Magazine Article | November 1, 2001

Is It Time To Change The Way We Manage Electronic Data?

BMC Software and KOM Networks believe businesses need to store and retrieve data based on its importance.

Business Solutions, November 2001

For years many end user companies have had a simple storage strategy. When they needed more storage, they bought more hardware. That practice has led to excess capacity, hardware that doesn't interoperate, and companies having to throw out equipment and start over. This has also created headaches for IT personnel. I spoke with two vendors who believe it is time for end users to put that model to rest - making it necessary for VARs to start selling storage strategies rather than storage products.

Dan Hoffman is director of marketing at Austin, TX-based BMC Software. BMC got into the storage management software business approximately three years ago via acquisition. "At that time storage management was not a big market," he said. "When SRM (storage resource management) became popular, it was basically products that collected statistics about storage. The premise of an SRM product is to give an IT user the data they need to plan for storage growth and monitor its use. It would report on the number, name, and size of the files. What it didn't tell you was who was using it and how important it was."

SRM Fails To Deliver
If a company wants to save money, and today everyone does, it does not want to buy capacity it doesn't need, or purchase storage any sooner than it needs to. But to know when to buy storage, an end user must know how much they have, where it is, who is using it, and if it is being used for critical applications. Unfortunately, SRM did not give users that information.

"SRM tools had the raw data," said Hoffman. "SRM would still tell you things like, 'There are 108,000 files and 26,000 that are larger than 100 megabytes'," he said. "That type of information is almost useless, and is the reason why SRM products have never been very successful. We decided that the way to change this, and the way to make storage management more valuable, was to take that information and tie it to the business. Now we can say who and what is consuming the storage."

BMC's approach, called application centric storage management, correlates the storage data to applications. A company can now determine how much capacity in its EMC Symmetrix is being used by their most important applications. They can also determine how much of that capacity is being wasted on low priority storage.

Kamel Shaath, CTO of Kanata, ON-based KOM Networks, agrees this type of approach has been long overdue. He believes there is a life cycle associated with different types of data. Over time, the need to access any specific piece of data will tend to diminish, regardless of what application created the data.

Filing Data In The Appropriate Drawers
Shaath illustrated his point. In a desk, some drawers are more accessible than others. Data that a user needs to access quickly would probably go into the top drawers. Bottom drawers are typically the last stop for data before the garbage bin. That type of filing system should be applied to electronic data storage. "If you can create drawers in your storage system, some faster and some slower, you can better organize data," he said. "Data that you need but do not have to access quickly, can be put in a slower drawer. Information that needs to be accessed quickly and often would go in the fastest drawers."

Rather than creating a large storage blob, Shaath feels users should be able to organize all the data in terms of importance. From the administrator's perspective, corporate policies would be created which determine data importance and where it will be stored. Those policies would be transparent to the users and the application. "If the policy states that all e-mail must be archived, that can be set up and automatically done without telling the user to do anything," he said. "If a policy changes, the programming can be changed as well."

So how does this all relate to the VAR channel? "It is important for the VAR to sell a storage strategy, not simply storage products," said Shaath. "Having a preset strategy in place will make it easier to add and remove storage devices on the fly and with minimal disruption to the end user." Shaath believes that by selling a storage strategy and a software management solution first, then even if applications or hardware changes, the VAR can minimize customer downtime and expense.

"VARs are always selling value," added Hoffman. "They are trying to maximize the package they have to offer potential customers. By starting out with a storage strategy and software management solution, VARs will have the best value proposition to offer their customers. Instead of saying, 'My package will give you 1 terabyte of storage,' which anyone can do, a VAR can say 'when you buy this solution you will have storage that enables you to track that terabyte and see how it is used.'"

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