Want to Control Network Storage Space?: Put a Policy in Place and SRM It

E-mail Attachments. PowerPoint Slides. Web Downloads. Applications such as these have caused, on the average, a doubling in disk storage on servers in most organizations, according to a survey by Strategic Research, a Santa Barbara, California. This firm also found that the average amount of network storage space managed by a systems administrator has jumped more than 70 percent in two years. During the next four years, this space will nearly triple. The firm added that companies can neither find nor afford to hire network administrators at the current rate of storage growth.

Mark Mooney, chief technology officer at Houghton Mifflin, an independent text-book publisher based in Boston, Massachusetts, says a lot of organizations solve their storage problems by buying more disks, not managing how the space is used. "Disk drives may be inexpensive. However, throwing more disks at the storage growth problem can only drive up the time and cost of managing more data. He says that the root of the problem is the discipline required by people using the systems. "You need to educate employees nicely about how to manage their storage," he adds.

How can you keep day-to-day storage usage from propelling a server so it doesn’t reach its capacity and crash? How about proposing a corporate or IT storage policy and using storage resource management (SRM) tools to help carry it out. (A subset of storage management, SRM provides detailed management of specific storage resources and the data stored on them in a networked system.) This policy could include what gets placed on the server; how much space employees are assigned both on the server and, in some cases, on their desktop PC; and what kinds of housekeeping tasks employees will be asked to carry out if they exceed their space allotment.

To date, corporate America hasn’t widely used corporate storage or IT storage policies. Fared Neema, a storage consultant with Peripheral Concepts, Santa Barbara, California, says this will change. He says, "Companies now realize that employees abuse storage space if no one is paying attention to it. Using SRM tools, systems administrators can set space limits and unobtrusively monitor at what rate that space is being used and who is using it or abusing it, and what happens to take."

Meanwhile, for more than two decades, colleges and universities have had space policies to allow students equal access to network storage. At Boston University’s School of Medicine, about 160 graduates get 40 Mbytes of network storage space. Tony Abruzzese, the network administrator, uses Astrum Software’s StorCast to keep track of how much of that space allotment each student uses. As students get close to their limit on the Windows NT servers, StorCast automatically alerts Abruzzese and also sends the student a message. "StorCast keeps students on their toes. It makes them aware of what they are putting on the server. I don’t want to delete something that’s more important than I realize." He bought a CD ROM burner so students can archive high-resolution images that need to be included in a thesis.

Abruzzese has found that about one-third of the students exceed their 40 Mbytes. He says, "Most students are good about removing documents. They know that if the server gets overloaded it will crash."

Making Book of Storage Policy Puts Employees to Test

With storage requirements doubling every year, Houghton Mifflin looked into a corporate storage policy in mid 1999 as a way to control costs on Lotus Notes servers. Mooney says, "We didn’t have a systematic way to budget for storage. We also had 2,500 employees using Lotus Notes for everything from e-mail to databases, to collaborative sharing."

A central group of IT systems administrators, assisted by local system administrators, went manually looking for files on the Sun and the IBM servers. They also used Hewlett-Packard’s OpenView and BMC’s Resolve SpaceView. This IT team found two consistent usage problems. First, employees in the educational book division archived documents to Lotus Notes servers, not the server set up for archiving. Mooney says, "We needed to have the most current version of a book on the right server." Next, editors had to stop saving all versions of chapters, both as e-mail attachments and as documents. "Our editors use email primarily to exchange chapters with authors and free-lance copy editors," he says.

Mooney introduced the Lotus Notes server storage policy by way of an all-hands memo to employees. After getting the approval of each division, the IT department sent files to editorial groups throughout the company. They had to either delete the files, or archive them on a desktop PC. He says, "I had editors I had never met say that couldn’t comply because it would bring them to a grinding halt."

Mooney said that some of the servers had reached upwards to 95 percent full.

"We managed to get them down to about 80 percent."

