What comes after books?

I recently received a Sony eReader [PRS-505] from Mrs. PL and PL Junior for Father’s Day and, knowing me as you probably do by now, I love gadgets and anything technical that will help me save time.  However, I must admit that I was incredibly sceptical when I received the eReader at first.  Now, I had read more than one article which pitted the Sony eReader against the Amazon Kindle and other like devices …but not matter how greatly improved they said the electronic ‘ink’ is which comprises the secret sauce of these eBook readers, I am very much in love with the visceral experience of reading a traditional paper book.  The sound of the pages turning, the smell of the paper, the different fonts each publisher chooses to use, the sense of accomplishment of looking at a 900 page tome and thinking ‘I read that!’ …not easily replicated in the world of eBooks.  I know what you’re saying …but you’re a data guy!  You are constantly banging on about how to increase efficiencies with storage!  Yep, I know …all arguments that Mrs. PL had used with me before when she tried to convert me to the ways of the eReader.

More than that, Mrs. PL also likes to read …a lot …and between the pair of us I suppose I have lost sight of just how cluttered our house has become with books we’ve read.  Always happy to lend or give to a friend, would never dream of throwing a book out.  Throwing away a book is tantamount to sacrilege in both Mrs. PL and my extended families, but I think the warning signs that we had too many books to be sustainable came when we contemplated building PL Junior’s cot out of used books [but you could use a hardening shellac to make the pillars from old hardbacks!] and Mrs. PL looking at five bedroom houses [we live in a 2.5 bedroom house at the moment in North London] …not because we have other little PL Juniors on the way, sadly, but because Mrs. PL was seriously considering converting a bedroom or two into floor to ceiling library space.

Thankfully Mrs. PL was the realistic and rational of our little tribe and made the leap to the eReader …gave me one for Father’s Day so she could guilt me into using it if needs be …and then proceeded to cull our house of better than 80% of the books we’ve read and don’t need any longer.  Fifty seven black bin bags full of books, at last count.  Has it made a difference?  Who knew that we had a dining room?!

What does this have to do with Storage & Data Protection?

I’ve had the eReader for a little over two weeks know and, truth be told …I love it.  Seriously.  It’s not perfect, and it does have some drawbacks [no native support for my MacBook Air …although I have a cunning workaround!] but being able to download the next ten or more books I want to read to the eReader is hugely useful and doesn’t take up any more space than the physical device does already.  Equally, after having used the device for a while, I am utterly convinced that this is the future for many magazines and newspapers …think about it, instant and automated delivery via your existing home or corporate WiFi connection …the device already knows what you have and haven’t read so it can automatically delete/replace based on your preferences …and all without the clutter of unread/read newspapers and magazines [also a bit of a problem in the Yeager household]!

When it comes to data storage, we have a very similar challenge.  Five or more years ago, heck maybe up to only a year ago …simply adding more storage capacity was an oft pursued storage strategy …and deemed perfectly valid when we had shed loads of cheap datacentre space and power wasn’t an issue.  Indeed, in the heady days before the recession many of our customers had a desperate need to stay ahead of their competition and so adding more capacity was the order of the day …trouble was, much of the capacity that was added was tier one / high end / monolithic / enterprise [however you wish to describe it!] storage.  Now, nothing wrong with this type of storage …but we don’t need it for 100% of our infrastructure!  We know that the average customer environment is comprised of 20% structured data [the important stuff …you know, the data which makes us money!] and 80% unstructured [MP3s, old or duplicate spreadsheets, joke emails …you know, the data which COSTS us money to store!].

I don’t think in the span of my career have I seen customers so evenly split into two camps …those that have run out of space and power due to continued purchase and provisioning of high end enterprise storage alone …and those that will.

Now, our solutions aren’t designed to go in and tell customers ‘you’re doing it all wrong!’ or that you need to ‘rip and replace’ …no, our solutions are designed to save customers money whilst helping them utilise assets they already have.  I wouldn’t dream of ever calling someone’s baby ugly, Mr. Burton!  But how do we articulate our solutions in a way which will resonate?

