Tony Lock, originally published on CRN

The amount of data stored by organisations continues to grow very fast. It has become one of the most important drivers affecting both the architecture and operation of IT systems. It is also clear from our research, however, that managing storage is not an area where many organisations excel. This begs the question: how active will the channel be in encouraging adoption of new storage offerings?

We know from IT professionals that most of the architectural attention is focused – rightly — on the server side of ‘service delivery’, with storage simply supporting what is happening on the server. Especially in SMBs, IT professionals tend to be generalists, so expert storage knowledge can be at a premium.

Until very recently in many organisations, storage was not that high on the agenda, but this is changing. Rapid growth in stored data volumes, coupled with user expectations to be able to access it without limitations, is putting storage infrastructure under stress.

And wave upon wave of new legislation is compelling organisations to retain more data, or delete information according to set rules. Consequently, the cost of data storage and management is becoming more and more visible in the IT budget.

Many companies are faced with the key questions of how to keep the cost of their storage use under control while the data volumes generated ramp up, and how to ensure that users can find key information in a convenient and timely manner.

Time for action

So it is not surprising that recent developments in storage management solutions have become increasingly prominent. For storage management, the ‘do nothing’ era is coming to an end.

The exact moment for a company to revisit its approach to storage management will vary. The tipping point, when making changes becomes economically favourable, is hard to judge, given that the breakdown of storage costs, especially operational costs, is still somewhat opaque.

More strategic storage decisions are likely to part of a bigger review of infrastructure spending unless some external, usually regulatory, factors intervene to spark a change of approach.

So what solutions could be of interest? Storage virtualisation and thin provisioning, archiving and data deduplication are all tools which may be useful in certain scenarios. The challenge for many SMBs will be to work out which solutions fit their own circumstances, especially given the aforementioned lack of storage skills in house. If the basics of storage expertise are not present, it is quite a leap to expect such organisations to have the know-how to adopt more advanced storage.

Consider storage virtualisation, for example. While many mid-market organisations may have virtualised their x86 servers to some extent, they may not have embarked upon any storage virtualisation.

In many ways, if organisations already have some understanding of server virtualisation it will be easier for them to relate to the potential benefits of storage virtualisation. These include consolidation, resource use optimisation, increased availability, and resilience coupled with the ability to manipulate and protect data more flexibly and effectively.

However, the IT community generally has only a limited understanding of such capabilities. Who is going to educate the markets? So far most of the storage management vendors have done a less than effective job of marketing and evangelising their tools, especially with respect to highlighting potential uses and achievable business benefits.

Until the vendors get better at such primary education, there is an obvious opportunity for the channel. The need for sophisticated storage management is growing in small and mid-market companies, but they are crying out for someone to explain, position and deliver it.

While firms of storage specialists exist, it will be interesting to monitor how the broader channel community tackles storage management in coming months, and years.

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