Houghton Mifflin’s network storage policy, which became part of an overall corporate policy for computer and telephone use, allows employees to have 100 Mbytes of e-mail file space in Lotus Notes. If they exceed the space as tracked by BMC’s Resolve SpaceView, the IT department sends them a message. Senior executives who exceed their space also get an e-mail message and a telephone call from the IT department. The policy also outlines a variety of other storage procedures, such as where to store images.

Giving everyone the same allotment allows the IT department to wait and see who gets close to it or who legitimately requires more space. To date, Mooney says that about 300 employees have exceeded their space allotment. "Most of these are financial people who work with spreadsheets, as well as a lot of executives." He says that overall employees have disciplined themselves to manage their space and to realize that storage costs money. "If employees require more space, then we have to look at why and to accommodate their needs," he says.

Balancing Storage Space Requires Diplomacy

On the other hand, providing employees which as much space as they need allows them to work without worry, but, at the same time, puts pressure on the IT staff to try and maintain it fairly between every one.

Staples’ corporate storage policy doesn’t impose a space allocation. Instead it says that employees must use their server directory for business documents only. The policy also has guidelines for Internet use. Helen Flanagan, a Windows NT systems administrators at the Staples corporate office in Framingham, Massachusetts, says each IT group assigns employees an allotment for personal space on the server. She uses HighGround’s Storage Resource Manager across 75 servers to look at space by attributes such as servers, directories, partitions and users. She gets alerts from Storage Resource Manager when individuals exceed their space allotment or when certain types of files start piling up. She says, "Some times people will forget to delete log files or manuals. The alert is a good opportunity to talk with them about their storage."

Flanagan says she often gets caught in the middle of trying to take preventative measures to reduce storage and, at the same time, to help accommodate individuals who require more space. She says, "Some people are so busy they don’t have time to remove files. Others get themselves wrapped up with what’s needed and not needed stuff. For example, the legal department has certain ideas of what it should keep on the server."

Flanagan adds that a corporate or IT department allotment for storage space seems suited for work an environment where a lot of users are doing one specific function. But for a growing environment, she says that you need to identify and talk with individuals about their storage needs. She says, "Perhaps someone has a different requirement than you initially considered. You have to be able to accommodate any future storage needs they might have. These things are key."

Even corporate storage policies and IT storage allotments can’t stop some employees from becoming space hogs or server squatters. Michael Adams, a storage analyst for Giga Information Group, Cambridge Massachusetts, says that distributed environments, such as Windows NT, allow people to create massive amounts of data by downloading and storing Web files on the server, or by copying the entire contents of a PC on to the server.

Locking the Doors for Space Abusers

John Moeller, a Windows NT administrator, has worked diligently to curb network storage abuses at Afga/Bayer, Charleston, South Carolina. In fact, he had a server crash when an employee decided to backup an entire desktop database to the server. "When I came back from lunch, the server was down because some one had taken up 100 Mbytes of space." The company’s corporate computer policy outlines what types of information employees can store. Each IT group decides how it will oversee network storage.

Moeller uses Astrum Software’s StorCast to make sure employees stay within their 40 Mbyte allotment. When they hit 20 Mbytes, StorCast automatically sends them a message about the space filling up and the need to remove files. StorCast will continue to send notices. Upon reaching the 40 Mbyte limit, the employee won’t be able to store any more files on the disk. The employee has to free up some space or call the IT department. Although this might sound like a drastic measure, Moeller says, "You can store a lot of spreadsheets and never get beyond 20 Mbytes. If you start downloading games, then you’ll quickly fill up your space."

Moeller says the most common space abuses on his five Windows NT servers have included games and people streaming attachments via email. Moeller says games don’t belong in the workplace. He makes sure employees delete them. "Employees have to realize corporate use determines how disk space is to be shared."

Testing the Water Before Sailing Ahead

Test driving an IT network storage policy may help determine a workable policy for the entire corporation. That’s the route Upjohn Pharmacia, based in Kalamazoo, Michigan, has taken. Linda Echevarria, a systems engineer, is part of a Windows NT group tracking storage space on 29 servers used by about 5,000 employees. "We’ve a policy specifying what employees can and can’t store on the network servers. Eventually, this policy will go to human resources and then legal. For now, we have asked employees to follow what we have."

