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Costs Drop, But Business' Storage Strategies Still Fail

It's no secret that storage costs are dropping. But cheaper prices aren't leading to smarter storage strategies -- and companies are still overspending, according to one recent study.

A report from Compass America found enterprises fail to capitalize on falling storage costs and often wind up paying more than necessary.

"Having the business assume that they can store all their data forever on high-cost, high-performance storage is not realistic or cost-effective," report author Cindy LaChapelle, a senior consultant at Compass, told InternetNews.com.

[cob:Pull_Quote]That conclusion comes even as high-end and midrange storage hit some of their lowest price points to date.

According to Compass, the annual hardware cost of per-gigabyte mainframe disk storage went from $90 in 2002 to $15 in 2007. The group expects that trend to continue, cutting per-GB prices to less than $10 by 2011.

Compass also said yearly midrange disk storage cost $82 per GB in 2002 -- now down to less than $10 last year as well.

Instead of making the most of the situation, many enterprises are inefficiently "throwing technology" into place as a reactive approach to regulatory, legal, e-discovery and security challenges, the study found.

"In many instances, the result is a sprawl environment that creates a complex, disconnected, redundant or underused storage infrastructure," the study said.

The optimal approach requires crafting a solid storage strategy that will let enterprises reap economical efficiency as well as good management efficiencies, said LaChapelle.

The chief hurdle facing businesses is a solid understanding on the useful life cycle of data, she said. "There is no formula to follow on this, and that seems to be the major stumbling block."

To gain a better grasp on their storage strategy, enterprises must assess their business needs, establish policies and define controls on service, availability and processes.

That's easier said than done, LaChapelle warned. Defining controls, for instance, enterprises to dig deep into its actual data usage to understand how best to manage it.

For example, corporate users typically access e-mail messages and attachments repeatedly following their being created or sent. But after two to three weeks, a user becomes unlikely to refer to an earlier e-mail or attachment -- making archiving a smart option for weeks-old e-mailed data.

"What this does is match the cost, performance, and availability of the storage used for the data set to the life cycle for the particular data type," LaChapelle said.

But life cycle knowledge certainly isn't the only element thwarting good strategy development, LaChapelle said.

[cob:Related_Articles]She said most organizations that embark on a strategy often tangle with overcoming deep-seated practices and business culture issues.

"Enterprises have to move from a very reactive mode to a more proactive mode, and that's not easy," LaChapelle said. "Setting effective service-level agreements (SLA) and metrics for reporting on SLAs isn't quick and easy."

"You also have to build effective communication with business units because that's a critical element to good storage planning," she said.

Learning to make storage decisions on a project-by-project basis -- rather taking homogeneous view of business needs -- also trips up enterprise storage deployments, the report found.

Other common mistakes enterprises make is focusing more on technology rather than actual requirements, failing to consider scalability, and believing an outsourced solution can magically fix every issue.

"Organizations need to start thinking about storage strategically," LaChapelle said. "It is not about hardware, it is about the business-critical data that resides on it."

Getting that perspective and ensuring that even first-stage planning proves effective also means enterprises need to elevate storage concerns to an appropriately high level in the business.

"It has to be a joint commitment between the CIO and CFO/CEO," LaChapelle said. "Setting storage strategies in isolation of the business requirements and business strategy leads to a disconnect between IT and business."

"Data plays a key role in any business," she added.