Managing data growth: Nine tips for mid-market organisations

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Managing data growth: Nine tips for mid-market organisations

Small and medium sized businesses (SMBs) across Australia are struggling to manage data growth and storage costs.

While storage requirements for these companies are similar to that of larger enterprises, SMBs tend to have limited resources. This is especially so in Australia, where SMBs are smaller than their U.S. and European counterparts.

Unfortunately, many SMBs tend to view storage as either a risky or time-consuming exercise that is a necessary evil for large, not small business. To save money and time, many SMBs respond to growing data by simply investing in more storage capacity. This may fix problems in the short-term, but result in an expensive, inefficient and difficult to manage storage environment in the long run.

A more cost efficient and strategic approach would be for SMBs to classify their data according to its business value and then introduce a simple, tiered storage infrastructure. This will ensure that the most important business applications achieve optimal performance because they are supported by the best storage platform. In turn, less important data is stored on lower performance, inexpensive media.

Here are nine tips for consideration.

1. Start straight away

With limited headcount and resources, many SMBs focus their energies on sustaining and growing the business. Issues like managing storage often take a back seat. The truth is, the sooner they start, the easier it will be and the faster they will benefit from cost efficiencies that follow.

2. Align applications with the right storage tier

As the first and most simple step towards data classification, SMBs should categorise their applications according to their importance to the business and thus assign them to the right storage tier.

In the case of an online bookstore whose revenue-generating web application makes the most significant contribution to the business, clearly this application should be allocated the highest level of storage. The HR application, while important, is less business-critical in this instance and should therefore be assigned to a lower tier of storage.

3. Assign SLAs in consultation with the business

SMBs that are ready to take a more advanced approach should apply service level agreements (SLAs) to the performance of their applications. SLAs are critical to business continuity as they are designed to minimise the amount of data loss or downtime a company will suffer in the event of a corruption or other significant problem.

Because SLAs represent a ‘contract’ between the IT team and other departments within the company, they must be developed in partnership with the rest of the business.

Without this consultative process the IT department may not realise the importance of some applications to the running of the company.

The more business-critical an application, the more stringent and demanding the SLA should be. Following on from point two, this will dictate which tier of storage it should be assigned to; the more demanding an application’s SLA, the higher performance of storage required.

4. Classify data attached to applications

The next step is to analyse the data attached to each individual application, and assign value according to its age and importance.

For example, a record of a financial transaction is very valuable to a company when it is a day old. However, when it is 20 days old and hasn’t been accessed for a week, its value to the company is much less.

At this point, a company may want to assign it to a lower tier of storage. This level of data classification is becoming increasingly complex and requires the application of policies, which the SMB may consider working with a storage vendor to develop.

5. Minimise the number of tiers

Three tiers of storage should be enough for most SMBs. Tier one represents the premium storage, providing the best availability, reliability and performance to applications. The most important applications with the most demanding SLAs should use this storage.

Tier two, or mid-tier storage, is less expensive and provides lower performance.

Tier Three represents the lowest-cost, volume storage devices and will be used for data that is accessed least or has least value to the organisation. This is the domain of back-ups and archiving.

6. Spend system management time appropriately

When the tiered storage infrastructure is up and running, system administrators should ensure they are spending at least 50 percent of their storage management time on the top tier - ensuring the best possible service for the end-users.

Around 40 percent of their time should be allocated to the mid-tier and just 10 percent to the lowest storage tier.

7. Focus on the long-term benefits

Many SMBs postpone the adoption of a tiered infrastructure because they worry about the cost of implementation, potential problems and service degradation. However, if properly planned and managed, the adoption of a tiered storage system will aid smoother running down the track, including time and cost savings.

8. Cost considerations

Most of today’s SMBs will still be looking to consolidate their data in one form or another. This could vary from server-based data consolidation to consolidation of data from direct attached storage (DAS) or even from SAN islands (Storage Attached Networks).

All three different profiles must address acquisition costs which may include the initial cost of hardware for a SAN infrastructure or the cost of manipulating the existing infrastructure where the cost of managing the data must match the value of that level of data.

The cost of acquisition versus ongoing management costs needs to be considered carefully. Be weary of a storage management system that is not feature rich and where valuable time and money will be eaten up by ongoing management costs.

Look at the long-term benefits of what an early investment into a flexible storage management system will bring to you over the burden of having to manually manage ever-expanding data at a later date.

9. Understand legal responsibilities

The current business environment poses increasing challenges with complex regulatory and corporate governance requirements. However, these need to be adhered to since the risk and exposure to fines and penalties have also grown as businesses face increasing scrutiny from government regulators and legal entities.

SMBs should make sure they know their legal responsibilities, and adapt their tiered storage infrastructure to ensure they can store and protect information for the required period. They must also be able to search for, restore and retrieve this information in response to an audit.

Tim Smith is Marketing Manager at Hitachi Data Systems
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