When to Dedicate Storage Staff

It may be time to add a dedicated storage team to your IT organization chart

July 7, 2007

7 Min Read
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A tale of two data center meetings, both in organizations with double-digit terabytes of storage to manage and protect...

Cue Meeting 1. Signs of chaos are evident: BlackBerries are buzzing, cellphones are going off, and uncomfortable stares and glances shoot across the conference-room table. The conversation is about the current crisis and how best to cover up the latest problem caused by oversight or lack of sleep.

In Meeting 2, there's an air of calm. Everything is under control. No BlackBerries are buzzing, cellphones are silent, and attention is being paid to me (I love that part). The conversation revolves around planning for the future.

Strangely, both of these meetings occur on the same day, in the same town, and with companies having almost the exact same infrastructure. Further, those companies are in the same industry and they have the same type of data and almost the same database.

What's the difference?The chaotic meeting is about storage and data protection, but all the participants have something else to worry about. In addition to storage, they are managing Exchange, or the network, or some other critical component of the IT infrastructure. They are trying to take care of the storage and data protection responsibilities on a "catch as catch can" basis.

The calm meeting involves the CIO and his storage team. It is only a team of two, but they are solely focused on storage. Everything is under control. We're able to plan ahead.

After sharing this experience with Mike Marburger, an IT systems professional, and Joseph Ortiz, a data protection consultant, both with over 25 years of experience in the space, we compared notes on the storage team phenomenon. Now we'll try to give you and your team a download of what we've learned.

Next Page: Cost or Benefit?

A dedicated storage group: Does it sound expensive? It is my belief that it is less expensive.Most, but not all, large companies have a dedicated storage team, but most wait far too long to implement one. Indeed, the storage team gets added usually after some catastrophic loss of data due to poor planning or process -- a loss that all too often costs someone their job.

Until a storage team exists, planning and process tasks are divided up among three or four already-overworked individuals. None of them has the time to do storage right. So storage is always given a bandaid to get though the current crisis -- until the next crisis occurs.

The problem with storage is that it allows you to fall into a comfort zone. Like insurance, you don't think about it until something goes wrong. It just sits there quietly, until suddenly you're out of disk space, you have a drive failure, or a server crashes. Then everyone has to drop what they are doing and fix it.

Ironically, the typical exception to this is the "backup guy," who also qualifies in many organizations as the "new guy." There always seems to be a backup guy. Why? Because backups need constant babysitting. They whine, and you seldom make it through two nights in a row without having to check out something.

The quarter-time storage personnel also are being distracted, at one point or another, when something goes wrong with storage, from their primary areas of responsibility. In my experience, storage does not wait until everything is calm on the other fronts before acting up. It usually acts up at the worst possible moment. If you have children, you understand the phenomenon.Next Page: Time Factor

How does one decide when to add a storage team?

Focus on the right metric to determine if a storage team is appropriate.

Dont focus too much on how much storage you have. This is an all-too-common measuring stick that CIOs use to determine when they are ready. I believe that you should focus on the amount of time being spent managing the storage today, how much of that time is unscheduled because of poor planning, and how much the business is being put at risk because of the lack of attention to storage operations.

Keep in mind that with a proper team in place, storage can become more than a cost and/or an insurance policy; it can be a source of revenue creation. Information is power, and you have access to more information than ever. A storage team can help you tap it.So the first factor in calculating whether a storage team is right for your organization is time spent managing storage today. This is hard to account for sometimes, because there are a lot of little actions being taken by multiple people throughout the day. If this information can be captured for a few weeks, it will give you a good idea of how much time your personnel are being distracted from their primary functions.

Particular activities to track include the following:

  • Storage provisioning requests. How often are new volumes being requested, and how often do current volumes need to be expanded?

  • Special non-scheduled snapshot requests.

  • The frequency of "recover data requests." Find out how often the recovery requests come, and whether they involve a snapshot, a D2D backup store, or a tape store.

  • The amount of data loss suffered. How much information has to be recreated manually, and at what cost?

  • The frequency of a discovery request. We are not just talking about the legal implications of finding data, but also about any requests for data that is particularly old -- six months from last modification, for example. How long did it take to find and recover this data, and what was its use? Was it just viewed for reference, or was it modified in some way?

  • Scheduled time. How much of time spent on storage activities above is scheduled, and how much of it is reactive to a problem or request? If it is reactive, then what other function was put on hold as a result?

  • Hard failures. How many failures have occurred in the storage or server environment, and how long did it take to recover?

Next Page: Proactive vs ReactiveThe second factor in determining when to add a storage team involves how time is spent. Examine the above list -- and storage operations in general. If someone was focused on storage, could any of the situations listed in your first factor have been monitored and planned for prior to a request or problem surfacing?

Here is a list of questions to ask:

  • How much time would be saved if monitoring storage was done proactively?

  • Have there been incidents where non-related storage issues have occurred because the person was working on a storage problem instead of their primary area of responsibility? For instance, what other problems occurred while someone was addressing storage issues instead of their primary responsibility?

  • Were there any reactive buys of storage because you suddenly ran out of disk space?

  • Were some “on the fly” decisions made about moving or deleting data without proper planning?

After answering all these questions, ponder the issue of whether you are managing data or having it manage you. Is data being mined properly to become a revenue-generation tool for the enterprise? Do you have the tools to properly index and organize information so that it can be accessed when the appropriate need arises? Can you trend your data growth? More importantly, do you even have the time to research the tools available to help you with these tasks? Clearly, to accomplish all this requires that your team work in an environment where they are not reacting to every situation that arises.

Next Page: What Do They Do?

After factoring in all of the above, it should be relatively easy to determine whether or not to put a dedicated storage team in place. The team could be one or two people initially, with one being a technical lead. All members would have storage-focused responsibilities.

Examples of their tasks include monitoring the usage and growth projections of the data assets; and managing all common storage in the company, determining the real business continuity and disaster recovery issues.

The storage team typically should also manage storage access, not just method (iSCSI, SAN, NAS). Data security is their job, too. With the ever-increasing ramifications of lost data, locking data down through encryption and better access control is of paramount importance.And don't forget: By performing data analysis, a storage team could change the paradigm of the actual data, turning it into information.

Once implemented, a dedicated storage team more than pays for itself. It increases user satisfaction while at the same time decreasing corporate risk from data failure, disaster recovery, and litigation.

It may be difficult to measure the peace of mind that comes with knowing that everything is under control. But picture yourself in Meeting 2.

— George Crump, Founder and President, Storage Switzerland

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