Storage essentials: More bytes for your buck
The challenges of cost-effectively managing and archiving growing volumes of business-critical data and imminent new legislation covering business practices and the retention, usage reporting and ultimate disposal of information, are forcing many organisations to refine their storage strategies.
That`s according to Rassie Jacobs, senior consultant at infrastructure and solutions provider, Datacentrix, who says when it comes to addressing the storage conundrum it is important for companies to identify what business data needs to reside on which appropriate storage media according to usage and importance.
"This is the fundamental first step to addressing a cost-effective storage strategy and building a sound Information Lifecycle Management (ILM) implementation. Retaining data according to its value and importance makes the management process a lot easier and, ultimately, reduces the cost and time to backup, restore and archive data," he says.
New data regulation
The advent of new laws and regulations covering archiving and storage, adds Jacobs, means certain environments now need to be archived according to certain specified rules to ensure the data is not tampered with.
These laws include: the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, the Electronic Signatures Act or ESIGN and the Clinger-Cohen Act, which is better known as the Information Technologies Reform Act (ITMRA). Requirements for compliance include that the system should have access to data that is non-rewritable and non-erasable, be able to automatically verify the quality and accuracy of its recording process, make and keep a duplicate copy of date-stamped e-mails and stored separately from the original set of e-mails.
Companies must also be able to create and retain an accurate index of e-mails, which must be available for reproduction or examination by regulators for as long as regulation requires.
Jacobs says Magneto Optical and Write Once Read Many (WORM) tape archiving devices were sufficient in the past due to the low volume of data that was archived.
"WORM devices generally have slow response times. Today, with the new legislation coming into place, the data volumes are growing tremendously and because there is a string of legal requirements for business documents, these devices are inadequate," says Jacobs.
"Instead of writing to Magneto Optical as a WORM device the trend now is to write to UDO or disk and to software protect the data with journaling, versioning, digital signature and encryption. This is done using cheaper disks or large drives with Raid 5 (7 +1), or ATA drives," says Jacobs.
Hierarchical storage management
The more widespread and effective use of ATA drives and fibre optic technology has led to significant price reductions. "The price of disks has more than halved in the last three years, while volumes have increased. This has created an opportunity for customers to utilise more cost-effective storage."
With the current growth in storage capacity, the backup window is becoming a major problem. Even with BCV (business continuance volumes) where original data is moved to a second copy, running at the same time as production, and backed up to tape, time frames remain lengthy.
"Now with ATA drives recognised as affordable solutions, businesses can take data from their BCVs, move it to disk and, in the background, stream it to tape," says Jacobs.
"Companies need to store their important data on expensive disks, less important data on cheaper disks and from there to tape, CD-R or DVD. All this serves to make the backend of a storage solution much wider and we`re seeing a number of companies evaluating ILM solution as a viable proposition."
The trusty SAN
New developments are also impacting the storage area network (SAN). Most companies have adopted this environment, says Jacobs, and by introducing fibre-attached backup libraries companies can incorporate backup SANs and disk SANs into a single unit.
"One of the main reasons for this is that SAN backup applications are utilising the fibre environment of the SAN much more efficiently. SAN-attached tape libraries are better utilised as they are accessible via more servers and streamline the data to the backup device - (NDMP). Data doesn`t flow through the local area network (LAN) or a separate backup network anymore, but through the SAN at the back-end," says Jacobs.
New generation Fibre Directors, a technology that brings the front-end LAN and back-end SAN together in a single unit, making the management of these devices much better, is also making headway.
"New generation Fibre Directors offers high performance and scalability and delivers intelligent network services such as multi-protocol/multi-transport integration, virtual SANs (VSANs), advanced traffic management, embedded diagnostics and rule-based security," says Jacobs.
"We also believe that using iSCSI (Internet Small Computer System Interface) to link data storage systems over Internet Protocol (IP) is becoming easier to incorporate into the back-end of storage solutions with the rapid adoption of the new technology standard," says Jacobs.
Taming the SAN
The good news, adds Jacobs, is that SAN management functionality has greatly improved in the last few years.
"In the past, vendors could only offer management of their own disk arrays and heterogeneous environments were extremely difficult to manage. SAN management has now evolved to a point where businesses can incorporate virtualisation at the back-end, making error detection, fault finding and load balancing in a SAN environment a lot easier than in the past," he says.
Storage technologies are evolving rapidly and the exponential growth of data and the management thereof will continue to be an issue. "Fortunately," Jacobs concludes, "several proven methodologies exist that can address this problem while harnessing existing infrastructure to adapt to future needs."
Datacentrix successfully provides top South African companies with storage strategies and methodologies that maximise their storage, including: Kumba, Iscor, Telkom, Rand Mutual Assurance, Teba Bank and IDC.