Taking Care of Business


Everything is as a service these days: infrastructure as a service, platform as a service, software as a service. What about storage as a service? Does storage as a service make sense from a channel, or even end user perspective?

Data storage has always been an issue for business and as each generation of data creation devices outputs more and more data the storage and retrieval of company days becomes a bigger issue. Losing company data can curtail the life of a once thriving business so it’s important too in terms of business continuity and disaster recovery.

Emily Wojcik, Senior Product Marketing Manager for Information Management at CommVault suggests that companies need to face the very real issue of what to do with mountains of ‘Dark Data’ accumulated over time and how to un-tap the ever-increasing digital gold mine. Storage needs to be more about getting value from data, than storage for storage sake. Modern storage has to be about deciding what to store, where, for how long and how find it when it’s next needed, not hoarding everything in costly vaults, just in case.

“Housed in dusty vaults and off site storage facilities, volumes of dark data exist in nearly every enterprise organisation, historically unaccounted for and undervalued. Recent technological advancements and the adoption of a myriad of mobile devices have set a new user expectation to have (or should have) anytime access to information wherever and whenever it’s needed. Modern day information sharing is fuelling the fire, by allowing users to create and share data at will, giving dark data free reign to flow through a range of consumer devices, including smartphones, tablets and ‘traditional’ laptop devices. The problem is that many organisations lack the policy and technology needed to determine best practices for data protection and efficient storage outside of the corporate data centre.”

Dark Data Explained

Gartner defines dark data as the information assets organisations collect, process and store during regular business activities, but generally fail to use for other purposes (for example, analytics, business relationships and direct monetising). Similar to dark matter in physics, dark data often comprises most organisations’ universe of information assets. Thus, organisations often retain dark data for compliance purposes only.

flash-driveThe Data Deluge – No End in Sight

IT administrators often struggle with having little to no insight into what data is being created, limited control over how it is being stored, and almost no understanding of its business value.

Emily Wojcik at CommVault says that while this may not suggest a complete business breakdown, it can certainly result in a number of missed opportunities and increased costs.

“When it comes to information lifecycle governance, more often than not, organisations choose to lean on cold storage tape vaults to keep every scrap of data out of the paralysing fear they may throw something away of value.

In a recent survey, the Compliance, Governance, and Oversight Counsel (CGOC) found that, on average, 69 percent of a company’s data has no value. In essence, organisations could be spending up to 20 percent of their annual budget on storing data that has gone stale, with virtually no ROI.

In addition to the cost of storing superfluous data, the risks associated with locating necessary data in the event of a breach or in response to legal action are significant. When it comes time to make a critical business move or manage an eDiscovery process, it’s very labour intensive to sift through the mass of irrelevant information. This run-around can eat up the IT manager’s time and budget, leaving less bandwidth for immediate business needs, or requiring a costly outsourced resource.”

Defining the Business Value of Data

The key to satisfying the need to hoard information and those who might leverage it for the business is to first identify what data has value for which part of the organisation and for how long. A variety of factors can help companies start to realistically assess their data, such as:

  • Is it related to an HR function or issue?
  • Is it related to on-going projects where core company IP is being leveraged?
  • Are there external users beyond the core teams that would benefit from this data?
  • What kind of standard indexing system (file nomenclature, department tagging) should be used across all data?

Once data has been evaluated and indexed properly, organisations can better decide how and where to store that data – whether it is locally, in the cloud, offsite or using some combination of these. This inherently means a more streamlined approach and cost savings – both byproducts of a well-defined data strategy.

Emily Wojcik at CommVault concludes, “At its core, dark data represents untapped opportunities to transform a business, which can only be realised through a combination of efficient migration or deletion and content aware retention. Trust that once this process is started, the benefits can be seen almost immediately. Only then will organisations be able to manage the present day data that demands a front-row seat.”

What about Big Data?

Business analytics software firm SAS says that Big Data is a popular term used to describe the exponential growth and availability of data, both structured and unstructured. And big data may be as important to business – and society – as the Internet has become. Why? More data may lead to more accurate analyses.

As far back as 2001, industry analyst Doug Laney (currently with Gartner) articulated the now mainstream definition of big data as the three Vs: volume, velocity and variety

Volume. Many factors contribute to the increase in data volume. Transaction-based data stored through the years. Unstructured data streaming in from social media. Increasing amounts of sensor and machine-to-machine data being collected. In the past, excessive data volume was a storage issue. But with decreasing storage costs, other issues emerge, including how to determine relevance within large data volumes and how to use analytics to create value from relevant data.

Velocity. Data is streaming in at unprecedented speed and must be dealt with in a timely manner. RFID tags, sensors and smart metering are driving the need to deal with torrents of data in near-real time. Reacting quickly enough to deal with data velocity is a challenge for most organizations.

Variety. Data today comes in all types of formats. Structured, numeric data in traditional databases. Information created from line-of-business applications. Unstructured text documents, email, video, audio, stock ticker data and financial transactions. Managing, merging and governing different varieties of data is something many organisations still grapple with.

Storage as a Service

Storage as a service is an architecture model in which a provider provides digital storage on their own infrastructure. Storage as a service can be implemented as a business model in which a large service provider rents space in their storage infrastructure on a subscription basis. The economy of scale in the service provider’s infrastructure theoretically allows them to provide storage much more cost effectively than most individuals or corporations can provide their own storage, when total cost of ownership is considered.

Cloud services provider Ospero says that storage as a service makes sense.

“As you know, storage as a service enables end users to rent storage space on a subscription basis. Simple right? Well in its literal form yes I suppose it is. But what about security? What about data protection? What about integration with existing software? Who’s managing it? Where’s the cost control? There are other questions/limitations, but you get the picture. Storage, or storage as a service, has its uses but on its own does not link back to the enterprise’s network or overall business model. This makes it much more difficult to manage in a coherent way.

So how does it fit into an enterprise’s thinking? And what is in it from a channel perspective? To be honest, the management of what is likely to be a very diverse IT estate can present a considerable challenge to the enterprise. And here lies the opportunity for the channel. The channel can not only take this challenge away from the enterprise leaving it to look after the real work, but also make it into a recurring revenue stream to boot. By managing this as part of a wider IT service (incorporating things like security, software requirements, data protection etc), the channel has the opportunity to provide its customers with essential IT services as a service.”

Need Help?

If you are not sure about storage options to meet your customer needs and need some advice then why not turn to a distributor that can provide advice. John Bird, Head of Systems and Support Services at Exertis Micro-P Unified Communications, says that his company has a complete portfolio of storage solutions from a wide range of suppliers allows them to offer best of breed solutions from the home to the datacentre.

“As the voice and data worlds continue to converge, Exertis Micro-P’s UC and Server & Storage teams are ideally positioned to understand storage pain points and help recommend the best solution for reseller customer applications. We have a dedicated pre-sales resource on hand to help customers with any type of query from 100GB to 500TB, and working hand in hand with our vendors can deliver Network Attached Storage (NAS), Storage Area Network (SAN) and Direct Attached Storage (DAS) solutions tailored to customer requirements.”

Bird says storage is an easily overlooked technology for a traditional voice reseller but is the ideal ‘attach’ product for call management and call recording solutions – where network storage is essential to manage the large database of encrypted call records and recordings.

Ed Says…

Data storage solutions are available for all types of business user from memory stick and external hard drives through to enterprise grade storage platforms from the likes of HP that can be located on or off premises. Applications such as iCloud and Dropbox have popularised consumer back up behaviours and are influencing the SME in particular towards using remote data back up solutions for business and that is where the channel can get involved and make a margin.