Enterprise Storage Strategies

Stephen Foskett

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Why Isn't Storage Getting Cheaper? Part 5: Storage as a Service

Managed services are not a new idea

Although the capacity of storage systems keeps growing, data growth keeps absorbing available capacity. In an effort to contain costs, IT organizations turned to tiered storage but have encountered a "glass floor": Disk space is a small component of costs, reducing the impact of hardware solutions. IT organizations have long turned to outsourced services to enable cost savings on non-core infrastructure and organizational elements, and manaed storage as a service promises to deliver remarkable savings.

Why isn't storage getting cheaper? This series of articles attempts to answer this question:

  1. Too Cheap to Manage
  2. Too Much to Manage
  3. Tiered Storage
  4. The Glass Floor
  5. Storage as a Service

Storage as a Service

Managed services are not a new idea, and savvy IT organizations have been benefitting from their application for many years. Managed storage as a service has existed for over a decade, although the realities of available bandwidth and latency have limited its use. Where it has been applied, storage as a service has proved an effective cost-savings mechanism, and has provided other benefits as well.

One aspect of storage as a service that is often overlooked is the operational management included with enterprise-grade services. Storage and backup service providers providing on-demand services must take on many of the tasks associated with (and adding cost to) enterprise storage:

  • They monitor capacity and utilization and report on the growth of storage
  • They monitor availability of the system and the reliability of its components, adjusting and repairing as needed
  • They design and engineer the storage system and handle hardware and software procurement duties

These are serious time-savers in their own right, and become must-haves when one is considering cloud storage. Gearing up an enterprise storage team to select, engineer, roll out, and manage a novel concept like object-based cloud storage would require easily two to three times the effort of implementing a new NAS or SAN system. It isn't that cloud storage is especially difficult (it's actually pretty straightforward) but that it's unlike anything used in enterprise IT before. Gone are conventional ideas of RAID, LUNs, SAN and NAS protocols, and the rest of the old-school storage baggage. In its place are storage and database servers leveraging commodity hardware and lots and lots of disks.

Turning to a managed service provider instead just makes sense. Companies like Nirvanix specialize in managing this kind of environment, focusing all of their energy on it. Although the archival or lower-tier data one often finds on cloud platforms might not be the most precious asset, a cloud provider with an SLA will treat it like royalty. But the best part is the purchasing model: Sign up and pay for only what you use. Larger environments can arrange flat all-inclusive "budgeted" billing, but there is no need to waste too much time on capacity planning since capacity can always expand on demand.

Considering the all-inclusive nature and usage-only billing of fully-managed cloud storage, it's easy to see why TCO comparisons are so surprising. Storage service providers are not working magic: By offering highly-utilized and standardized storage, they can cut storage costs to the bone. Storage is indeed getting cheaper, and organizations that turn to the cloud are realizing the savings.

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More Stories By Stephen Foskett

Stephen Foskett has provided vendor-independent end user consulting on storage topics for over 10 years. He has been a storage columnist and has authored numerous articles for industry publications. Stephen is a popular presenter at industry events and recently received Microsoft’s MVP award for contributions to the enterprise storage community. As the director of consulting for Nirvanix, Foskett provides strategic consulting to assist Fortune 500 companies in developing strategies for service-based tiered and cloud storage. He holds a bachelor of science in Society/Technology Studies, from Worcester Polytechnic Institute.