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Data Centre Fitness

01 Aug 2011

Data centre infrastructure is currently being affected by a raft of trends such as massive data growth, mobility, virtualisation and the cloud; all of which are having a big impact on the way organisations operate today.Significantly, these ‘super trends’ present a great opportunity for the channel to add value for customers as decisions required of CIOs get more complex and the interest in the IT department balance sheet gets wider. This is particularly true as cloud computing presents a new yardstick for executives to measure against, where technology is cheaper and more efficient than ever before. Savvy resellers are realising that the best CIOs are the ones looking to shift their department from being considered a cost centre to that of a revenue generator. But how can customers gain more from storage infrastructure and, importantly, how can resellers shape the ‘data centre fitness’ conversation with customers as a result?Data Centre EfficiencyForrester research  shows storage is one of the largest line items in IT budgets and, as a result, it should be a core component of any reseller advising on IT efficiency. With estimates that the creation of a typical business file starts a series of events that causes that single file to be copied hundreds of times in its lifetime, it’s easy to see how storage efficiency is a critical factor impacting both data centre and overall business performance.At its most basic, storage efficiency is storing the largest amount of data in the smallest possible space at the lowest possible cost. There are a variety of ways organisations can achieve this, but ultimately IT efficiency is about the combination of people, processes and technology rather than relying on technology alone. Examples of how resellers can drive greater value to customers through storage efficiency include thin provisioning, deduplication and shared infrastructure.Thin Provisioning Firstly, storage efficiency should be considered an end-to-end to process which begins at the time data is created. It is here many IT managers find it difficult to assess their actual storage needs and, because purchasing new storage can be a long and expensive process, they will often over-provision. This is exacerbated by application owners faced with exponential data growth, long purchasing times and disruptive provisioning processes often asking for between three and five times as much data as they are likely to need on top of the additional space kept as a buffer by the storage administrators.The net result is that in many ‘full’ storage arrays used for SAN workloads, only 30% of the effective capacity is being used to store actual data with the balance kept in fixed reserves.To avoid this, techniques such as thin provisioning allow storage administrators to reclaim these fixed reserves by appearing to give application owners the storage they’ve asked for while only provisioning the storage they are actually using at the time. This, combined with just in time purchasing of storage, allows companies to take advantage of the ever decreasing cost of storage capacity without asking the application owners to change their practices or learn how to accurately forecast their storage requirements.To help drive out this inefficiency, resellers should advise organisations to build the conversation between data creators and the infrastructure team and express workloads in terms of service level agreements rather than physical configurations. They should also work with the procurement team to find creative ways of shortening the purchase cycle to allow just-in-time buying of storage capacity to meet unexpected growth.DeduplicationDeduplication is another technology that can achieve significant gains in the data centre. It divides newly stored data objects into small blocks each with a digital ‘signature’, and if an exact match exists, the duplicate block is discarded and its disk space reclaimed. Deduplication can be implemented across a wide variety of applications and file types, which is why it can deliver significant returns to the business. Deduplication of primary storage areas such as file sharing environments can achieve a 30-50% saving in a storage environment for example. In backup situations, customers can often gain up to a 95% saving as a result of deduplication. As such, it should be kept in mind for any discussion on data centre improvement. A reseller can add further value by advising for non-duplication.  Often it makes sense not to create new physical copies of data in the first place. By using high-performance technologies such as snapshots and writable copies for backups and test and development environments, customers can save on time, resources and CPU output.Shared InfrastructureFinally, advise clients to share as much as possible. Even though individual pieces of IT infrastructure are getting cheaper on a per-unit basis, the costs of management and data centre resources are not. Additionally, a small amount of waste in a dedicated or non-shared resource can be significant when multiplied hundreds of times over. In order to reduce cost and save on waste, advise clients to consider shared infrastructure resources where possible.Telling the business storyWhile technologies like thin provisioning, data deduplication and shared infrastructure can enhance IT efficiency significantly, the numbers will never tell the story alone. A critical skill for the reseller today is the ability to not only recognise and assess the benefits and compatibility of a technology but alsothe conversation that sells it to the C-Suite.For example, an IT benefit from greater storage efficiency may be around less over-provisioning. The business story however, is around greater business agility. Less over-provisioning reduces physically allocated storage but the business benefits include budget savings and related savings in data centre space, power and cooling requirements. With capital expenditure freed up and a reduction in fixed costs, IT departments can then concentrate budget toward revenue growing areas, rather than storage purchase.Similarly, reduced downtime through optimisation technologies like deduplication eases the burden on IT staff and removes data administration bottlenecks. This can reduce the need to hire additional staff and improve their productivity, which is a compelling proposition for any organisation.Finally, part of the conversation on IT efficiency is asking the right questions. How are the top businesses measuring and monitoring themselves to achieve the best business results? Where can your organisation improve so that the IT department can better meet the needs of your business, reduce costs and make your life easier? Use these questions toconversations with key decision makers accordingly.Data proliferation and change in IT are constants businesses need to manage. While harnessing information growth is near impossible, identifying and correcting inefficiency in the data centre is an achievable and accessible goal the channel should advise on. In today’s competitive business environment the reseller who understands the business problem, asks the right questions, and tells the efficiency story effectively will be the one who succeeds.