Storage Catches Up to the Data Explosion
used with permission from IBM ForwardView

We have become flush with data very quickly. In the past two years alone, the world has generated 90 percent of the data in existence today. And in that short period of time, our ability to analyze this information has streamlined operations, reduced fraud and predicted consumer behavior. Large and small companies alike are experiencing an increase in the volume of data coming into the organization and are eager to leverage the subsequent insight to make smarter, more informed business decisions.

But with this deluge of information, many of these same companies are seemingly faced with an embarrassment of riches. All this data, but an infrastructure that is bursting at the seams in an attempt to store it.

Solving this storage problem may seem straightforward; organizations could just acquire more storage capacity. And if a business had unlimited resources, it could probably do just that. But for everyone else with a budget, the answer is not as simple.

More data, more problems

Perhaps those that feel the storage squeeze most keenly are the small and midsize firms with data coming in at a greater volume and faster rate, but without the money to keep pace. Even if these companies were able to afford more storage capacity, the additional infrastructure comes with its own set of unintended consequences. Increases in storage often necessitate an increase in staff to manage it. And it's not just personnel costs that are on the rise. More storage means an increase in overall power consumption, floor space and cooling.

Chris Saul, Marketing Manager for the Storwize€ family at IBM, believes that the answer to many storage challenges faced by small and midsize companies is to make storage more efficient and easier to use. "In the past, we could produce sophisticated storage functions for large enterprises and spend time training people on how to use scripts to make the functions work. But smaller organizations tend to have fewer staff with multiple responsibilities. The really big trend of the last few years for small and midsize companies has been this move to enterprise-level functions, but delivered in a way that makes them very easy to use."

As small and midsize companies adapt to the new digital world, the storage industry is adapting as well to better meet their needs. Here, we explore those technologies that have transitioned from the sole domain of enterprises to the world of smaller firms.

Getting more out of what you have

Companies of all sizes have had a chronic problem with utilization of storage. According to Saul, it is not uncommon for many companies to use only 30 to 50 percent of their storage, which means that the remaining 50 to 70 percent is dead storage that is essentially wasted. "It's sitting there, it's spinning, it's consuming power. You paid for it and it isn't doing anything. And sometimes that's because people have configured the storage in a particular way to get better performance out of it, but much more commonly the reason why it's like that is because people are using old-fashioned ways of managing their storage."

To combat this, small and midsize organizations are increasingly turning to virtualized storage to make better use of their existing physical infrastructure. Storage virtualization solutions offer centralized management of storage without adding more complexity.

"Implementing a virtual storage environment means you don't need to go out and buy so much storage," says Saul. "It means you won't be spending so much money on storage itself, on the power and the cooling for the storage, or on the management of the storage. And in the end, you'll have a better solution."

Saul believes that virtualization is part of a larger trend of software defined storage which will make storage much more efficient. "I think the most common mistake that people make is they spend too much money on hardware and not enough money on the software that would make that hardware better," says Saul. "And virtualization is at the heart of making hardware better because virtualization is the key to deploying other technologies like compression and automated tiering."

Compression, another technology that increases storage efficiency, shrinks the data so a greater volume of information can be stored in the same physical disk space. What's more, real time compression goes one step further by operating as the data is written to disk, thus eliminating any space wasted storing uncompressed data.

Is faster always more expensive?

Flash technology is generating a lot of buzz in the storage world. Highly efficient and reliable flash storage is based on solid-state technology that quickly moves data and dramatically improves storage performance. And because it contains no moving parts, the technology is also more energy efficient and durable than spinning hard drives.

Yet adoption of flash isn't as popular as you might expect. "The perception is that flash is extremely expensive," says Sal DiNatale, Marketing Manager for IBM Storage. "But in fact, while the upfront cost is more expensive, when you look at the overall total cost of ownership over the life span, there's a tipping point where it's actually lower than disk storage in many cases."

At the heart of what makes flash affordable is the efficiency that it creates. Companies can lower costs dramatically for power, cooling and floor space. As storage becomes faster, servers are receiving data more quickly and as a result, become less idle. Storage and servers are both operating at very high efficiency levels which ironically means fewer hardware resources are needed. This can lead to significant savings on hardware, software license costs, and labor to manage the system.

Still, moving to an entirely flash storage environment isn't always practical for businesses. Technologies like automated tiering, however, can make flash much more accessible. As companies look to incorporate flash into their storage environment, automated tiering identifies which data is most active and stores that on flash while the remaining, less active data is left on traditional disk drives. According to Saul, IBM's version of automated tiering called Easy Tier is one of the highlights of the Storwize V3700 system that is targeted specifically for small and midsize companies. "It can deliver performance improvement of up to three times while having as little as five percent of the total storage capacity on flash. It's a great choice for companies who may have a limited budget but need to improve performance to be able to handle larger volumes of data."

The solution is virtualization

Storage options for smaller companies were once fairly limited. But as everyone becomes more connected, the volume of data only multiplies and we need to pay more attention to where and how we store it. Luckily, small and midsize companies now have a wider variety of smarter storage solutions to choose from.

But while the solutions are available, it's still up to the organization to make the best decision for its business. "I think a common mistake that companies of all sizes make with storage is throwing too much hardware at it," Saul says. "And often a much better solution is to buy less but smarter storage or take the storage you've already got, virtualize it, and use it better."