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The Need For Independent Storage Consultants

GlassHouse Technologies

Article by Richard Scannell, VP of Corporate Development and Strategy GlassHouse Technologies, Inc.

See also:- After SSDs... What Next?
3 Easy Ways to Enter the SSD Market
2009 - Year of SSD Market Confusion
Intro With storage now accounting for somewhere in the region of 40%-60% of the average IT budget, there is still general agreement that most IT organizations do not have a cohesive strategy around storage.

Myriad emerging technologies crowd an already full marketplace, yet most companies are still trying to understand not how to integrate even another technology but rather how to address the issues in the current operation.

While it remains a good market for hiring people, Storage Administration is a relatively new competence and not readily available. Where there are people, they are expensive and unless there's a lot of on-going high-end work, they will bore easily once the initial re-architecture is done. Also, the mix of competencies necessary in a storage administrator encompasses technical architecture, operations expertise, and business acumen. This is not an easy mix to find, even in these days., The vast majority of consultants in the space are affiliated with a given product company which means there's always a push to buy product and also their focus is on integrating their product, not a holistic, solution oriented approach. What is needed is independent consultants not bound to sell hardware and software, with a focus on total solutions.

Classic Case

Any space where a gap exists between what is known and what needs to be known demonstrates a classic need for independent consultants, which are organizations that leverage expert knowledge via defined methodologies to provide predictably high results for their customers. The unusual thing about the storage world is that the gap opened so fast and so wide. An industry focused three years ago on how to double disk drive density, suddenly finds itself trying to explain to Joe Admin the difference between switch and host based virtualization. Good luck! Joe is still trying to figure out why the backup system he bought 18 months ago still doesn't work and how he's going to tell his boss.

In considering any large IT investment, four crucial elements must be harmonized – Technology (features and functions), Cost, User Requirements and IT Organizational Readiness. With margins falling on hardware even faster than the stock value of the respective manufacturers, pressure on Sales staff to "move iron" is intense. The recent overlap of features that were once done only in hardware or only in software further confuses the buyer and leads to analysis paralysis (ref. Joe and his virtualization lesson), further delaying the sales cycle and exacerbating the intense pressure to cut prices and close the deal. These factors put tremendous focus on the first two (albeit, important) elements, Technology and Cost, but in many cases to the detriment of the other two crucial elements. Without fully mapping the technology to the end user requirements and thoroughly understanding the implications on the IT organization in terms of training, competency development, policy changes, process revisions, etc., the best technology at the lowest price does little to guarantee a successful outcome.

Historic Structures Become Today's Problems

The data center historically was comprised of three groups – the systems group, the network group, and the application group. In this world, the storage lived in the system, voice and data services lived in the network, and the database lived in the application. Then came the Internet, fiber, B2C, B2 – the attendant history of explosive storage needs fueled by wide data pipes and rich media applications, etc. is well documented. With the introduction of network based storage, i.e. SANs, IT delivered on the promise of scalable, manageable, centralized storage. The only problem is someone forgot to tell the CIO that change has three elements that need to be addressed – technology, process, and people. In the rush to implement the technology, the focus on process and people was all but abandoned. This convergence of systems with storage, networks and applications with databases leads to three problems for the IT executive

1. The technology problem – the convergence is driving a new set of technologies that will be needed to manage and support a large, complex, heterogeneous storage environment. From storage resource management (SRM) to virtualization to storage element management, there are over 250 venture financed companies hoping to explain why theirs is the best product.

2. The business problem – with demands for storage continuing to accelerate and now a heightened sensitivity to backup and restore and disaster recovery, the only effective way to control, scale and manage storage is in a centralized, network based configuration. Attempting to continue to scale a direct attached, distributed model is doomed to fail. This means that the business is at risk of being unable to expand unless there is a cohesive storage strategy in place and an IT organization capable of rapid response.

3. The organizational problem – the competencies necessary to support a network based storage environment no longer reside in one place. From the storage arrays which typically would belong in the systems world to the fabric which typically would belong in the network world, the old access controls – policies on who had which admin password, etc. – all come up for debate. Leaving current organizational structures and policies in place will handicap the ability to deliver quickly and leave IT viewed as inept and stumbling over itself as it hands off tasks internally all the while failing to meet the business needs.

Case Studies

A global manufacturing company spent in excess of $2M on a collection of hardware and software to pursue a SAN implementation to meet the growing volumes of data being generated by a number of key applications. Six months later, the implementation was hopelessly delayed, due predominantly to issues associated with making backups work in the SAN environment. Needless to say, this was a technical issue related to the fact that SAN based backups require knowledge of more than just the backup software interface. What is interesting to examine is that while the problem manifested as a technical issue, it could easily have been resolved had the organizational issue been pre-empted; for example, had personnel with insufficient competencies trained specifically for SAN management and backup, prior to implementation. What is even more glaring is that this organizational problem manifested as a technical issue, creating a business problem on two fronts: the significant capital investment had not yet begun to show any ROI, and the very problem for which the investment was made was now even more acute. As such, the failure to develop appropriate competencies within the staff resulted in technical difficulties which created negative business impact. While this is not necessarily a new phenomenon, it is all too familiar to people in today's storage world.

