Storage Management in the New Millenium

Storage is getting cheaper, and content more voluminous in these days of Web 2.0 and regulatory compliance. The more storage, the more necessary it becomes to manage that storage. That's why Microsoft and third-party vendors are working overtime to produce new storage management solutions for business. They've come a long way since the days of tape backup, and the innovations are continuing.

Jason Buffington, senior technical product manager at Microsoft's nascent Windows Storage Solutions Division, said storage management services and technology are a huge priority in Redmond. And he believes the release later this month of System Center Data Protection Manager 2007 (DPM 2007) is part of that innovation.

DPM 2007 is specifically built to save time and organize data, by helping protect data from a security standpoint and recover data from applications such as SQL Server, Exchange Server, SharePoint Portal Server, Virtual Server and Windows file services. DPM, according to Buffington, can perform large recovery jobs in minutes rather than the hours or even days it would normally take.

"It's about prioritization more than anything for both IT generalists and specialists," Buffington said. "When we talked to customers, channel partners and administrators, the unifying theme was data storage and how to manage the Microsoft applications workload in the context of both saving and pulling data."

With the release of DPM, Buffington said Microsoft wants the product to give database administrators and IT pros a leg up in tagging relevant and pertinent data for continuous backups, making that data easier to call up.

To achieve that aim, one major feature is DPM's deployed agents that can be sent to remote file servers to seek out, flag and then send important data back to the central data center where it can be more securely stored centrally.

But as with all products and services, once the implementation is in place, management, both IT and otherwise, must decide how to use and apply mission critical data -- assuming they can find it.

Buffington said most of the data that needs to be retrieved for the average enterprise on a given day is usually less than 30 days old. "In that sense, wide-ranging backups won't do anyone any good if people can't find what they're looking for."

Popcorn, Movies and Bruce Willis
To many IT professionals, storage management can be akin to buying popcorn in bulk and bringing home scores of DVD movies, storing them both in a large pantry for later use. The problem is that popcorn can get stale and one never knows whether they'll be in the mood for an action movie or a romantic comedy.

"Before you know it, you can have popcorn everywhere, movies stacked everywhere and your pantry's full. With data you don't want that messy pantry," said Tom Mackowski, vice president for digital product management at Boston-based Iron Mountain.

Digital storage management is a major directive for Iron Mountain, which manages 9 Perabytes -- 9 quadrillion bytes -- of data for more than 4,000 corporate clients. Iron Mountain is in talks with Microsoft about how Redmond's soon-to-be released DPM technology will be able to mesh with Iron Mountain's bevy of services.

There are many areas to consider when approaching the task of creating and maintaining a sound IT storage environment. Mackowski said cubic foot or cubic inch -- high bytes or low bytes -- are less important than the organization of that data.

"Whether you're talking physical space like a file or server room, logical space in terms of disk drive and CPU memory, you need to figure out how to take the whole data flow, migration and managment process, that big collection of disparate data, and redact it as you would any information."

Kevin Kline, technical strategy manager for SQL Server Solutions Group at Aliso Viejo, Calif.-based Quest Software, suggests a "tiered" data storage approach.

Kline believes IT managers should take a page out of the mainframe book in terms of a monolithic and centralized storage structure, while simultaneously spreading storage over multiple technological and physical geographies.

"So you take your stuff off site long term just in case a meteor hits your office and Bruce Willis isn't there to save you," he said. "Then you have your more periodic compliance (Sarbanes-Oxley, HIPAA) data that you back up and make accessible. Then you have your day-to-day data and it should be sectioned off like that."

Federal, State and Local Data
At El Segundo, Calif.-based Fetch Technologies, Inc. the old school (central storage) and the new school (virtual database) merge in terms of data storage paradigms based on a Web-based platform.

Billing itself as "Google for the enterprise," Fetch employs applications that sit on SQL Server databases and extract and aggregate large volumes of Web data, with no programming required.

Steve Minton, the chief technology officer of Fetch, said the firm is working on a Windows Server compatible program that will warehouse data that can be used in real time and accessed on an as-needed basis.

"Collaboration is more and more important as people are looking at storage in terms of the sum of many parts," Minton said. "With a virtual database, everything is not stored locally but you can also still have physical tape and disk storage as well as remote server storage that could be run offsite by another company and communicate with your data center."

For its part, Microsoft likes being able to elicit productivity through the strength of the myriad alternatives inherent in shared data and shared risk.

"We want to give administrators a choice with this product on how they want to customize their Windows environment," Microsoft's Buffington said. "At the same time, we want to be able to create the opportunity to snatch storage from down the hall at the storage guru's office and put responsibility into the hands of the SQL or Exchange guy, the people running the actual applications."

In that vein, DPM will work with storage area networks, high-speed special-purpose networks connecting different kinds of data storage devices with requisite servers for multiple users. It also will be compatible with direct attached storage in the form of physical appliances made by various hardware manufacturers and acting as data recorders that can be stored onsite and offsite.

What's Ahead
Going forward, with more storage capability and availability, the challenge will be data storage implementation and change management, according to Quest's Kline.

He said that with product releases and upgrades streaming out around the clock at Microsoft, many IT managers tend to wait and wait for the "new thing." In the meantime, though, they continue to loop data the same old way.

"Keep data distributed over multiple channels at all times and beware of the mindset of the 'cool' guy with the new cell phone that promises to be the cure-all," Kline added. "[Microsoft] is full of the smartest people you'll ever meet, but they tend to emphasize the cool new gadget or the cool new killer app continually. Change is necessary but can also be disruptive. I say manage that change as you manage that data storage."