring in new infrastructure and to plan properly. Every customer is different in this regard, however we have best practices that can help mitigate this risk and provide better business agility.”

A continuous process

Storage technologies will continue to evolve and companies will have to handle more integration issues, even as they implement processes to manage data and infrastructure better in the long run.

As Muammar puts it, “Data will grow and it will grow more than your wildest dreams! It is imperative for technologists to differentiate between scale-up architecture and scale-out architecture and assess the tradeoff between each model when they try to tap on big data opportunities.

“It is also important not to see the storage in isolation of the rest of IT infrastructure stack; a tight integration between the storage systems and both applications and an increasingly virtualised infrastructure is paramount. This integration will greatly simplify storage management complexity in an era where scarcity of qualified IT resources is becoming a threat. We need to better utilise our talents and resources in activities that create value,” he adds.

“With the explosion of data, an equal or even bigger explosion is facing organisations to backup this data. One should not overlook the significance of new backup trends, and start leveraging effective duplication and smart archiving to reduce the amount of secondary storage needed,” Muammar states.

While backup and duplication is another story, storage deployment challenges can be handled by companies by just paying attention to the choice of technology, choice of partner and the implementation of management processes that support organisational motives.

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