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Microsoft to build duo of UAE data centres

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Silo state

It is here. Information explosion and excess data are realities that we as individuals, and as members of larger organisations, have to deal with every day. As the amount of data that we need and handle increase by the day, so has the relative importance of mechanisms to store this data.

“Today’s biggest IT challenge is providing efficient management of information growth while supporting increasing service-level demands to users and controlling costs to the business, space and energy consumption while adapting to the different budget cuts,” says Mohammed Amin, GM for EMC in Turkey, emerging Africa and the Middle East.

“With the average industry growth rates of storage being approximately 50–60% annually, organisations will run out of data centre space and will continue to face increased energy costs, resource mismanagement, and non-optimised utilisation of storage which will not give them return on their investments.”

Despite what might seem like the obvious strategic importance of the way and method in which an enterprise’s crucial information is stored, many regional enterprises still consider storage as the poor second cousin of IT investments, leading to storage solutions being bought and deployed in silos, especially across distributed structures. 

Walid Gomaa, StorageWorks business unit manager at HP Middle East says “Silo investments in storage are driven by the type of projects run by an enterprise. Very few organisations look at what is in the pipeline for the next two to three years, do the plan and understand the exact requirements for every application. Based on this they can make wise decisions on storage purchases. What they are doing now is, depending on the current applications and the immediate requirements, they are adding or upgrading storage, or even introducing new storage arrays.”

Sandeep Saxena, VP for technology and infrastructure solutions at Raqmiyat agrees, saying “A storage silo is created when a business need appears, then the data grows with their growth and then data outgrows it, till such time as it is too late to consolidate since it involves a huge investment. Another reason is that with the distributed architecture of applications or the geographical spread of the enterprise, it becomes too difficult to consolidate the storage infrastructure in a company. Bandwidth and limited communication costs also play a major role in this scenario.”

Differing a bit from these statements is Chandan Mehta, product manager for Fujitsu Technology Solutions, when he states, “Storage silos primarily flow from a legacy mindset, and in some cases, distributed decision-making in an organisation. Having grown with distributed storage, enterprises do not see any reason to change things when everything works. As they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. However, we frequently see mishaps triggering a hasty re-evaluation of storage strategies.”

Store different

Breaking the silo mentality and integrating storage properly into the larger infrastructure can be done by the CIO of an enterprise by planning for it and choosing his solutions with care. 

“In my opinion, CIOs should align their storage solutions with the value of the information from a business perspective. Information value changes through its lifecycle. Therefore, it is very important to categorise this information and understand the lifecycle of the company‘s different data types. Once done, the CIO can choose the solution that allows him to intelligently store and protect his information at the right service level at every point in its lifecycle,” states Amin. 

He adds, “Our analysis shows that all organisations tend to overprovision their storage at the time of the first provisioning due to the uncertainty about their information growth. Thin provisioning in a consolidated storage environment enables IT to optimise resource utilisation and eliminate the effect of uncertainty by a “grow as you go model.”

“The CIO should invest in meeting and understanding various options available today, and should decide the best fit based on integration with existing and planned infrastructure, TCO including expansion and upgradability options, references, and capabilities of local support,” adds Mehta. 

Anthony Harrison, senior principal solution specialist for the MENA at Symantec provides the ‘big picture’ thus, “CIOs have to have a baseline – where are we today, what data do we have and what platforms are they on?  A lot of times people do not know how much storage they have. Either there is poor documentation, or people are moving on, or there is too much reliance on external third parties. The first step is then to get this big picture.”

“Then you have to classify the data. Once this is done, the CIO or storage manager will have to decide on where this information needs to be sitting – which data centre, which array etc. This should include what types of files are being stored and how many copies of each file are being maintained,” he continues. 

The convincing game

While that might appear like a tall list to keep in mind when choosing and utilising storage solutions, the real problem for the CIO lies not with products, but with persuading higher management of the strategic importance of storage and getting budgets allocated for it.

