Making the Most of Storage

Storage Management
Making the Most of Storage
Effective storage management requires the right technology tools combined with information management practices to optimize space, safeguard data, and reduce costs

By Cara Garretson

Managing stored data is one of this biggest IT issues facing the federal government today. As the amount of data that agencies collect steadily grows, so does the size of the files stored, as formats that house video, audio, and geospatial information are becoming more common. The result is not only a growing need to safeguard this data, but also to be able to search, secure, archive, and recover data according to agency needs and regulatory requirements.

“The government has some of the biggest needs for data storage of any industry for a number of reasons,” says Shawn McCarthy, research director with IDC Government Insights. “One is the retention laws that dictate the amount of data agencies must collect. Two is a lot of this stuff is very data-intensive; images, video feeds, sensor data from street lights, that type of information doesn’t always need to be stored long term, but it is still another issue. So how you store it and how easy it is to access it becomes a long-term architectural requirement, and it’s huge in government.”

In addition, outfitting an organization with enough storage space for today, along with room to grow for tomorrow, has become an expensive proposition. According to Mark Weber, president of storage vendor NetApp’s U.S. Public Sector division, storage costs have risen to comprise 40 to 50 percent of a typical organization’s IT capital budget. Meanwhile, organizations on average use only 20 percent of their traditional storage capacity, leaving 80 percent of capacity as ‘white space’ that’s waiting for data to be stored on it, he says.

A number of storage management technologies are available today to help manage stored data, while also reducing infrastructure costs and data-center staffing expenses. Some of those technologies are:

• Cloud Storage: offers a means for agencies to reduce the amount of expensive storage devices required on-site while only paying for the amount of storage they need off site, thanks to flexible payment options offered by cloud service providers. Federal agencies are advised to first put non-essential data in the cloud to test the reliability of their chosen providers and achieve a level of comfort among agency executives who may be concerned with the safety and privacy of data;

• Storage Virtualization: allows agencies to repurpose existing, heterogeneous storage platforms by putting intelligence in front of them that lets administrators manage technology from different vendors in a homogenous way, while also optimizing storage space;

• Storage Efficiency Technologies: products that provide data deduplication, cloning, replication, and thin provisioning are helping agencies save costs and headaches by minimizing the amount of data that must be stored to disk, while also preventing under-utilization.

Data Disciplines
In addition to key storage management technologies designed to help reduce administration and save costs, agencies implementing information management practices that dictate upfront planning for where different types and levels of data should be stored will see additional benefits. These include practices such as Information Lifecycle Management (ILM), a set of strategies for managing storage systems with policies dictated by business goals and drivers. These policies help organizations distinguish critical data from non-critical data, and map a storage strategy to those rankings that keeps information that’s highly sensitive or accessed often on the most expensive tier of storage, while moving less-critical or archived information to cheaper technology.

Such forethought can help support mission goals and enable agencies to make the most of the data they have.

“Sometimes agencies don’t think through how they’re going to manage all of the information that they store according to a set of business rules and expectations,” says Ray Bjorklund, senior vice president and Chief Knowledge Officer at FedSources, a market intelligence group. “When it comes to intelligence information, for example, you’re talking about information transformed into knowledge transformed into intelligence – getting the right information at the right time requires a set of business rules.”