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The Importance of Data and Storage

Greg Schulz

We live in an information-centric world. As a society, we have a growing reliance on creating and consuming data (Figure 1), which must be available when and where it is needed. Data and related information services are enabled or provided via information technology services combining applications, facilities, networks, servers, storage hardware, and software resources.

More data can be stored in the same or smaller physical footprint than in the past, thus requiring less power and cooling per gigabyte (GB), terabyte (TB), petabyte (PB), or exabyte (EB). However, data growth rates necessary to sustain business activity, enhance IT service delivery, and enable new applications are placing continued demands requiring more processing, network, or input/output (I/O) bandwidth and data storage capacity.

Figure 1. IT and data storage demand drivers.

As a result of this increasing reliance on information, both for home and personal use along with business and professional needs, more data is being generated, processed, moved, stored, and retained in multiple copies for longer periods of time. The net result is that IT organizations of all sizes are faced with having to do more with what they have (sometimes with less), including maximizing available IT resources while overcoming common footprint constraints (available power, cooling, floor space, server, storage and networking resources, management, budgets, and IT staffing).

The Business End of IT Data Storage Impact

Just as we live in an information-centric society which extends from home to the office, from the small office/home office (SOHO) to the remote office/branch office (ROBO), small/medium-size business (SMB), small/medium enterprise (SME), to ultra-large organizations or enterprises, there is another common theme, and that is economics. Economics are a constant focus, whether it is costs or expense, profits and margins, return on investment (ROI), total cost of ownership, or some other business specific measurement.

On the one hand, there is a need or reliance on having more information; on the other, there are the constants of economics, cause and effect, and supply and demand. You need or want information, but there is a cost to supporting or managing it. Yet information can also directly or indirectly drive profits, so a balancing act is necessary. Thus, to support or sustain economic (business) growth or manage the data necessary to maintain daily activity, there are associated costs (hardware, software, people, facilities, power, etc.) that need to be managed.

Innovation is doing more with what you have: supporting growth and enhancement of services without negatively impacting service-level objectives (SLOs), including quality of services, while reducing per-unit cost for service delivery (as shown in Figure 2). The trick is to find the balance among boosting productivity, reducing costs, and maintaining or enhancing customer service delivery.

Figure 2 sums up the balancing act of maximizing use of available IT resources while supporting growing business demands in a cost-effective manner. IT resources include people, processes or best practices, time, budgets, physical facilities, power, cooling, floor space, server, storage and networking hardware, along with software and services. All too often, the approach has been to drive cost down by increasing utilization at the expense of quality of service (QoS) and SLOs. An example is leveraging consolidation or migration to a cloud service based on a lower-cost model that trades QoS and SLO for price.

Figure 2. Supporting demand, maintaining quality of service (QoS), while reducing costs.

Another variation is to boost QoS and SLOs along with performance to meet demand at the expense of cost or less effectively utilized resources. In other words, it's relatively easy to improve in one area while causing issues or aggravation in another. Innovation occurs when all three categories shown in Figure 2 are positively impacted.

Figure 2 identifies constraints or barriers to cost-effective service delivery while maintaining or enhancing the service delivery experience including QoS and SLOs. Cloud, virtualization, and data storage networking are tools and techniques that, combined with best practices, can be used to enable innovation and meet the objectives of Figure 2.

Clouds, virtualization, and data storage networks can be used to enable cost reduction and stretching of resources by supporting consolidation initiatives. However, these same tools and techniques can also be used for enabling agility, flexibility, and enhanced services that can improve both top- and bottom-line business metrics. For some environments or applications the focus may be on cost reduction while supporting little to no growth, while for others it may mean working with the same or a slightly increased budget while supporting business demand and SLOs. In some organizations this also means reducing costs or stretching available budgets and resources to do more with what they have.

Addressing Business and IT Issues

Clouds, virtualization, and storage networks are tools, techniques, and best practices to help support or sustain growth while reducing per-unit costs, removing complexity, enabling flexibility or agility, and also enhancing customer experiences. Clouds, virtualization, and storage networks are not the objective themselves; rather, they are tools, vehicles, or mechanisms that can be used to help achieve broader business and IT objectives. They can be used for new, start-from-scratch environments; they can also be aligned with existing IT service delivery as well as help with a transition-over-time evolution of IT.

Thus, taking a step back from the technology, tools, and techniques, and keeping the bigger picture in focus, helps to understand what to use when, where, and why, as well as how to go about it in a more effective manner.

What Is Driving Data Growth and Information Reliance

The popularity of rich media and Internet-based applications has resulted in explosive growth of unstructured file data, requiring new and more scalable storage solutions. General examples of unstructured data include spreadsheets, PowerPoint, slide decks, Adobe PDF and Word documents, Web pages, video and audio, JPEG, MP3, and MP4, photos, audio, and video files.

Examples of applications driving continued growth of unstructured data include:

  • Gaming, security, and other surveillance video or security
  • Unified communications including Voice-over-IP (VoIP)
  • Rich media entertainment production and viewing
  • Digital archive media management
  • Medicine, life science, and health care
  • Energy including oil and gas exploration
  • Messaging and collaborations (email, IM, texting)
  • Internet, Web, social media networking, video and audio
  • Finances, marketing, engineering, and customer relations management (CRM)
  • Regulatory and compliance requirements

While structured data in the form of databases continues to grow, for most environments and applications the high-growth area and expanding data footprint along with associated performance bottlenecks is centered on semi-structured email data and unstructured file data. Unstructured data has varying I/O characteristics that change over time—for example, data starting out with a lot of activity, then going idle for a time, followed by extensive reads, as in the case of a video or audio file becoming known and popular on a media, entertainment, social networking, or a company-sponsored website.

Data footprint is the total data storage needed to support your various business application and information needs. Your data footprint may, in fact, be larger than how much actual data you have. A general approach to determine your data footprint is to simply add up all of your on-line, near-line and off-line data storage (disk and tape) capacity.

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The amount of data being generated, processed, and stored has reached unprecedented levels. Even during the recent economic crisis, there has been no slow down or information recession. Instead, the need to process, move, and store data has only increased. Consequently, IT organizations are looking to do more with what they have while supporting growth along with new services without compromising on cost and service delivery.

Cloud and Virtual Data Storage Networking looks at converging IT resources and management technologies for facilitating efficient and effective delivery of information services, including enabling of Information Factories. Regardless of your experience level, Schulz guides you through the various technologies and techniques available for achieving efficient information services delivery.

About the Author

Greg Schulz is founder of the Server and StorageIO group (StorageIO), an independent IT industry advisory consultancy firm. He is also the author of the books The Green and Virtual Data Center and Resilient Storage Networks. He is a popular blogger and also a fixture on Twitter.