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Making sense of storage management

Researchers develop automated systems


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It's not just making the storage system perform well. It has to be reliable, compliant with regulations and able to distinguish different types of data.

By John Cameron -- Sept. 2006

Desktops, laptops, servers and data centers are packed with data, and the amount stored is growing at a staggering rate. In 2005, hard disk manufacturers shipped 30 exabytes; that's enough to store three million days of HD video or all the words ever spoken by humans – times six. With the explosive growth of online multimedia -- particularly video -- that number is forecast to double in less than three years.

The problem isn't keeping up with demand for capacity or paying for the raw drives. Increases in recording density and intense competition among manufacturers mean the price-per-gigabyte of disk drives is falling by 30 to 50 percent each year.

The real challenge is managing storage systems to provide fast, accurate access to active data, secure storage of proprietary data, and reliable access to vast amounts of archived data -- all while minimizing the loss of business-critical data to hardware failures or human error.

Storage management is increasingly making up a larger part of storage-related IT budgets. Declining costs for storage infrastructure are being offset by steadily rising administration costs, as enterprises hire more – and more experienced – staff to oversee ballooning storage assets.

Automating storage management

Just as in other fields of infrastructure management, taking human work out of the system reduces the likelihood of problems, speeds responses to issues, and helps control costs. In addition, automated storage management has the potential to increase businesses' agility by handing any changes to the storage infrastructure in minutes instead of weeks.

"It's just too much for people to handle. You have to get machines to do it for you," says Alistair Veitch, who leads a team of HP researchers working to automate storage management.

One of the first steps in making this happen, he says, is to establish goals for data storage. For example, how long are documents to be kept before deleting or archiving, and what standards for storage and archiving do you have to comply with?

These standards may include internal goals as well as government regulations such as those in the U.S. Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act and the U.S. PATRIOT Act, as well as numerous other industry, agency, state and international requirements. Administrators also need to implement mechanisms to ensure that there is sufficient data and/or document redundancy to provide backup in the event of a failure, but no more than is necessary for that purpose, since additional redundancy leads to wasted capacity and version control problems.

Managing storage more efficiently

HP Labs, HP's central research facility, is developing better ways to access and manage data and information, as well as managing the storage infrastructure that makes it all possible.

Researchers are taking a multi-pronged approach to the problem, attacking everything from management of the low-level infrastructure to information lifecycle management (ILM), which considers every aspect of the life of enterprise data, breaking it down into creation, operational (actively reviewed and modified), transitional (occasionally accessed) and records management (archiving) phases.

"It's not just making the storage system perform well," says Veitch. "We need to make it reliable and compliant with regulations. It has to be able to distinguish different types of data. There are a huge range of problems to be solved."

Making your data work for you

ILM systems don't just save storage costs and automate discovery. They also create opportunities for businesses to locate and manage information assets by business value, enabling greater alignment between business and IT.

HP Labs researchers are going beyond current rules-based systems to build storage systems that understand the types of storage options, and then use smart classification of data to seamlessly and automatically migrate documents between tiers, all while ensuring that compliance and regulatory goals are met.

Researchers are also exploring ways to reduce administrative complexity (and more importantly, the time taken for what should be routine tasks) by automating the entire provisioning process. A sophisticated suite of software tools can determine a complete storage system design, given only business goals. Using this software, system architects can design new systems or evaluate and troubleshoot existing ones in a fraction of the time, and be more certain that their solutions are correct.

All this research -- and the products and developments that result -- is part of HP Labs' goal of ensuring that business determines the shape of IT solutions, and not the other way around.

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