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Volume 27, Issue 3

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Storage Consolidation: First Things First

Storage and storage consolidation are the hottest topics in IT today. Onsite, cloud, high-performance, high-function ... there is more technology now than ever before. Resellers are getting more and more exposure to products every day. But where should you begin?

Good business practices insist that we make sure we have a problem to solve before buying something to solve the problem. Specifically, how will buying more storage or different storage help your business make money, save money, or gain a competitive advantage? If you cannot answer the question in one of these areas, you probably should not be buying anything. Once you have decided that you can indeed positively affect your bottom line, where should you begin?

Before undertaking a storage consolidation or adding more storage to an existing infrastructure, it would be wise to evaluate the backup infrastructure first. After all, your storage is only as good as your back-up solution. As you add or replace storage, reliance on your back-up technology increases. Mistakes happen during storage migrations. Can you recover from such a mistake? Determining the answer before data loss happens is critical to your success.

Use a proposed storage consolidation project as an excuse to evaluate the backup solution, processes, and procedures. There is no better time.

In many cases, new storage technologies offer the ability to enhance or improve existing back-up techniques. Specifically snapshot and replication technology built into most storage devices today can help to reduce back-up times and provide disaster recovery at the same time. However, neither snapshots nor replication replace backup nor are they inexpensive. Backup and snapshot/replication are different technologies with different purposes, outcomes, and costs. Your business may need snapshots and/or replication but it definitely needs backup. Remember that replication will faithfully copy corruption. Your business must have a second copy of its data in order to protect against all possible problems.

In the ideal world organizations are able to afford to put all of their data on the highest functioning storage available. However, in the real world, this will cost way too much. The good news is you do not need to live in the ideal world. You can choose to rank information according to its value. Some data does deserve high performance replication to a secondary site. Most, however, does not. Some data deserves almost instantaneous restore functionality while most does not. Weighing the requirements of each type of information can help to reduce the overall cost while enhancing the function of both the storage and backup technology.

Once you have ranked the value of your business’ information you can begin to determine what the optimum recovery time and recovery point objectives (RTO and RPO) are for each tier of data. These RTO/RPO combinations lead you to the correct storage and/or backup technology. For information requiring very short RTO, highly functional storage that provides rapid snapshot recovery may be ideal. Data with longer RTO can benefit from the lower cost traditional backup/restore functionality. In some mission-critical cases, replication is the best DR option, while for most data a lower-cost DR technology is more appropriate.

Once your data is properly classified, you can evaluate your business’ current backup technology, tactics, and strategies against its RTO/RPO combinations. You may find that your existing systems meet your needs by providing the required RTO/RPO combinations. It is more likely, however, that it does not in some cases. Either way, you now know what your business requires of both your new storage and your back-up solution. You are ready to develop a strategy for both.

Tackle backup first. No matter what, your business will need a reliable back-up solution during and after the storage migration. Your confidence level in moving data from your existing storage infrastructure to the new one is enhanced, and that trust will translate into a smoother and quicker transition.

As your data is being migrated, you will have time to test the new back-up system against the RTO/RPO objectives before moving into production. How often are we able to test our solutions? Using the intrinsic feedback loop this process provides, you can tweak both the back-up and storage solution to further refine their requirements and implementation. As you are testing, you may also determine that the back-up solution provides better RPO/RTO options than you thought were available. This can help you further reduce the cost of the storage infrastructure as you deploy it. Certainly, the opposite may be true, but again you are able to make adjustments on the fly based on knowledge rather than guesswork.

Change can be good for the soul. It can provide the opportunity to evaluate everything in the path of that change. In this case you can use the impetus provided by a storage infrastructure project as a catalyst for improving your business’ back-up solution and enhance both along the way. A synergistic approach to evaluating storage and backup will produce the best results saving your money and operational costs.

Kelly Lipp is the vice president, manufacturing, and chief technology officer of STORServer, Inc., a company founded in 2000 to provide leading data back-up solutions for the mid-market. STORServer offers a complete suite of appliances, software, and services that solve today’s backup, archive, and disaster recovery challenges once and for all.

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