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The State of Today's Data Center

Challenges and Opportunities

By Sean Derrington and Marty Ward

Data center managers are caught between a rock and a hard place. They are expected to do more than ever—including protecting rapidly expanding volumes of data and a growing number of mission-critical applications, managing highly complex and wildly heterogeneous environments, meeting more challenging service level agreements (SLAs), and implementing a variety of emerging "green" business initiatives.

And, they are expected to do it with less than ever—including fewer qualified staff and less-than-robust budgets. In fact, according to the 2008 State of the Data Center survey conducted by Applied Research, reducing costs is by far the highest key objective of data center managers today, followed by improving service levels and improving responsiveness. In other words, IT organizations are indeed laboring to do more with less.

The good news? A growing number of creative data center managers are using a variety of cost-containment strategies that capitalize on heterogeneity to increase IT efficiency and maximize existing resources while keeping costs under control. At the foundation of these solutions is a single layer of infrastructure software that supports all major applications, databases, processors, and storage and server hardware platforms.

By leveraging various technologies and processes across this infrastructure, IT organizations can better protect information and applications, enhance data center service levels, improve storage and server utilization, manage physical and virtual environments, and drive down capital and operational costs.

Increasing IT Efficiency
In IT organizations around the world, staffing remains a challenge. According to the State of the Data Center report, 38 percent of organizations are understaffed while only four percent are overstaffed. Moreover, 43 percent of organizations report that finding qualified applications is a very big issue—a problem that is exacerbated when dealing with multiple data centers.

While 45 percent of organizations respond by outsourcing some IT tasks, a number of equally effective alternatives are also available. The most common of these strategies, used by 42 percent of organizations, is to increase automation of routine tasks. This not only reduces costs but also frees IT to address more strategic initiatives.

Storage Management
A growing number of heterogeneous storage management tools automate daily and repetitive storage tasks, including RAID reconfiguration, defragmentation, file system resizing, and volume resizing. With advanced capabilities such as centralized storage management, online configuration and administration, dynamic storage tiering, dynamic multi-pathing, data migration, and local and remote replication, these solutions enable organizations to reduce both operational and capital costs across the data center.

Furthermore, agentless storage change management tools are emerging that enable a centralized, policy-driven approach to handling storage changes and configuration drift to help reduce operational costs while requiring minimal deployment and ongoing maintenance effort.

High Availability/Disaster Recovery
High availability solutions such as clustering tools can also streamline efficiency by monitoring the status of applications and automatically moving them to another server in the event of a fault. These high availability solutions detect faults in an application and all its dependent components, then gracefully and automatically shut down the application, restart it on an available server, connecting it to the appropriate storage devices, and resuming normal operations.

For disaster recovery purposes, these clustering tools can be combined with replication technologies to completely automate the process of replication management and application startup without the need for complicated manual recovery procedures involving storage and application administrators. These high availability and disaster recovery solutions also ensure increased administrator efficiency by providing a single tool for managing both physical and virtual environments.

Data Protection
Next-generation data protection can also be used to reduce the operational costs of protecting and archiving data as well as to meet internal SLAs and external governance requirements. With automated, unified data protection and recovery management tools that are available from a single console and work across a heterogeneous physical and virtual environment, organizations can maximize IT efficiency. A number of these tools provide for additional efficiencies through capabilities such as continuous data protection, advanced recovery of critical applications, data archiving and retention, and service-level management and compliance.

Maximizing Resources
In addition to containing costs through increased IT efficiency, organizations are also implementing a variety of technology approaches—from virtualization and storage management to high availability tools and "green IT" practices—to make better use of existing hardware resources.

Virtualization
Server and storage virtualization can be used to improve utilization of existing hardware, thereby obviating the need to buy additional resources. According to the State of the Data Center survey, 31 percent of organizations are using server virtualization and 22 percent are using storage virtualization as part of their cost-containment strategies.

Of course, because virtualization introduces complexity into the IT infrastructure, organizations looking to fully realize the benefits of this technology while driving down capital costs are advised to also implement a management framework that provides architectural flexibility and supports multiple virtualization platforms as well as physical environments.

Storage Management
While storage capacity continues to grow, storage is often underutilized. To make better use of storage resources, organizations can leverage storage management technologies. Storage resource management (SRM), for example, enables IT to gain the visibility into their storage environment, understand what applications are connected to each storage resource and exactly how much of the storage is actually being used by the application. Once this level of understanding is obtained organizations can make an informed decision about how to reclaim underutilized storage and be used to predict future capacity requirements. 71% of respondents indicated they are exploring SRM solutions.

In addition, thin provisioning can be used to improve storage capacity utilization. Storage arrays enable capacity to be easily allocated to servers on a just-enough and just-in-time basis.

High Availability
Clustering solutions that support a variety of operating systems, physical and virtual servers, as well as a wide range of heterogeneous hardware configurations provide an effective strategy for maximizing resource utilization. With these solutions, IT can consolidate workloads running on underutilized hardware onto a smaller number of machines.

Green IT Practices
Among the various strategies for meeting green IT directives are server virtualization and data deduplication. Data deduplication can decrease the overhead associated with holding multiple copies of the same data by identifying common data and reducing copies to a single entity. This, in turn, can have a dramatic impact on the amount of disk storage required for archiving purposes as well as the number of disks required for backup purposes. Seventy percent of respondents indicated they are considering implementing data deduplication in their efforts to maximize storage efficiency.

The challenges data center managers face today will likely continue as they are called upon to help their organizations meet budgetary requirements while delivering critical services with fewer personnel and limited IT resources. By leveraging technologies and processes that increase IT efficiency and maximize existing resources, IT can effectively do more with less now and into the future. BTE

Sean Derrington is director of storage management and high availability, Symantec Corp. (www.symantec.com). Marty Ward is senior director of product marketing, Data Protection Group, Symantec Corp. Symantec Corp. is a global leader in security, storage ,and systems management solutions to help consumers and organizations secure and manage their information-driven world.

February2009, Business TechEdge

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