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Four Guidelines for Tackling 1000% Annual Storage Growth

In the past two months I have probably received more calls from end-users inquiring as to what steps they should take to re-architect their backup infrastructures than I have in the past two years.  Yet what I find encouraging is that they are no longer just asking me for point solutions or short term fixes. Rather they are looking for architectures that they can put in place that will solve their immediate pain points while leaving them well-positioned for the future.

This change in emphasis was well articulated in one such call that I received from an IT manager of a West Coast university. A little over a year ago he had implemented a new backup solution with the expectation that it would meet his university’s data protection needs for the foreseeable future. But less than a year later he has seen 1000% growth on his production storage and more than 4000% growth in his data protection environment.

But rather than running out to purchase yet another short-term solution, this time he and the entire university are taking a step back and re-evaluating how best to proceed. They recognize that the world of IT is changing (perhaps permanently) and the old ways of doing things (which were new as recently as a decade ago) no longer are the right fit for his environment.

This IT manager then went on to tell me that a major contributor to storage growth in his environment has been the proliferation of the storage of media files (MPEG, JPG, WAV, etc) by the users he supports. More than 50% of the data that he is responsible for managing is in this format as nearly all of his users capture and store this type of data with mobile devices (iPods, iPads, smart phones, netbooks and laptops) that are universally utilized by almost everyone that he supports.

He is also preparing for another new wave of storage demand as the adoption of server virtualization accelerates in his environment. While the university is already using Citrix XenServer for many of its application servers, deploying virtual desktops for all of its students is on the university’s radar screen which will result in it needing even more networked storage and an appropriate data protection solution.

So how am I going to recommend the university proceed? Right now it is still too early for me to make any recommendations as we are still in discussions. I am still learning about the university’s environment and what it plans to accomplish while the university is tapping me as to what new technologies are available and how these new technologies create new possibilities that it had not previously considered.

But as we talk, it is curious how our early discussions are reminiscent of the strategy that Symantec’s Information Management Group (IMG) announced this past spring at Symantec Vision. In a nutshell, Symantec is giving its customers four guidelines for managing storage growth: (1) Protect completely; (2) Deduplicate everywhere; (3) Delete confidently; and, (4) Discover efficiently; and then aligning its solutions to deliver on them.

These principles will certainly come into play as I continue talking with this university as to how it should best proceed. Consider:

  • The university wants to protect all of its data regardless if it is a table in a database, a video on a file server, a snapshot of a virtual server image or an object in an archive. However delivering complete data protection means different things in these different contexts. Protecting and recovering a production database may call for the deployment of continuous data protection technology in order provide the granularity of protection and the recovery time that the database needs. Conversely, daily snapshots of virtual server images may be the most appropriate and cost-effective way to protect and recovery these images.
  • Deduplication will certainly have a role in this environment but it must be implemented with great care. Deduplicating production file stores may actually be a mistake in this environment because it is storing so many media files. However deduplicating these files when they are backed up certainly makes sense or, possibly even better yet, first archiving these files and then deduplicating them in the archive may be the right approach.
  • Deleting data is possibly another objective that this university may want to accomplish. Odds are that the university does not need to keep all of its backups forever, especially if they happen to be keeping full weekly backups for a year or longer. Just modifying this practice to only keeping these backups for 30 days can reduce their backup data stores and even their legal liabilities substantially.

But before it can delete one byte of data, it has to understand and document what types of files its students and faculties have stored and what current or potential value that they may represent to the university. For instance, it may seem logical to want to delete an entire student’s directory of movies. However, suppose those movies are part of a documentary he is working on as part of a research project. Then deleting them without knowing what short or long term purpose they serve is less than a good idea.

Alternatively, if they cannot definitely decide if the data can be deleted, they may want to archive it using a solution like Symantec’s Enterprise Vault. This may include data from file servers, faculty and staff email or employee and student records

  • The university will have a hard time effectively executing on any of these objectives until it knows exactly what data it has and the perceived value (or risk) that keeping the data presents to the university. This means it has to be smart about the information in its possession so it will ideally need to distinguish between what data is needed for recovery and which it merely needs to retain.

To accomplish this, the university should have a mechanism that can discover and document the data that it is managing so it can plan for future growth as well as make decisions as to what data to keep and what data to delete. This should also enable to know which other storage technologies to deploy (such as deduplication) so it can become more efficient in its storage management, reduce its storage consumption and save real dollars.

The struggles that this university is having with its data and storage growth are likely symptomatic of what many other organizations are starting to see or are already experiencing. Perhaps what is most telling is that many of the old standards for measuring data and storage growth as well as approaches for managing data and storage have to minimally be modified or possibly even thrown out because today’s world is so much more dynamic than environments of the past.
A turnkey solution that I could present to this university that would solve all of its problems would certainly be ideal but is probably not realistic. A more practical approach is to follow the four guidelines outlined above. As I see it, the only way for the university to ensure that it has the right combination of products for all of the different challenges it faces is to take a multi-faceted approach and then to use a combination of solutions from a provider such as Symantec to meet them.


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