Purchasing strategies for storage consolidation efforts

Storage sprawl has become a problem for many organizations. Storage administrators are fighting back by consolidating storage hardware in order to simplify their storage environments. However, storage consolidation isn't simply a matter of buying new hardware during a technology refresh.

Adding a new NAS box or connecting another disk array has become so easy that storage sprawl has become a problem for many organizations. Storage administrators are fighting back by consolidating storage hardware in order to simplify their storage environments.

Storage consolidation offers significant benefits. Having fewer storage systems reduces demand for power. Fewer systems are also easier to manage because storage is centralized and fewer management tools are needed.

More on storage consolidation
Visit the Storage Consolidation All-In-One Research Guide for background information on disks, virtualization, WAN/WAFS technology and SRM tools.
However, storage consolidation isn't simply a matter of buying new hardware during a technology refresh. Successful consolidation strategies require an evaluation of the performance and management needs of current storage platforms, as well as a nod toward business objectives.

This guide offers advice for purchasing products related to typical storage consolidation initiatives. Each chapter offers a set of buying points and product specifications that can help readers identify prospective consolidation products in NAS, disk arrays, data migration software and virtualization software. Let's start with a list of the core criteria for consolidation purchases.

What are your company's storage goals? Although most storage consolidation projects involve using bigger and better boxes or more versatile tools, simply buying and integrating the latest generation of storage hardware isn't enough. Successful consolidation starts with an understanding of your company's long-term storage goals. For example, replacing multiple NAS boxes with a single high-performance box might eradicate NAS sprawl. But if your department's ultimate goal is to implement a SAN for optimum performance or to handle latency-sensitive workloads, purchasing high-performance NAS might not be the best move. You need to know how your storage infrastructure will evolve.

What storage do you currently have? How is it being used? Consolidation isn't just a matter of knowing where the boxes are. You need to know the amount of storage in each box, its service level agreement (SLA) (if appropriate), the unused storage available and how fast storage demands are changing. This usually requires a storage resource management (SRM) tool that can identify storage, report its configurations and map any interdependencies. Such information is needed before you can select adequate hardware or configure the new storage.

What are the performance traits of your storage platforms? You'll want to use additional tools to measure the performance of each storage platform. Once benchmarks for bandwidth and IOPS are available, it's easier to perform the same tests on a consolidated system in order to gauge the success of your project. For example, replacing three small disk arrays with one array may lower power demands and simplify management, but important SLAs may be compromised if the new array doesn't offer the necessary bandwidth or provide the level of IOPS that applications rely on.

Are there opportunities for heterogeneity? When replacing several pieces of storage hardware with one product, the new hardware product will need to be fully compatible with your existing management tools. Any new management tools bundled with the new storage hardware should be compatible with the existing hardware. The goal is to minimize the number of management tools in the enterprise. It makes no sense to reduce hardware count but complicate storage management.

Can decommissioned products be reallocated? The question always arises of what to do with equipment that's been replaced. While some vendors may remove decommissioned equipment for you, don't just discard working equipment out of hand. Retiring older storage products doesn't necessarily mean relegating them to the scrap heap. There may be opportunities to reallocate used equipment outside the data center. For example, an older storage array or NAS box may be an ideal fit in a test network or other development effort. Used equipment may be a worthy addition to a remote or disaster recovery site.

What implications does consolidation have for backups and DR planning? Backup and disaster recovery (DR) plans are often sensitive to specific storage hardware configurations. Whenever changes are made to storage, the backup and disaster recovery setups may need to be reconfigured to accommodate those changes. Consolidation can result in dramatic changes to the storage landscape. Storage managers should thoroughly review existing backup/disaster recovery plans as part of the consolidation implementation and make any necessary adjustments.

Can I secure data on any older hardware? Every consolidation effort entails data migration --moving data from old systems to new storage platforms. Afterward, the old storage systems can be decommissioned and removed from the data center. But just as deleting a file still leaves data on the disk, migrating data will not eradicate data from the old system. This presents a potential security risk. Once data is migrated off an old storage system, the obsolete disks should be erased or destroyed in a means that is compliant with industry and regulatory requirements.

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This was first published in February 2008

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