Storage modernisation reality check

Are you a zero or a hero?

Keeping up with evolving storage demands is tough. This came through strongly in a recent Reg research study.

Those taking part told us that pressure on the storage infrastructure wasn’t just down to increasing data volumes. New application requirements, the impact of virtualisation, and escalating business expectations for access and availability were among the other factors called out. As a result, many spoke about problems with hardware, software and maintenance costs, together with increased management overhead and challenges maintaining service levels.

The study also told us, however, that those who had invested significantly in the right blend of modern technologies such as flash-based systems, storage virtualisation, and various forms of automation and scale out solutions (to complement existing solutions) judged themselves to be in a much better position to the majority. They were meeting current business demands and service level requirements more effectively, and felt more confident about the future. If you could articulate these benefits well enough, making the case for investment in storage modernisation should, at least in theory, be relatively straightforward.

The reality, of course, is often quite different. Half of those taking part in the research said one of their problems was that senior execs did not appreciate the need to invest, and a similar number alluded to budgets not keeping up with growth in demand (Figure 1).

Figure 1 – Budget and commercial challenges

The third factor in the above graphic is the problem of budget fragmentation. If your organisation has a heritage of tying IT spend to individual departments or cost centres within the business, then this will be familiar to you. Not an issue when systems themselves are largely architected as silos, but a serious blocker when you are looking to spend money on shared infrastructure to act as a corporate resource.

When it comes to storage, siloed budgets are particularly significant because most tell us that resource pooling is an important part of creating a more efficient, flexible and responsive environment. And with more scrutiny on IT spending nowadays, it’s becoming harder to get away with the old tactic of hiding shared infrastructure investment within a big enough project and hoping the budget owner doesn’t notice.

But it’s not just the money side of things that gets in the way of storage modernisation. Participants in the research highlight a bunch of more practical concerns and challenges that make storage teams themselves wary of doing anything too adventurous (Figure 2).

Figure 2 – Practical inhibitors of progress

There’s no getting away from the fact that the issues we see listed here are real, and none of them need explaining to those with the battle scars of previous storage migrations. In this respect, storage professionals are often more paranoid than the average IT professional because they have got used to being taken for granted over the years while managing business critical resources. If you’re in this game, the chances are no one ever congratulates you for keeping things running smoothly, despite the budget constraints, but you get hauled over the coals when a migration or upgrade causes a service interruption, or a storage failure brings a key application down. And let’s not even think about incidents involving loss or corruption of data.

The harsh reality is, though, that standing still is not really an option over the longer term, and the more you rely purely on traditional technologies and the manual processes that frequently go with them, the more you are just stacking up problems for the future. Storage teams who are unable to support their colleagues running heavily virtualised infrastructures or implementing new-style applications will also be increasingly marginalised. Alternative options such as cloud storage and self-managing storage appliances will creep into the organisation in an independent and uncoordinated manner, which won’t be good for either you or the business.

The good news is that it needn’t be hugely painful, and you generally don’t have to risk a big bang approach. In line with the old cliché, storage modernisation is a journey not a destination, and introducing emerging ideas and options on a case by case basis as new requirements arise is both possible and sensible. You can often even leave your data where it is and implement overlay technologies such as storage virtualisation and software defined storage solutions that can potentially sit on top of existing infrastructure. However it’s still critical to validate marketing claims of heterogeneous hardware support before making decisions.

The overriding message from the research is not to take lack of management interest and budget challenges as an excuse to go with your natural conservatism and take no action. Fight, if necessary, to get storage modernisation onto the agenda, and make good things happen as some are already doing. Maybe expecting to go from zero to hero status is a bit of a stretch in most organisations, but at least you can do your bit to make sure your storage infrastructure enables change rather than holding it back.

In the meantime, you can grab your summary of the research here.

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