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Root Causes Of Today's Storage Problem

At the start of any pitch for any storage product it seems de-rigeur to sagely state that storage is extremely challenging. Vendors then seem compelled to add a couple of comments about Facebook or Twitter (which are apparently proxies for all data growth everywhere!), a picture of--shock, horror--a coal-fired power station, and ensure that the words "cloud" and "big data" are both mentioned on each of the first five PowerPoint slides ... and--bingo--that's it! Case closed.

Then it's back to the standard sales pitch for the shiny-new-whatever, with plenty of details and specifications, and only rarely will anyone tie their product and its capabilities back to the underlying issues before the pitch is done. We've all seen it countless times. In this article I'll dig a little deeper into the root causes of the very real storage dilemmas. Since I have no product to sell you, I can skip that part of things and--in next month's column--I'll tie some of today's real and available technologies back to the actual challenges. Certainly, the cost, provisioning, and management of storage presents many issues for IT users (which I'll detail here), but there are indeed many reasons to be optimistic (which I'll detail next time).

As one often hears in political discourse, "Something must be done." Invariably, the "something" refers to a significant, known set of problems and a paucity of answers, and it is simply apparent that things cannot go on as they are. In the world of SMB and enterprise storage, the first part of the statement holds true. There are indeed abundant known challenges--data growth, consumerization, clouds, big data, and so on. And often, they come with even bigger expectations. The silver lining to the dark clouds threatening the storage ecosystem is that there are plenty of tools and methods that either exist or are well understood, that can control or remove much of the problem ... if vendors and users are both willing to admit the issues and embrace change before it is too late. The contemporary challenges faced by managers of organizational data and storage are essentially simple, but definitely daunting.

Rising Complexities And Costs

First, there is the constantly increasing need for additional resources to support growing data volumes stemming from natural application growth and new workloads--here, certainly, you can think of the impact of the Web, social media, mobility, and--yes--big data.) Many organizations try to handle this by simply--but expensively--throwing more hardware at the problem, and they often end up with massively underutilized assets into the bargain. Next, operational processes are often not caught up with technology innovations, so as IT service delivery becomes more agile (and this is where the various forms of Cloud enter the equation, for instance), administrators struggle to manage with the same old, inflexible processes.

Budget constraints are almost always an issue, and typically these are more stringent and receive more focus in recent years. In addition, as virtual servers and cloud computing are jointly improving provisioning and providing better service levels, end-users are beginning to expect "instant IT." In the old days (let's say, five years ago!), if a user wanted to launch a new application to support a business process, he or she had an expectation that it would take a while--probably weeks or months--to get through the normal channels. But with fast, easy provisioning made possible by virtualization, IT can spin up a new virtual machine in minutes. However, having the correct, appropriate, available, and affordable storage infrastructure behind that VM and application can be a whole different story. As with any problem across all areas of life, the first two stages (or steps) typically require acknowledging that the problem even exists and then establishing a desire to address it. Storage needs "something to be done" before an unsustainable model--the one largely deployed today--begins to cause real damage to IT and the business.

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