The IT challenges faced by any growing enterprise are numerous ? not the least of which have to do with decisions around storage. From HMRC and Nationwide to the scaling issues faced by web powerhouses like Facebook, proper application and data management has emerged as a central issue for businesses and consumers alike. And like many of the ?hot' debates in the world of technology today, storage considerations fall mainly into two camps: in-house and on-premise versus off-site and hosted.
Hosted storage solutions come in several forms: from virtualised, web-based services (Amazon Web Services, etc.), to brand name NAS and SAN disk arrays held in a colocation facility, to commodity disk drives sitting under a proprietary software layer (part of the recent wave in blade server technology).
In-house solutions on the other hand can be of the internally developed commodity server school, but more often than not, we're speaking of highly specialised and efficient NAS and SAN boxes from the likes of Pillar Data Systems, EMC or HP.
And depending on the nature or maturity of your business and storage requirements, one or the other will likely be better suited to your needs. The question is, where should this decision-making process begin? What considerations need to be taken into account and what are the most important questions to be asking?
Storage to date
For the purposes of this discussion, we'll be exploring the active, dynamic aspects of enterprise storage. The practice of data back-up, albeit alive and well, by definition does not possess the same requirements for speed and flexibility that application-related storage solutions do. This guide will examine the storage requirements of core applications in the workplace, and the variety of on-premise and hosted solutions most appropriate.
As applications continue to scale in sophistication, incorporating multimedia components, online and offline elements and a level of interactivity previously unseen, data usage patterns are on the move. Mounting volumes of digital content ? approaching half an exabyte created daily globally ? have required organisations to think differently about storage.
There are six primary considerations to be made before incorporating any storage solution. They include:
1) application type
2) speed and latency issues
3) uptime and availability
4) data safety and ownership
5) total cost of ownership (TCO)
6) potential for future growth
And as all modern storage solutions follow the lead of increasingly dynamic software applications, any discussion of storage must start there.
Whether running a simple Exchange server or crunching through mountains of financial data, all storage considerations start with the nature of the application it's meant to support. And naturally, some are better suited to specific solutions than others. Email servers for instance, have proven exceptionally well suited to off-site hosting ? while mission critical, they don't necessarily require intense processing power or up to the second responsiveness. Some types of administrative file servers and CRM applications can also prove to be a good fit for remote, turnkey alternatives.
Speed and latency
On-premise, in-house solutions on the other hand, are inherently better suited to deal with lightning fast processing and significant volumes of data. IT managers looking for an extra level of sophistication in processing power, can opt for an Application Aware storage system. Smart, fast and flexible, Application Aware systems dynamically gauge the user patterns and caching behaviours of each supported application, optimising data layouts and boosting performance and speed. These systems are largely onsite solutions.
Uptime, availability and data sensitivity
In a conversation marked by balance and careful assessment of pros and cons, issues of uptime, availability and data sensitivity fall squarely in favour of on-premise systems. Despite significant advancements in the uptime and availability of hosted, on-demand solutions, they will likely never reach the level of security enjoyed by those with well-managed in-house storage systems. To whom might this be of most importance to? Drug companies, healthcare providers and financial services companies are just a start.
Cost of deployment
Deploying a new application can be as simple as flipping a switch, or as difficult as building and maintaining a complex network architecture. Both have different cost specific that have to be taken into account. With an initial capital outlay, in-house based storage systems are inherently pricier. Compounding this fact are space, cooling, maintenance and energy considerations that contribute to the overall total cost of ownership.
That said, there are key factors that can dramatically lower in-house deployment costs. Storage has traditionally been deployed on an application-by-application basis, with as many bespoke storage systems as applications in the enterprise. Those days are gone. An Application Aware approach has allowed for the apportioning of a single unit to serve all the applications of an enterprise. Additionally, these systems have made exceptional strides in energy efficiency, requiring dramatically less space, energy and cooling as in years past.
Potential for future growth
Central to this conversation also includes the forward trajectory of the company, and an anticipation of its future needs. Hosted storage solutions often make solid economic sense for small to intermediate sized organisations with little recourse on whether to invest in a sophisticated and scalable IT architecture. Internally managed on-premise solutions on the other hand, require greater capital outlay but will ultimately provide a more stable technical infrastructure on which to scale. Any smaller company with aspirations to grow should consider carefully the decision to outsource a huge chunk of IT needs to a hosted provider.
Recent years have found the IT media all abuzz with talk of storage virtualisation, cloud computing and a move away from legacy infrastructure. And while dynamically hosted solutions make an exceptionally good business decision for specific applications in specific instances, the sheer speed, performance, reliability and privacy of on-premise solutions will never find a surrogate. Ultimately, IT managers and business unit heads alike need to think strategically about the range of applications helping keep their organisation competitive, and make informed decisions as to the future of each. There is a time and a place for both hosted and on-premise solutions, and it's about striking a healthy balance between the two.
Tags: Cloud Storage, Compliance, Deduplication, Disk/RAID/Tape/SSDs, Tiered Storage, BC/DR