“In a typical business, the objectives of each C-level person are different. For eg., the COO’s objectives are to manage capex and opex. At the CEO level, there will be talk about services and addressing customer needs. His aim is to make sure that customers are satisfied, the company is running smoothly and that it is a profitable entity. The CIO’s aim has to tie into this and he has to make sure that the COO’s and CEO’s objectives are being achieved by the storage and the infrastructure of the organisation. This is how he should talk to them about storage,” says Gomaa. 

Apart from the message that the CIO carries to his peers at the management level, efforts should be made by the VPs of the company to understand the larger role of IT, and the element of storage, in the efficient functioning of the firm. They should also attempt to assess every storage choice made by the storage manager or CIO to ensure that there are no future mishaps.

EMC’s Amin says, “CEOs and VPs can look at the TCO and ROI analysis for any proposed solution to ensure that the organisation is deploying a solid and efficient solution. It is very important to note that the acquisition cost doesn’t necessarily mean cost efficiency. There are so many hidden factors that should be looked into with any TCO analysis that will show how good a choice is as compared to another. To name a few, power and cooling requirements, space requirements, size of the administration team, investment protection, scalability to address future requirements, cost of future upgrades, etc.”

He continues, “Another key aspect of any new solution should also be the ability of this solution to adapt as the business changes. Reuse of resources and scalability, fast deployment and fast provisioning are key factors that differentiate any given solution.”

Of course, this is an ideal scenario. Even when a clued-in higher management and a cautious CIO who watches his investment dollars come together, storage choices can go awfully wrong in enterprises and prove to be disastrously expensive for the organisation. This is often because in hurrying to get storage and a supporting policy in place, many end-users miss out on the basic measures that need to be in place. 

“Quite often people try to do all of it in one go, so too aggressive an approach. I have heard customers that say we have an archiving policy in place – that is everything that is three days old get sent to the archive – and that is really an ostrich approach. It ignores the education aspect of it. You should tell your users this is what you can and can’t do with the storage on our networks. You should treat it as if it’s your own money – as if you are paying for it yourself,” states Symantec’s Harrison. 

He continues, “Enterprises also have to decide on who gets the bill at the end of the day. It should be the business units that are using the storage, not the enterprise as a whole. In other words, implement a utility charge-back model for storage. This means, that at the end of the day, business units are presented with a bill for storage and they have to pay for whatever they are using. With that you can empower people, create ownership and enforce responsibility.”

Harrison also stresses on the need to maintain diligent documentation of all the processes connected with storage – documentation that acts as a reference point for whoever is in charge – regardless of people movements across the organisation. 

Crux and fulcrum

Today, there are a slew of storage technologies that grace the Middle East and global markets (see box), which enable CIOs and companion storage managers to bring and ensure the highest level of efficiency to an organisation’s storage investments. Regardless of these, the crux of the storage problem in the region remains a rather simple detail – the inability of the storage manager to implement his authority across the business units of an enterprise. 

“Storage managers are cowards – they are not able to go back and challenge their users. I would like to have a debate with storage managers and other vendors on how you can go through and say to your users, ‘no,  you can’t have any more, make better use of what you have.’ For various social reasons, most storage managers do not convey that message and the organisation does not want to hear that message. Working within that social and political context, we need to have these people deliver better value to the customer,” says Harrison. 

Unless this mindset is cleared, and the storage manager is given his due within an organisation, regional enterprises are unlikely to see infrastructure strategy incorporating storage as a crucial element or take on a charge-back model for the same. 

And until that happens, the Middle East will remain a largely silo-state for storage. 

Some of the latest storage technologies

 1. Virtualisation

2. De-duplication on primary storage

3. Encryption and data security

4. ‘Cloud’ storage

5. Application specific tools within storage solutions

6. Affordable disaster and data recovery options

7. Fully automated storage tiering for large enterprises

8. Small and green capabilities (like compression, spin down for inactive data etc.)

9. Solid-state drives

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