Addressing Storage Growth with Limited Budgets

A technical support specialist describes his storage problems and asks for advice on a strategy for moving forward.

According to its official web site, Yolo County takes its name from the native Poewin Indian word "yo-loy" meaning "abounding in the rushes." In an e-mail from Daniel De Guzman, Technical Support Specialist for Yolo County Information Technology in Woodland, CA, one of the crops that is abounding in the county government of this mostly agricultural area of north-central California is data.

De Guzman wrote that his was a “small to medium IT shop” serving 1,400 users on a platform comprised of 60 Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 and Windows 2000 servers spread over approximately 20 sites. He reported that his organization’s “basic concern is that some servers are running low on disk space, and right now, we can only try to identify users who are using a lot [of storage] and get them to delete some unused files.”

De Guzman added that he and his comrades had read about SAN and NAS, but “given our current budget squeeze, it’s simply not affordable.”

Almost as an aside, he noted, “As a backup strategy, we are trying to implement Veritas’ Backup Exec 8.6 as the standard. We have been using Replica for the past couple of years.” (Replica, from Stac, is a discontinued product.)

De Guzman says he has been subscribing to this column for some time and asked for “professional advice on a strategy for moving forward.”

This column receives such requests on a fairly frequent basis—a flattering, though usually frustrating, query. Flattering because the sender believes that we may be able to be of service, but frustrating because generally the correspondence does not contain sufficient information at the level of detail required to enable us to make a good recommendation.

In this case, we sought out the opinion of a third party, a solutions integrator who routinely designs networked storage solutions for a broad range of IT shops, both large and small. Mike Linett, CEO of Zerowait, in Newark, DE, responded with a few thoughts.

Budget is an increasing concern for most of his clients, Linett observes, regardless of size. He says he has noticed a significant increase in the number of customers interested in pursuing low cost NAS options to solve basic file system growth issues.

“Budget constraints are a relative thing,” Linett told me, citing that Yolo County might be able to afford the deployment of a used and refurbished Network Appliance 760 Filer with transferable NFS and CIFS licenses and one Terabyte of storage that some or all of its servers could share for about $30,000. Alternatively, InoStor (formerly part of Tandberg Data) has a 1.6 TB NAS unit for about $26,000. Or multiple NT servers equipped with Fibre Channel host bus adapters can share access to a Fibre Channel Eurologic XL500 with 252GB of storage for about $4,000.

Linett said that there is no shortage of cost-effective options, depending on the applications involved, that can expand storage for the small to medium shop at a “bargain basement” price. A value-added reseller or trusted solutions integrator familiar with the secondary market could probably deliver a best-of-breed solution at a very low cost.

Linett also observed that the use of Veritas Backup Exec in the presence of a limited budget raised red flags for him. In his experience, making the product work was a labor-intensive task. “In this case, I would probably recommend a less pricey solution better suited to the type of environment that the customer is describing, like Backbone Software or any of several lesser-known but fully functional products. Personnel hours are not cheap, and maybe by deploying a simpler and less costly backup solution the customer would be able to afford more storage.”

Linett’s commentary underscored some of our own reactions to De Guzman’s e-mail. We have been involved—directly and as observers—in many cases like the one described by the reader. It especially resonated with us that the fellow was forced to track down users who were using more than their fair share of the storage to ask them to delete unnecessary files. This onerous task often consumes the lion’s share of a storage administrator’s billable hours and, combined with the downtime caused by “disk full” errors, costs the organization more money than many IT managers suspect. It also cuts to the core of a problem that IT service providers must address with their business users.

For IT budgets to respond effectively to an organization-wide revenue shortfall, both providers of IT services and users of those services need to share responsibility for resource utilization. A policy on capacity allocation and utilization, clearly articulated and strictly enforced, is required.

For example, at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD, users are told how much storage they may use and are charged back monthly for storage consumed over and above the allocated capacity. So as not to seem too Draconian, the policy also provides free-of-charge use of tape archives for users who believe that their data is too important to delete.

Would such a policy work for Yolo County? Maybe. Depending on the “organizational culture,” a charge back system might not work. Mr. Guzman is in the best position to make this determination.

One thing is certain: the addition of more storage, however minimal the expense, will only push back the need to resolve the larger problem: capacity allocation efficiency. In fact, temporarily addressing the problem with more storage will also increase the amount of storage that must be managed. De Guzman should calculate, based on current storage management practices at his shop, whether and at what costs resources exist to manage any new storage that he elects to deploy.

Thanks to Mr. De Guzman for sending us his question. We encourage others to contribute their views on this issue and any problems that they might be experiencing in their storage infrastructure. Please write to jpowell@101com.com.

About the Author

Jon William Toigo is chairman of The Data Management Institute, the CEO of data management consulting and research firm Toigo Partners International, as well as a contributing editor to Enterprise Systems and its Storage Strategies columnist. Mr. Toigo is the author of 14 books, including Disaster Recovery Planning, 3rd Edition, and The Holy Grail of Network Storage Management, both from Prentice Hall.