Data Storage Management Challenges

Too many IT personnel become product specialists instead of storage specialists, limiting their ability to provide answers to wide-ranging enterprise problems

April 16, 2009

4 Min Read
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Automated software management software capable of dealing with heterogeneous computing architectures and mixed environments of tape, hard drive, and solid state storage presents enormous opportunities for organizations to move forward with storage management strategies and get on top of their data. But the jury is still out as to how well enterprises are really doing in their day-to-day management of data and storage resources.

"The data that enterprises are acquiring, managing, and storing has soared over the past four years," says Aloke Shrivastava, senior director of educational services for EMC. "Many enterprises have the tools and techniques on hand to manage this data, but in the worldwide research that we have conducted, enterprise IT and storage managers are telling us that the number one challenge they are facing is that their enterprise data is growing exponentially, but that the skill sets needed to manage this data are not readily available in the market."

Part of the problem is likely a consequence of the economic downturn. EMC's research shows that 50 percent of the enterprises interviewed responded that they required additional skills to manage their IT workloads, which were increasing at the same time that the number of people available to support the workloads was going down. "We actually had 5 percent of respondents in our research tell us that they needed to re-skill their entire IT teams, which told us that people during the downturn were being asked to assume different responsibilities or roles than they were trained for," Shrivastava says. Meanwhile, IT organizations are stretched to just get the daily work done -- and there isn't enough time to fine-tune or to do the little things.

Shifting roles and growing workloads affect data and storage because the tools that sites purchase to manage these resources are only as good as the knowledge that backs them up. "One of the issues that we find is that, in some cases, people don't understand the nature of the data that they are storing," says Emmanuel Hooper, an independent consultant with Global Info Intel and a noted expert in quantitative, qualitative, and statistical research, information security, and computing sciences. "Data is often aggregated in storage systems without taking into account that there are different classifications of data. When people don't fully understand the content of the data, it makes it that much more difficult to apply correct data and storage management policies, such as the appropriate level of security that should be attached to different data classifications and different storage devices."

One common trap that many enterprises can fall into, Hooper says, is becoming expert on the recommendations and best practices that their individual storage vendors give them without taking the time to consider how these best practices fit with other areas of their storage and data management architectures. This is an opinion that is shared by Stefan Kochishan, director of product marketing for CA, a provider of systems and storage management for the mainframe and the open systems markets. "What we often see in enterprises is that people have a tendency to become product specialists instead of storage specialists," said Kochishan. "So you may cultivate some of the best techniques for data and storage management by taking advantage of product best practices, but you will not get all of the benefits unless you are able to think across your entire storage architecture and how it all fits together."A daily challenge for enterprise storage resource management, or SRM, that Kochishan sees is the cultural difference between IT storage professionals who work in open, distributed environments and their counterparts in the same shop who work on mainframe computers. "The open systems and mainframe sides of the IT house often don't talk to each other, even though platform integration has been a common theme for a number of years," Kochishan says. "If you're an enterprise with many different computing platforms, this problem is multiplied because now you have islands of people who are managing storage resources within their own areas, and who are often not communicating with each other -- a prerequisite for a comprehensive and all-inclusive storage management strategy."

One way that enterprises can improve both storage and data management is to review on an annual or biannual basis policies for data storage, retention, security, backup, and disaster recovery. Revisiting policies helps people cross-communicate with each other, even if they are working on different computing platforms. It also ensures current compliance with standards, laws, and regulations, which change on a regular basis.

"Annual policy and process reviews give you an opportunity to bring in your applications, your auditing, your storage management and your security people," says Kochishan. "The key is to have everyone align behind the business objectives. Sites should also take advantage of the storage and data management best practices and system capabilities that vendors provide -- and apply it to their overall storage and data management enterprise architecture."

InformationWeek Analytics has published an independent analysis of the challenges around enterprise storage. Download the report here (registration required).

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