A Storage Purchasing Strategy

Why do you need a strategy?

To get the most from your Storage Technology, you need to develop a strategy which details where you want to get to in the next three years or so, and then a plan that details how to achieve that strategy. The strategy should be based on sound capacity planning procedures, and a good knowledge of business directions.

Why are these important? The idea is to avoid having to buy storage in a hurry. You should take time to go out to tender to at least two vendors and compare the overall cost of the products they are offering. Capacity planning should tell you how much capacity you will need for the next 12 months, but it's difficult to predict beyond that. You need to know where the Business is going, so you can make sure that your storage plans match. For example, if the Business were planning to increase turnover by 200% next year then your storage plan must be able to cope with the growth. If the Business plan was to consolidate after a previous high growth, your storage plan will be different. If your business is planning to replace a room full of paper documents with electronic storage next year, you should be investigating fixed-content storage options now.

The Impact of new Technology

You also need to be aware of technology directions. Its always tempting to buy the latest storage server, with all the bells and whistles, but what you really need is technology that meets your business needs. One good strategy is to be just tucked in behind the leaders. The latest and greatest storage devices will be expensive, but vendors are usually keen to cut deals, to shift older technology. However, beware of shifts in technology that could leave you moving forward, while the rest of the world has just turned right. Also, avoid any solution that locks you into a single storage provider, as that will leave you without a bargaining position when you need to upgrade.

Its tempting to simplify storage provision by adopting a one size fits all strategy. This can be expensive, as it means you have to put all your data onto storage that satisfies the most exact requirements. The old data storage pyramid is still appropriate. Data that needs very fast access, and must be available all the time needs to be on top quality mirrored disk. 'Stale' data that has not been accessed for several weeks can be migrated off to tape. Access times may be measured in a few minutes, but that should be acceptable. There is probably a middle class of data that needs access in tens of seconds, and which can live on slower disk.
Some of the larger disk subsystems now do this at block level for all kinds of data, so recently used blocks are held on fast flash disks, while blocks that have not been used for a long time are on slower SAS or SATA disk. The migration is done automatically within the disk subsystem with tiering software.
The older hierarchical structure that uses external software is well established in mainframe systems, and is just starting to mature on Open Systems. However, remember that data that has been migrated off to tape is still primary data, and you need two copies of it. That should be factored into your cost justification equation. To make this work, you should define data management policies that ensure data is stored on the most appropriate media, and is deleted once it is not required.

Bulk Purchasing benefits

If you are a large company with a substantial growth rate, consider buying a year's worth of storage at a time, to benefit from bulk purchase rates. You might also want to time your purchase to coincide with vendors end-of-quarter or end-of-year sales periods, as these are usually the best times for negotiating discounts. You may also want to consider 'bundling' a storage purchase with server purchases, to gain maximum bulk discounts. A typical storage controller can support hundreds of terabytes of disk these days and you may not want to buy that much at once. If so, negotiate maximum upgrade prices at purchase time and get them written into the contract. Remember to include cache, connectivity and software upgrades, as well as disk. Maintenance costs can be high, especially for open systems disk. Try to negotiate a 'free' 3-year maintenance deal as part of the purchase, and get future maintenance charges capped. If you are a smaller company, then Storage on Demand deals may be appropriate.
Don't forget about the 'Cloud'. If you are a private individual and want some storage space that allows your to share data between your appliances, or your friends, or your classmates, the cloud is the way to go. Check out companies like Dropbox, Apple iCloud or Microsoft's Onebox. Most cloud companies let you store a smallish amount of data for free. If your data is precious to you, investigate the companies reputation for managing data loss and ask them if they have a backup and recovery service. Remember, you don't just want to guard against the supplier's equipment failure, you can delete or damage your own data and if there is no backup you have lost it.
If you are a company then this is even more important so make sure you get satisfactory answers to questions like; 'Will you mirror my data?', 'Will you backup my data, how long do you keep backups for?' and 'What do you charge for recoveries?'.

Management costs and the Exit plan

Remember that technology is just part of the cost equation. Consider how much effort will be required to run and manage a solution. In particular, consider any extra effort that end users may need to put in, to make a solution work. This is especially true if you are trying to maximise the usage of your storage. You may be able to save a few thousand pounds by running your storage at 90% full, but it may cost your customers a lot more than that to cope with the resultant space issues.

Finally, you need an exit plan to replace older storage, once it becomes unreliable and too expensive to maintain. This may be part of a storage consolidation exercise. If you are replacing hardware that is less than three years old, then you are probably not getting value for money from it. Don’t forget to include software in this plan. Check your software on a regular basis, and ensure that it is still adding value, and that other software does not duplicate its functions.