Another example is that of a Life Sciences company which purchased a large storage solution to be integrated with its existing Unix environment in a SAN configuration, to facilitate grow-on-demand volumes for a mission-critical application. While everything looked OK on the architecture diagrams, a lack of familiarity with the intricacies of HBAs resulted in the company needing to do an OS upgrade on all their Unix servers in order to get them on the SAN fabric, a small nuance that became clear only weeks after the storage hardware arrived. Nowhere was this a greater inconvenience that on the very servers that were deemed mission-critical, for which the SAN was purchased to eliminate the need for downtimes.

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Create a Strategy

Storage spending currently accounts for 40%-60% of all IT expenditures, so now is the time for IT executives to develop an encompassing strategy to manage costs, reduce risk and where possible create a competitive advantage for their business through the thoughtful introduction of appropriate technologies, process, policies, and people around storage.

Who Knows This Stuff?

Historically, storage has been a component of the server, so the people with most knowledge of storage are the system administrators, right?

...While they certainly have a core set of competencies that will be necessary to implement the technologies, it is unlikely that the have been appropriately sensitized to business drivers such as TCO, or that they can articulate how storage solutions can be leveraged to create a competitive advantage by reducing time to market of products, etc. Of course, while it's true that the finance guy probably does understand these issues, he is unlikely the best individual to be architecting the next generation infrastructure solution for the business.

What is needed is a cross functional set of competencies encompassing business acumen to rationalize business drivers and cost and pure technology expertise to architect and implement solutions and others in between. Such talent is rare inside existing IT organizations and indeed difficult to find on the street. Even if it is available, it is extremely expensive and not needed on a permanent basis. Once a strategy has been established and the initial implementation is in place, this high cost individual will most likely become bored with daily activities and look to move on. The answer lies in independent consultants.

How many CIOs ever considered implementing SAP, Seibel, etc. without consultants – the executive board would have considered it very poor judgment. Yet the line item consuming more than any other element of IT today is widely accepted to be "managed" by system administrators who may not be the most qualified to determine the business value of data or an appropriate TCO per terabyte.

Where Can You Go?

Who then can the CIO turn to? The sales guy at XYZ storage company is of course a good friend – after all, they offered to do a "free" assessment of the environment. How strange that the recommendation from that was to buy more gear – so unexpected. Somehow, I doubt it will touch on the need for significant change in organizational policies, the alignment of storage costs with data value and the development of appropriate metrics to understand, report and manage the environment. The truth is there are very few places to turn. While a number of excellent forums exist for the technology level of the storage world, no clear leader has emerged as the community space for IT executives to discuss storage. The various analyst groups do an excellent job of tracking the technology and creating generic strategy to align 5-Nines, Business Continuity, etc. with the infrastructure, yet their business model does not support spending long periods with clients and truly mapping into the existing and future technologies in a clients data center. And most traditional consulting organizations, while claiming to provide these services, typically do not have all the competencies necessary as they have historically focused on the application layer; where they have focused on infrastructure it has usually been at the network.

Independent Storage Experts

IT executives need to work with a group that can map from business strategy to infrastructure and operations covering cost models, architecture, operations and metrics, forecasting, along with integration and configuration of the system. No vendor or VAR can provide this service in an independent fashion; their entire business model is predicated on selling hardware and/or software. There is a small handful of such emerging companies who are building a business on consulting to companies to maximize their storage environments. More so than any other time in the storage industry, their time has come.

...GlassHouse Technologies profile, Storage Services, Storage People

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about the author - Richard Scannell
About the author:-

Richard Scannell, co-founder of GlassHouse, serves as Vice President of Corporate Development and Strategy.

Prior to GlassHouse, Richard served as President and COO of UpSource, a start-up company providing outsourced CRM services.

Before UpSource, Richard headed a $30 million global IT organization supporting a $10 billion sector of Motorola with operations in Chicago and Scottsdale, AZ. He managed 160 IT engineers and ran a 24x7x365 operation with 25,000 sq. ft. of data center under his supervision, encompassing storage products from most all the major vendors in industry in SAN, NAS, and DAS configurations. Richard had responsibility for 5-Nines Availability and Business Continuity initiatives in this role.

Prior to this, Richard was Project Manager for an international CRM system deployment for Motorola, rolling the system out to 2000 agents who supported 70,000 internal customers and over 100,000 transactions per week. In the early stage of his career, Richard held software engineering roles with Motorola and prior to that with Ericsson. Richard holds a B.Sc. in Computer Science from University College Cork, Ireland.
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Most analysts and editors of other computer publications don't really understand the solid state disk market. They show their ignorance and naivete by prefacing every discussion of SSDs with a superficial analysis which compares the cost per byte of storage between flash and hard disk drives. That's the wrong answer to the wrong question. And it's far removed from why the SSD market is racing to become a multi billion dollar market seemingly in blithe ignorance of the cost per byte proposition.

This article tells you what's important to users and the main applications in which SSDs are already being used and new applications where they will be used in the next 3 years. ...read the article, Solid State Disks

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