A Holiday Storage Survival Guide

Here's a 'how to' that will ensure peaceful storage networking this holiday season

December 15, 2007

5 Min Read
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With the holidays upon us, storage managers and other IT pros are no doubt planning to take some well-earned rest and recuperation. But without proper planning, the holidays can quickly escalate from downtime to "down" time. We've collected some tips from industry savants for keeping your data center up and running while you put your feet up:

Dont get too ambitious

"We go into a mode where we only make the changes that are essential, especially in the last few weeks of the year," says Mark Reyer, data center administrator for the state of Oregon.

The official explains that with reduced staffing over the holiday period, users should not think about making any big upgrades to their storage hardware and software. "We put a 'change freeze' on, apart from emergency and essential work," he says.

Like the state of Oregon, officials at Clark County in Nevada take a similar scaled-down approach to the holidays. "One thing that we do is to try not to plan any big projects," says Rich Taylor, the county's senior systems programmer. "This Saturday, we're having an upgrade, but ordinarily, we don't do that so close to Christmas."Think seriously about your backups

Just because backups run faultlessly at every other time of year, doesn't mean that they will run perfectly over the holiday season, warns Al Dripchak, technical support manager at Maxell. "If something is going to go wrong, Murphy's Law says that it will go wrong at the least opportune moment."

He suggests paying attention to the basics, like having enough raw material to perform backups in case an administrator is out. "You have to make sure that you have enough tapes available for running backup routines," he adds, explaining that the person who is usually in charge of loading tape may not be working.

Although this is an easily avoided scenario, Dripchak warns that this is exactly the type of problem that users run into if they have not planned properly for the holiday season.

"I have heard of instances where little things like this have happened and caused big problems," he says. "Be prepared -- if you have a smaller than usual staff, make sure that some of your most knowledgeable staff are there."Spare a thought for morale

With IT staff burdened by more and more work, the holidays represent a welcome opportunity for recharging batteries and spending some time with family. The last thing most staffers want is to be tinkering with storage arrays and rolling out software updates, says Clark County's Taylor.

"You don't want people standing round the operations center, wishing they were somewhere else," he says, highlighting the need for organizations to work out exactly how many staff they really need on site during the holiday.

Don't be afraid to call on vendors

"Like everyone else, we could use a little more manpower," says Clark County's Taylor, explaining that his organization lacks the resources to train all its staff on every aspect of its systems.During the holiday period, when key people may be out of pocket, vendors can help organizations through any problems, according to the official.

"If people are out of town or out of state, we have to call on vendors," he says. "If the EMC box goes down, we will call EMC, and they will help us -- if the switches go down, we will call Brocade."

Maxell's Dripchak agrees that this is a sensible way to deal with holiday staffing issues. "If you have people on staff who are maybe not very experienced or knowledgeable, make sure that they have the tools and resources to help them through an emergency," he says. "This could be, for example, numbers for hardware and software vendors or a hotline for tape library support."

"Users should check with their vendors ahead of time to make sure that coverage is available," adds the Maxell exec.

Don't disappearSure, R&R is vital, but if a panicked member of the data center staff needs to rouse the IT manager from his or her holiday slumbers, then there has to be a clear communication strategy in place.

"We're fortunate that many of our people live nearby and our systems people all have VPN connections to enable them to do their work [from home]," says Oregon's Reyer, who'll be keeping his Blackberry on during the next few weeks.

Think outside of storage

Even if support is available from storage vendors, this does not necessarily mean that users will be able to get the parts that they need, warns Dripchak. "A lot of IT departments stock spare parts, [but] do they stock spare drives?" he asks, warning users to check whether couriers will be able to get a drive replacement to them over the Christmas period.

"There's a lot of exposure to risk over the holiday," he adds. "IT departments should research ahead of time and know what their options would be in a holiday situation."The problem is that many holiday-time outages are completely out of left field, according to Dripchak. "It could be something as crazy as a pipe bursting and leaking water onto a piece of equipment, or your cooling system failing and everything over-heating. I have even heard of someone tripping over a power cord and pulling that out of a machine and causing a server to go down," he says. "Anything can happen."

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  • Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD)

  • EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC)

  • Maxell Corp. of America

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