SSPs: Not Just For Start-Ups And IRBs Anymore – storage service providers – Industry Trend or Event

Craig Warthen

Outsourcing data storage can be key to companies’ viability

It’s no surprise to anyone that the challenges of coping with the capabilities of new technologies are advancing at breakneck speed. Even before the Internet–if anyone can remember that far back–companies typically experienced an annual growth rate in their data storage and management needs of 35 to 40 percent. In this post-Internet arena that number for those same companies is now hovering around 100 percent. For Internet-related businesses (IRBs), the growth rate is several times even that.

Large companies, anxious to control access to their growing data archives, have routinely turned large sums of money into elaborate data storage and access infrastructures. Meanwhile, start-ups and IRBs, overwhelmed with data storage challenges but hesitant–or unable–to make the hefty investment in developing an in-house system, helped spawn a new breed of Storage Service Provider (SSP) to help them meet their needs without breaking their budgets.

Today the data storage and management needs of all companies continue to escalate–with no end in sight–and a new business model is emerging. With numerous technological advances now taking direct aim at the challenges of exponential growth in data, many established companies are beginning to realize that for them, too, the advantages of outsourcing their data storage and management needs can be the key to remaining viable in today’s competitive environment. As forecast by the GartnerGroup, the total amount spent on outsourced storage services for North America will reach $8 billion by 2003.

The appearance of SSPs as an alternative to the frenzied collage of storage equipment typical in corporate data centers today now seems inevitable. Their pay-as-you-go, pay-as-you-grow services relieve companies of the burden of dealing with management of their ever-expanding storage demands while adding value that might not be cost effective for many companies to attain on their own.

Since demand for storage management services grew as a result of the escalating cost of increasingly complex storage architectures, most SSPs run on a Fibre Channel Storage Area Network (SAN) that can either be located in a co-location data center, an SSP data center or within the client company’s data center itself. Wherever it resides, however, the benefits of using an SSP begin with primary disk services.

Primary Disk Storage Services

Primary storage services can be custom tailored to fit a company’s needs and requirements, with as high as 100% availability to assure affordable and continuous availability. The best packages include: SAN access, primary disk storage, backup services, and onsite tape retention. Outsourcing primary storage services immediately relieves the client company of the time and expense involved in design, cost, implementation and growth predictions related to building and maintaining an in-house system.

Questions of data availability, amount of initial disk storage, the increments by which storage capacity may rise, the format of the disk storage, and the ability to monitor the storage are all key questions that should be answered when trying to choose the most appropriate primary disk storage service. And be advised that answers will vary significantly between storage providers. For example, required entry levels range from 10GB to 2TB and the increments by which that storage can be increased vary between 10GB and 500GB.

The best providers will offer different options in terms of both format and migration path. Whether the format is RAIDS, RAID 10, or JBOD, the best SSPs offer options that can be tailored to the specific needs of the client company.

Another valuable piece of advice on the question of proprietary storage architecture is offered by Elisa Wade, director of product development at CreekPath Systems, a provider of managed storage services. “Examine your options carefully before locking into proprietary storage architecture versus an open one. If for any reason you wish to switch service in the future, your service provider’s Service Level Agreement (SLA) should spell out the steps to be taken to make that change and who is responsible for this effort. Consider what, if any, business downtime this may represent.”

Backup Services

Outsourcing means a client company can take full advantage of a SAN, saving not only the initial expense of building such a system, but eliminating the day-to-day management costs, as well. Backup services include weekly full backups and daily incremental or differential backups that happen automatically, and which should only be visible through a software portal that enables the client to monitor events whenever desired.

Though some SSPs include tape backup in their disk services, and others offer it separately, any SSP can offer tape backup as a standalone service for companies who want to manage their own disk but still be spared the day-to-day management of backups. Each time the backups are completed, the SSP should keep. a copy. onsite for a minimum of several weeks.

Special Service

A full-service provider of managed storage services will also offer a range of special services specifically designed for each company’s unique needs. These may include such archiving services as offsite tape retention and/or extended tape retention, data recovery, and/or data tape duplication. Another valuable offering is the ability of a client company to monitor the system’s efforts.

In sum, the economic advantages of teaming with a provider of managed storage services. are: several:

Eliminate the Infrastructure. Perhaps the single greatest reason that companies initially explore the option of outsourcing their data management needs is the high price tag of building an in-house system. Costs of the equipment needed and the real estate to house it are eliminated.

Keep Overhead Costs Down. Managing the data storage and access system is a labor-intensive, job and most firms prefer that their IT resources concentrate on the company’s core competencies and customer needs. Outsourcing your own data storage needs make that possible.

Pay Only for the Services You Actually Use. A provider of managed storage services, like a telecommunications service provider, can customize a package to meet your company’s specific needs and charges only for the amount of services actually used.

Concentrate on Core Competency. Contracting with a provider of managed storage services allows a company to devote its time and energies to its customers’ needs. By devoting its resources to its core competencies, the user of such services gives itself the opportunity to keep its focus on its business.

Avoid Obsolescence. The fight against obsolescence is a costly war to wage. Many companies have rejoiced in shiny new state-of-the-art systems, only to watch the luster of their machines fade in a year or two when faced with ever-escalating demands. Outsourcing those. needs to an SSP, however, means never having to say “It’s gotta be replaced” again.

Get storage specialists on your team. The best SSPs are data storage specialists and a good relationship with a superior provider of managed storage services provides many an executive with a better night’s sleep because finding–and keeping–a first-rate in-house staff is no longer necessary.

Today, and surely into the future as well, data is an increasingly valuable asset, and the management and storage of that data will be critical in the struggle to remain competitive. The wrong solution for data storage could. result in higher costs for excess storage capacity or the risks associated with data-storage deficits that can constrain growth.

Outsourcing data storage and management services, which can be scaled quickly and economically, will continue to draw those companies competing in today’s fast paced business environment and drive the strong growth forecast for this dynamic industry segment.

Craig Warthen is the product manager at CreekPath Systems (Boulder, CO)

COPYRIGHT 2001 West World Productions, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group

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