Five Storage Best Practices You Can Implement Today

These best practices will help you get the maximum return from your storage budget while streamlining the overall performance and reliability of your IT infrastructure.

by Mark Teter

Sophisticated storage management practices used to be something reserved for large enterprises with many terabytes of storage capacity. Now you can find desktop computers with 1TB of storage and small businesses with multiple terabytes of advanced storage. Today, data storage has become as important as the organization’s servers. Storage feeds data to business applications, which makes it key to server performance in addition to disaster recovery and business continuity.

As a result, companies are spending more money than ever on storage despite the current economic downturn and steadily falling per-gigabyte prices. Given the growing importance of storage in the overall system infrastructure and the increasing amount of the budget earmarked for storage, companies need to take a moment to assess their storage strategy.

Below are five storage infrastructure best practices to guide you in realizing the highest payback from a storage investment.

Best Practice #1: Leverage Tiered Storage

While storage needs grow along with your business -- more customers, more products, more data -- your IT budget does not. To make the most of limited resources, rethink how you approach storage. Instead of thinking about storage in terms of capacity or convenience, align your storage with the business value of the stored data. To that end, ask:

  • What data and applications warrant the added cost and complexity of a SAN?
  • What storage can remain on less–costly, server-attached RAID?
  • What is the ratio of application files (fairly static) to data files (very dynamic)?

Every company has several types of data and applications, and each provides a different value to your business. A tiered storage structure aligns the storage with the business value of each kind of data and application. Not every application requires high-performance, high-cost, Tier-1 storage. By aligning business requirements with different storage tiers, organizations stand to save money.

Today, a tiered storage infrastructure will designate the fastest, most reliable, and most expensive storage as Tier 1 and use it only for the highest-value data and applications. Tier 2 storage will consist of slower, less expensive storage for less critical and less valued data and applications. You can reserve slower and less-costly, Tier-3 storage for data archiving and compliance data.

Best Practice #2: Analyze Application Workloads

Once you implement a tiered storage structure, populate your tiers with the right data and applications -- tiered storage pays off only when you get the right data into the appropriate tier. To make the most educated decisions about where to store data, perform an extensive application workload analysis.

Specifically, look at the storage requirements, performance requirements, and growth pattern for each application and data set. With this data, you can determine I/O processing demand and performance requirements before assigning storage. The objective is to match the performance, availability, and redundancy needs of your applications with the appropriate storage tiers and their associated costs.

It comes down to determining which performance trade-offs your company can accept and determining which data and applications can leverage lower-cost storage and which cannot. For example, your mission-critical production data probably requires high performance and high protection. That data goes to Tier 1. However, design documents or market research data require neither high performance nor high protection and can be handled by less costly Tier 2 storage.

Best Practice #3: Consolidate Storage Pools

As companies grow, they inevitably create islands of storage that are costly and inefficient. The situation only grows worse as more storage capacity is packed into servers.

Consolidating these islands of storage into a single storage pool provides tangible benefits, such as lower cost and improved operations. Consolidated storage allows for:

  • Centralized troubleshooting and remote maintenance
  • Centralized administration, which facilitates automation and reduces human intervention
  • Improved life-cycle management across the storage pools and shared peripheral storage
  • More efficient backup, disaster recovery, and business execution

In short, consolidated storage enables your organization to increase data availability without the extra costs often associated with it. It allows non-disruptive online modifications, provides multiple and redundant paths between applications and data, and offers better overall data protection options. If you create a highly scalable and configurable storage infrastructure as you consolidate, your organization will be positioned to handle unpredictable growth, whatever form that growth takes.

Best Practice #4: Implement Staged Backup to Disk

Although tape is seemingly inexpensive, you can easily underestimate the total cost of tape ownership. Tape involves high labor and media costs. However, if you incorporate disk into the backup and recovery process, you can implement an effective backup strategy that trims IT costs, streamlines the backup/recovery process, and reduces the complexity and labor associated with data protection.

Disk-based backups allow backup software to operate normally while first writing the data to disk. Once on disk, the backed up data is then cloned to tape. This gives you the best of both disk and tape:

  • Fast, reliable backup
  • Fast, reliable recovery
  • Offsite portability of data
  • Backups with minimal impact on applications and databases

In addition, end users can quickly recover their own data from a disk backup without IT intervention. Disk backups also extend the investment life of existing tape media and tape devices, allowing organizations to defer and even eliminate investment in additional tape resources, backup media, and IT staff.

Best Practice #5: Apply Automated Storage Management Tools

Storage acquisition is the small piece of the overall storage investment. The labor involved in managing storage over the life of the storage exceeds the acquisition cost several times over. In addition, simply storing data isn’t good enough; companies also need to locate and retrieve data efficiently. Unfortunately, as storage grows so does the task of manually administering it.

That’s when you turn to storage management tools. Such tools automate storage discovery, reporting, and management. They help reduce IT costs by enabling storage administrators to work more efficiently. They also reduce potential mistakes and allow administrators to handle more storage more effectively, even as the amount of storage continually grows.

Automation tools tell you how much storage you have, how much is used, who is using it, and when. Armed with information like this, managers often can defer the purchase of more storage while boosting the utilization of existing storage, which is typically far underutilized, effectively wasting large chunks of the storage investment.

Summary

IT complexity has grown dramatically with much of the attention focused on servers and server virtualization. The storage investment, however, is often as large and as critical as the server investment. By applying the five best practices we’ve described, often with the help of experts, companies can get the maximum return from their storage dollar while streamlining the overall performance and reliability of their IT infrastructure.

Mark Teter is the chief technology officer at Advanced Systems Group. You can contact the author at mteter@virtual.com.