A few examples for those that know they have a problem NOW:

Problem: I’ve run out of datacentre space, my datacentre power is costing me too much …but I need to find more storage space with a tight budget!  And I have been buying nothing but enterprise storage and/or have more than one storage vendor already!

Solution: Let’s look at storage virtualisation such as HDS USPV or HP XP  to help us consolidate without disrupting the production business…we can create virtual storage pools universally available for our server hosts without needing to worry about what vendor badge the existing storage arrays have …migrate to thin provisioning so we only allocate what we are physically using …and give you in year ROI because we can use Zero Page Reclaim [ZPR] to return 30% or more of their existing allocated storage into usable unallocated storage.  And finally we automate the storage provisioning to greatly reduce ongoing manpower costs. Et voila!  Reduced power, cooling, space, and manpower whilst enabling business innovation to continue!

Problem: I’m running out of datacentre space as I’ve too many servers, my power and cooling for the servers is costing me too much, I can’t afford to hire more administrators to look after more servers …but I need to add more servers with a tight budget!

Solution: Let’s look at consolidating all of the existing server shares to one or more NAS devices such as NetApp, HP Lefthand SAN, or IBM N series …we can then create a universal NAS namespace using F5 Acopia so we can manage the NAS devices as one and make the NAS storage universally available for server hosts …and then virtualise the remaining servers with automated provisioning of storage AND servers to greatly reduce ongoing manpower costs.  Et voila!  Reduced power, cooling, space, and manpower whilst enabling business innovation to continue!

Problem: I’ve run out of datacentre space, my datacentre power is costing too much …I need to reduce costs and find more storage space with a tight budget!  And I’d like to have access to tier one functionality as I may need it …but I’d prefer tier three pricing!

Solution: Let’s look at consolidating the storage to a grid storage architecture such as IBM XiV …we can migrate from existing tier one arrays to a grid storage architecture with tier one functionality but at greatly reduced cost, up to 25% of what tier one would normally be in some cases …and it uses SATA drives, which consume 97% less power and cooling over traditional tier one FC drives …whilst also giving us thin provisioning so we only allocate what we are physically using …and give you in year ROI because we can use Zero Page Reclaim [ZPR] to return 30% or more of their existing allocated storage into usable unallocated storage.  And finally we automate the storage provisioning to greatly reduce ongoing manpower costs. Et voila!  Reduced power, cooling, space, and manpower whilst enabling business innovation to continue!

I could give you more examples, but I’m running out of space [and you may be running out of patience!] so I want to talk about the other half of the customer stack …those who haven’t run into the same problems …yet.  What do we say to them?

Well, Mrs. PL and PL  Junior went out and bought me a tool which they knew would allow me to keep only the 20% of books I truly need whilst giving me a much more efficient way to read and store the other 80%.  They knew there was a problem there, although I was loathe to admit it …but am very much loving our ‘newly’ discovered dining room in addition to my eReader!

We need to engage our customers to discuss their business problems now and not wait  until they issue an RFP.  What if they say ‘we’re not bothered about storage optimisation at the moment as enterprise tier one storage from [insert vendor here] is so cheap it’s more cost effective for us to add to our [insert vendor here] arrays’?

Fair enough.  On balance, over the next month or three months or even six months they might be right.  But what about after that?  Do we know what their 20% of structured data is and how fast their storage is growing per annum?  Can we extrapolate these figures to show them when they will run out of datacentre space and/or be consuming more power than a small Yorkshire village?  Can we marry this data to the total cost of ownership manpower costs to show them how expensive this storage will be to maintain in the future?

You bet we can.  And we absolutely should.  We won’t win them all, but I would be surprised if we didn’t find something that we can help them with …automated storage and server provisioning, data deduplication, reducing backup windows, consolidating server shares, virtualising their servers …to name but a few.

I’m up for it if you are … and I bore everyone I meet at cocktail parties, wine tastings, Waitrose, my dry cleaners something silly with how proud I am to work for Computacenter and how insanely great our solutions are.  Let’s get out there and talk to all of our customers about how we can Sharpen Their Business and save them money by optimising their storage now.

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