The Future of Storage Automation: Top Five Things to Consider

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by Brent Rhymes

Activity in the data storage arena is ramping up quickly, and IT professionals in charge of managing it don’t have a lot of free time on their hands these days. With that in mind, I’ll get right to the point. The future of storage automation is now. Below are five trends upon which data center managers should act:

1. The amount of data in need of storage is growing at a staggering pace. According to Gartner, storage saw a 60 to 70 percent growth in 2011. Other market watchers say that estimate is on the conservative side. It’s pretty clear this growth will not slow down in 2012. It’s easy to recognize the business trends driving storage growth. For one, organizations are using business analysis and data warehousing tools to improve decision making. The reason for this has much to do with the virtual mountain of unstructured data – emails, text documents, websites and other information – in the average enterprise. Existing line-of-business applications also continue to expand and accrue data as individual workers generate more information.

2. The move to centralize storage creates a need for larger storage capabilities. Private cloud initiatives such as virtual desktop infrastructures (VDIs) are moving enterprises away from decentralized storage, which was once the norm. The push toward private cloud initiatives introduces many benefits in the data center, but the strain on storage administrators is a problem with which IT leaders must grapple.

3. The budget for IT workers is stagnant or shrinking at most organizations. Many enterprises face an unmanageable amount of data storage, and IT departments realize there are several critical issues they must address, and fast. However, as data requests increase, the time, resources and budget of IT staff is only decreasing. While the amount of data IT organizations manage is exploding, budgets to increase storage administrator staffing are not.

When IDC looked at this situation, the word the analyst firm chose to describe it was “chaos.” The 2011 IDC report “Extracting Value from Chaos” explained the storage/administrator conundrum with stark numbers: “IT departments will have to manage 50 times the amount of information, 75 times the number of files and 10 times the number of virtual and physical servers, with only 1.5 times the number of IT professionals to manage it all, by 2020.”

4. Automation is the only way to do so much more storage work with the same or fewer resources. The difference between the growth in storage versus the growth in the IT staff to manage it points to a significant increase in the productivity of IT storage administrators. This is the storage automation gap.

Storage automation is certainly not a new subject. Storage vendors have delivered embedded automation in the software tools they create for their storage arrays, and most administrators have created scripts to ease the daily burden of Logical Unit Number (LUN) creation, data migration and other routine tasks. However, these piecemeal efforts will not adequately address the need to increase productivity by 20 times today’s rate to meet future data storage realities. For that, data centers will need more all-encompassing automation.

5. Adequate storage automation will need to incorporate five key initiatives. By applying some of the IT process orchestration technology developed for cloud computing to the field of storage administration, IT can take storage automation to the next level. These initiatives include:

  • SAN storage allocation: Like cloud provisioning, allocating new SAN storage is a complex, multi-step process. While most organizations have automated simple tasks like LUN creation, few have tackled the more complex process of end-to-end storage allocation, including discovery, zoning, masking, host configuration, etc.
  • Application storage allocation: In addition to automating storage for hosts, organizations should consider implementing automated processes based on best practices to allocate storage for databases and line of business applications. These services can be further refined through the categorization of the storage being allocated.
  • Storage reclamation: While automatic tiering of storage is becoming popular, few organizations have automated processes to identify and de-allocate storage resources that are no longer being used. By automating the process of identifying and reclaiming unused storage, organizations can reduce the growth of their storage budgets whilst also eliminating the potential security exposures associated with “stale data.”
  • Storage remediation: Many organizations have deployed performance and availability monitoring tools, but few have created automated responses to the issues these tools detect. Something as simple as avoiding an application outage by automatically increasing the size of a LUN that is nearing capacity can save thousands of dollars in downtime and lost productivity.
  • Automated, self-service storage portals: Organizations should consider implementing self-service storage portals to automate the process of requesting storage services. Self-service storage portals let end users request automated storage services, decreasing the time it takes for a business unit to request and receive new storage resources from weeks to hours.

The numbers related to storage automation trends heading in to 2012 are too striking to ignore. The average large enterprise already fields more than 100,000 requests related to storage each year. Those 100,000 requests each generate 30 to 45 minutes of work for the administrator, straining IT and slowing down other business units, which must wait in line for their storage needs to be met.

Even though data storage needs are rising at a furious pace, most organizations can’t afford to add IT staff to manage the requests related to that growth. Automation will be an absolute must in the coming year, as the market adopts cloud-based infrastructure, workers generate more and more data and IT struggles to bridge the gap between resources and demands.

Brent Rhymes is the president of iWave Software (Frisco, TX). www.iwavesoftware.com

 
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