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Storage strategies that deliver business value

In an increasingly interconnected world, the number of interactions among devices and systems is growing rapidly. There are now 1 billion people on the internet, and 4 billion mobile phone subscribers. And devices such as RFID tags, GPS sensors and smart phone cameras produce information on an unprecedented scale, as does every business on the planet.

Altogether, the world generates 15 petabytes of data every day. That’s enough to fill 20 million 4-drawer file cabinets. This plethora of data represents both an opportunity and a challenge for midsized businesses: How can they use all this data for the benefit of their business? And further, how can they manage all this information?

If you’re running a midsized business, your ability to securely store and access data, meet regulatory and compliance requirements, and transform your data into a strategic business asset can give you a competitive edge. But, with the amount of data midsized businesses need to store doubling every 18 to 24 months, you need a new approach to storage that’s smarter than simply “buying more boxes” to obtain that edge. Today's “next generation” storage solutions can not only increase your storage capacity and your ability to respond to business situations such as audits more efficiently; they can deliver ROI as well.

Storage rule no. 1: less is smarter

One approach to smarter storage is simply to stop storing so much data. There are a couple of technologies that enable companies to reduce the amount of data they store with no loss of information. The first is deduplication, often referred to as “deduping.” This is a process in which files are examined and compared to determine, for example, if the J. Smith, Jon Smith and John Smith in a customer database are in fact the same person, or if the same e-mail message has been stored in multiple locations.

The second approach is data compression. This technique uses mathematical algorithms to store data more efficiently, so that it literally takes up less physical space on the storage medium. In some instances, compression can reduce the amount of data needed to be stored by 40 to 50 percent.

Storing less data has substantial business benefits. It reduces capital expenditures because fewer physical storage devices are required. It also reduces operating expenses by lowering energy costs and reducing administrative expenses. These dollars can then be spent on activities that deliver more value and support the strategic goals of the business.

Tiered storage: paying only for the speed you need

Another approach to smarter storage involves finding optimal ways to store different types of data that have different requirements in terms of three parameters: availability, accessibility and recovery. Availability refers to the percentage of the time a particular device is up and running. Today, availability of 99.999 percent (excluding planned down time for maintenance) is not uncommon. Accessibility refers to the time it takes a storage device to respond to a user’s request, and is typically measured in milliseconds. Recovery time refers to the amount of time before a database can be restored after a disaster or unplanned outage.

In general, accessibility weighs most heavily in data storage decisions. To ensure quick access to data while storing it in the most cost-efficient manner, different types of data are often categorized based on how often they are accessed: used frequently/daily; used occasionally/monthly; or stored for regulator compliance only.

Companies can take a tiered approach to storage, with rapid access times for frequently accessed data (at a relatively high cost), and less rapid access times for rarely accessed data (at a relatively lower cost). Most commonly, the higher, faster tier is comprised of disk-based storage devices, while tape drives are used in the lower tier for purposes such as long-term archival. Appliances can automate back-up in a tiered system, including the process of assigning data to the appropriate tier. This includes moving data from one tier to another over time as the need to access that data diminishes. Current production figures, for example, would likely be stored on disk in the top tier, and moved to tape as they were supplanted by new information.

It may make sense to involve a knowledgeable partner to help you understand how you can deal with data most efficiently. This may include determining which applications are responsible for the most data creation, as well as optimizing the cost/benefit ratio of your storage environment while ensuring that employees have quick access to the data they need.

ROI from a storage system? Yes!

Companies that haven’t taken a close look at their storage situation will find that exploring new options is well for the effort. Storage technology has improved dramatically, and next-generation storage can provide surprisingly rapid ROI. But it’s important to understand that storage is not a one-size-fits-all problem. Different companies store different types of data, which in turn have different performance, availability, security and recoverability requirements. Companies must also determine a growth path to accommodate future needs. Today’s storage technology can provide substantial savings, but only if it’s appropriately tailored to the user’s needs.

Cost savings are not the only benefit companies derive from taking a smarter approach to storage. Next generation storage is substantially more energy efficient, and reduces carbon footprint. When IT departments are freed from dealing with the day-to-day details of storage management they can re-allocate resources to activities that deliver competitive advantage, such as applying data analytics to extract information from raw data – and making the entire company smarter.

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