Six Steps to Tiered Storage Bliss

Technology helps but success in the face of ever-growing data stores also requires cooperation across business units.
Posted February 22, 2008

Drew Robb

Drew Robb

According to International Data Corp. (IDC) of Framingham, MA, organizations have been battling year-over-year information growth rates of 50 to 60 percent. This trend is expected to continue well into the next decade. Yet these same organizations are being asked to do more with less in terms of budgets and personnel.

Just adding more storage is no longer an effective option. So what is?

"Storing more effectively allows IT organizations to consolidate multiple application tiers into a single common infrastructure to optimize resources, lower costs, and improve service levels," said Scott Delandy, senior product manager of EMC Corp. of Hopkinton, MA. "A key benefit is reduced complexity. At the same time, IT organizations can simplify storage management across the enterprise by leveraging automation tools and advanced capabilities, as well as improve energy efficiency by reducing the number of storage systems and networks."

According to EMC, developing and implementing a tiered storage strategy is the right starting point for managing information growth. In many organizations, after all, most growth is absorbed by tier-one storage – the most expensive tier. By identifying inactive and static data and moving it from tier-one to lower-cost tiers, tier-one resources are freed up while reducing costs.

"Deploying tiered storage allows an organization to store data on the right storage type at the right time for the right cost point," said Delandy. "This aligns storage capabilities to application and business requirements and ultimately lowers total cost of ownership while optimizing service levels."

Aligning Storage Needs with Business Requirements

But storage tiering can’t be done haphazardly. It doesn’t work for IT to apply some arbitrary classification based on time or capacity. That leads to such situations as the quarterly or annual reports being delayed as the data needed for them has been archived by an over-enthusiastic storage admin who neglected to survey business units about access patterns.

"The first step to implementing a tiered storage strategy is to classify applications based on service levels and business impact," said Delandy. "Key application criteria to consider when classifying application tiers include performance needs, availability requirements, recovery point objectives and recovery time objectives, as well as cost points across storage tiers."

The number of tiers deployed, however, is dependent on the environment. Some may require fewer tiers, others more. That lets you can create different service-level categories for primary storage, archival storage, backup and recovery, business continuity, and so forth.

Depending on the environment, you can also factor in the costs associated with each category. That permits the organization to better understand the cost of information for each application and align the information infrastructure with the associated business requirements.

EMC lays out the basic steps as follows:

1. Classify data and deploy tiered storage

The first step to storing more effectively is to classify data and applications based on business requirements. In assessing this on a per application basis, companies typically find that a "one size fits all" approach to storing data doesn’t make sense.

2. Create an Active Archive

Extract static or infrequently accessed data from the primary storage environment and move it to an active archive. Such data can be identified during the classification process in the previous step. A key criterion of an active archive is that when the information is needed, it is online and readily accessible to support daily requests or longer-term audit cycles. Hence, the term "active archive" - data is archived, yet remains online and can be accessed relatively quickly via a cost-effective storage solution.

3. Reduce / Eliminate Redundant Data

One of the key drivers impacting storage costs is the amount of data that needs to be stored and backed up. Reducing or eliminating duplicate data is a key step to storing more effectively.

4. Speed Backup and Recovery

By extending the tiered storage methodology to backup/recovery operations, organizations can improve the speed and reliability of their backup and recovery processes. High-capacity disk-based technologies, for example, are helping users reduce backup windows by taking the pressure off tapes.

5. Use snapshots to reduce capacity requirements

Creating full copies of production data has been a common practice to assist with backup, recovery, and testing of application environments. As information continues to grow at a fast rate, the storage requirements and costs associated with this have escalated as well. The use of snapshots provides an affordable alternative for protecting and re-purposing production data via local replication.

6. Deploy server and file virtualization

In a typical environment, many application and/or file servers run at utilization rates as low as 15 percent.

"By deploying server and file virtualization techniques, customers can drastically improve utilization by consolidating physical servers – in many cases at the rate of 20:1," said Delandy. "The overall effects are lower capital costs, simplified management, and increased utilization of the storage infrastructure."

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