Archiving Efficiency: The Key to Green Storage

Manufacturers may redesign their products to improve energy efficiency, but data archival may be the real secret to green storage.

By Tony Cotterill

Hardware vendors -- specifically high-availability disk manufacturers -- are to be commended for redesigning their products to improve energy efficiency by employing technologies such as MAID (Massive Array of Idle Disks) to power off disks part of the time.

Unfortunately, it’s a little like airplane manufacturers fighting over who makes the greenest aircraft. One aircraft design may be more energy efficient than another, but air travel is inherently environmentally unfriendly. Even more important to the carriers is the rising cost of energy, but they won’t stop flying until customers are unwilling to pay the fare. A more effective strategy has been to manage their assets more efficiently, scheduling to run their planes at capacity.

It’s the same with storage. Spinning disk storage systems can only be so green. However, it is absolutely necessary for organizations to have real-time access to operational data storage. Do you save the planet by replacing your old, less-energy-efficient disk with new, greener disks? That’s what the storage hardware manufacturers would like you to do, of course, although the energy and resources that have gone into new manufacturing techniques and poor attempts at recycling old materials do not provide a net positive “green” impact.

What can storage professionals learn from the airlines? How can they address the growing volume of data to be stored?

Like the airlines, the key is to manage your storage assets and your data more effectively. You need to know what data you have, where all of it resides, and move and store data in the right place. What data can now be deleted and what can you comfortably switch to off-line, powered down media?

Managing data more effectively to minimize the number of on-line, always-on, primary-disk-based storage systems that draw power round the clock and require the most cooling, makes good financial sense. The approach is more environmentally sound than buying slightly more energy-efficient hardware. While it might be appropriate to keep the most current, frequently changing data on on-line primary disk, other information can be stored off-line, including tape or removable disk, or deleted if it is duplicated or no longer needed.

We recently polled 472 North American and UK IT executives (see note below); 74 percent said they felt better management of their storage resources could reduce energy consumption.

What can they do? Sixty-one per cent of organizations in the survey admitted that between 30 and 50 percent of data on their primary disk is unlikely to be accessed ever again. While they may need to keep this data for legal or regulatory reasons, they could save power by moving it off to tape, optical disk, removable disk or other systems, which do not consume power unless data is accessed. That entails defining and implementing archiving rules to move old or infrequently accessed data off of primary storage.

The survey also revealed that many organizations are starting to use archiving for specific types of data such as e-mail, motivated by compliance and disaster recovery concerns, but that few organizations are archiving for energy efficiency or cost considerations. Archiving activity is currently championed by finance and other business departments outside of IT’s control, but to maximize its green benefits, IT should move away from point solutions or isolated archive appliances toward an enterprise-wide approach, managing archiving of all data types across the whole organization. When organizations take an enterprise-wide approach to archiving, they will have the greatest impact on energy savings.

In addition to becoming greener, you can drive down costs because you’re now less reliant on expensive on-line disk storage. You’ve cut your electricity bills. You also make data easier to find because archiving involves sophisticated indexing and search facilities. You also save power and resources on backup devices because you’ve archived your static data and are only taking copies of data that’s changing.

Organizations need help getting green, and it’s not all about the greenest hardware. With the help of service and solution providers to sort through your data, and rules-based archiving software, you can automate the task of migrating and managing data on the most appropriate media, saving storage capacity, power and floor space. The world will be a greener place, and it will also address your growing storage problem.

Note: Findings are part of a survey, The Information Lifecycle Management Audit, conducted by eMedia on behalf of BridgeHead Software during August 2007; 324 senior-level executives, IT managers, system and network administrators, and engineers from North America and 148 from the United Kingdom completed the survey.

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Tony Cotterill is CEO of BridgeHead Software, developer of enterprise storage management software. He can be reached at info@bridgeheadsoftware.com