Echevarria says she’s not sure what the recommended IT policy will say about space allotment. "We don’t have space allotments now, but we’re working to set them. Her group uses HighGround’s Storage Resource Manager to track space usage by a variety of attributes, such as file extensions. If Echevarria sees an executable program, such as PhotoShop, in someone’s server directory, she’ll send them an e-mail message asking them to delete it. Likewise, if she sees an application program, she’ll ask the employee to store it on a specific applications server. She also looks every day to see if the disk space on each server has dropped below a certain level.

Echevarria says she has found people to be cooperative about moving duplicate files, such as copies of everything on their PC’s hard drive. She says, "If a server is clogged with files that don’t belong on it, then you have to waste time backing this stuff up."

Policing for the Future

Corporate storage policies, likes the ones at Houghton Mifflin and Staples, offer a very granular, first step toward preserving network storage space for company use and developing procedures for employees to use this space. What else is needed to keep an organization’s choice network storage real estate looking like a well-groomed golf course? Colin Rankine, a mid-range storage analyst for the Giga Information Group, says that a storage policy should include who owns what and how long to keep it; where you should move old files to; when to backup them up; and how do you handle backups for laptops for remote employees. And what about SRM tools? Adams, of Giga adds there is a "need to have one console view of how storage resources are being used. This console has to be integrated with backup and other system management applications."

 

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Storage Outage Provides a Siesta for Web Site

On the morning of February 24, 1999, Charles Schwab & Co.’s Web online trading Web site left 1,000s of customers with tempers, but not their money, to burn for about 30 minutes. Ironically, new storage management software designed to extend the site’s capacity and reliability caused the outage. Specifically, Schwab was setting up a dedicated space for DB2 transaction logs to avoid having the logs fill up other areas of storage. A Schwab spokesperson glossed over the outage saying a glitch in the software caused the outage.

Robert Infantino, CEO of Astrum Software, a Boston-based storage resource management startup, says, that Schwab’s application generated a large log file that filled a partition, rending the disk useless. He says, "When the application tried to access data on the disk, the disk locked, bringing down the entire Web site. An SRM management product would have instantly alerted Schwab to the partition filling up."

John McArthur, a storage analyst for the International Data Group, says e-commerce organizations are so busy adding storage and figuring out where to use it. He says, "These organization haven’t thought much about micromanaging how space is being consumed. Eventually, they’ll have, too."

And perhaps it’s about time e-commerce sites get serious about storage. New research from Forrester Research, Cambridge, Massachusetts, forecasts that the average Fortune 2,500 Global company had about 15 Tbytes of storage in 1999, but that figure will grow 10 times over to a whopping 150 Tbytes by 2003.

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10 Tips for Putting a Network Storage Policy in Place

1. Get the buy-in from corporate management, human resources, and legal.

Ask a senior IT management member to spearhead the rollout of the policy.

2. Do an audit of all storage resources and back up procedures, and load balance servers to distribute applications across the network.

3. Invest in storage resource management tools and ascertain current storage trends.

4. Work with local systems administrators to set thresholds and alerts for specific storage resource attributes, such as tracking size of partitions, specific types of files, or specific groups of users.

5. Make available certain types of servers for applications such as archiving, or storing images. Likewise, invest in document management software to keep track of specific types of files, such as Lotus Notes.

6. Confine applications, such as data warehousing, to their own server.

7. Establish backup procedures for both desktops and mobile PCs.

Investigate storage management tools for archiving, allocating, and retaining documents.

8. Have the senior IT management executive call an all-hands meeting with the department heads to discuss the policy. The department heads, in turn, will alert their staff to the policy and how it will be administered locally.

9. Gather historical data about storage pattern for capacity planning, budgeting, and look at the feasibility of doing storage chargebacks to department.

10. Continue to work with employees to assess their storage needs.