Tough Challenges Loom for Storage Professionals

The IT department in 2009 is still expected to 'do more with less' while also improving storage and server utilization rates, a Symantec survey of data center managers shows

January 13, 2009

4 Min Read
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Senior-level technology managers who run data centers for the world's largest companies continue to face challenges in 2009 as the economy slides downhill -- they are expected to cut costs while providing better performance and improving server and storage utilization rates. Those were the key takeaways from a survey of high-level tech managers at 1,600 companies with 5,000 or more employees in 21 countries in a State of the Data Center report issued by Symantec Corp. (Nasdaq: SYMC).

The survey was conducted in October and November, just as the weak economy was causing a reduction in technology spending plans at many companies. This year, Symantec decided to survey managers, directors, and senior-level executives, a different group of respondents than last year, so the results are not directly comparable. The median company reported having 500 people working in IT, some 30 to 49 data centers, and about one fifth of its IT staff dedicated to data center tasks.

"The results reflect what we are seeing in the market," said Sean Derrington, director of storage management and high availability at Symantec. "IT managers are being asked to cut costs and provide more services. They are having trouble finding and retaining staff. Server and storage utilization rates are declining. Disaster recovery plans continue to need work. And companies are looking at green initiatives as a way to reduce costs as well as improve the environment."

The average utilization rate for storage systems was reported to be 50 percent, down from 60 percent in the 2007 survey. That is causing companies to look at storage virtualization (76 percent), continuous data protection (72 percent), storage resource management (71 percent), replication (71 percent), data de-duplication (70 percent), and storage as a service (64). The main applications driving storage growth were business intelligence, Web applications, and enterprise applications.

"The median capacity was 200 TB of raw storage. When you look at 100 TB not being used, companies are throwing away 50 cents of every dollar they spend on storage. That's why they are looking at SRM to recover some of that unused storage and to make sure they fully utilize any new storage they buy," Derrington said.Most companies are not very far along in deploying new technologies and applications to boost utilization rates. Most are in the discussion and planning stages. In most cases, fewer than one in four companies were actually in trials or implementing the technologies.

Disaster recovery plans also need improvement, the survey shows. Only 35 percent of those surveyed described their DR plan as above average, while 27 percent said their plan needed work. About 9 percent said they only had an informal or undocumented disaster recovery plan. For most companies (66 percent), disaster recovery means restoring from backup. A little more than a third cited off-site backup and replication. Companies said human error was the biggest cause of unplanned downtime, getting the blame 25 percent of the time.

"When 36 percent say their DR plan is informal or needs work, that is a large portion of large companies in the world," Derrington said. "We also found that 30 percent of virtual servers are not covered by the data center's disaster recovery plan for Tier 1 recovery. Virtual servers need to be part of the strategy and the plan."

Those surveyed also reported that they were using their servers at 53 percent of capacity, helping to fuel interest in server consolidation (80 percent) and server virtualization (77 percent). It also is driving interest by 89 percent in developing a strategy of standardizing servers and storage management on one layer of software that will work with most applications and a variety of hardware. About 41 percent said they were in the discussion or planning stages, while 48 percent said they were in trials or implementing such a strategy.

The top three initiatives for meeting the goal of doing more with less include increasing automation, more cross-training of staff, and server virtualization/consolidation. Many said a complicating factor is having data centers in several locations, making it hard to deploy highly trained staff in each center.About half of those surveyed expected their budgets to increase over the next two years, but that may be more a factor of when the survey was conducted. Only 16 percent predicted declines in their IT budgets over the next two years. About 70 percent said their budgets had risen during the past two years.

About 41 percent of those surveyed said their company had more than 1,000 applications, and data center managers called half of those applications mission critical.

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