With the growth of structured and unstructured data in the enterprise expected to double every 18 months (roughly 20% / 80% of the total respectively), storage and storage management solutions have edged up towards the top of the IT priorities and expenditures list.
The strategic decision point for CIOs is whether key storage functionality should reside in the infrastructure or if it should be managed by the application. The short answer is, “It depends”. The concept that the application should be more involved in managing function is compelling and changes the thought process for how IT shops should procure infrastructure.
Steve Sicola (CTO) and Richie Lary (Fellow) of Xiotech anchored a June 29, 2010 Peer Incite discussion - drawing over 100 IT practitioners from the Wikibon community – which focused on the pros and cons of each approach.
Benefits of Application Managed Storage
Sicola and Lary gave several reasons and scenarios for why storage management array features should move closer to the application including:
- Performance: The application approach “puts the right features for the server, application or device in play” with simple management APIs that allow the features to change to meet changing application requirements. “Little units of granularity offer better scalability.”
- Metrics and Tuning: An application approach allows IT to more accurately assess and increase drive performance or time to rebuild arrays, monitor failure rates and provide each customer improved QoS and minimal reconfiguration.
- Improved Provisioning: The application approach allows IT to buy in “application chunks” as opposed to larger purchases helping to lower costs.
- Chargeback: More tightly integrating storage management to each application allows IT to more intelligently assess performance and charge its customers for what they use as well as connecting performance to a specific cost structure.
Integrated Infrastructure Approaches
Symantec, Oracle, VMware, Microsoft, and other ISVs are all pulling more infrastructure function into their stacks. Examples include:
- Oracle’s ASM,
- Microsoft Exchange Database Availability Groups (DAGs),
- Symantec Storage Foundation, and,
- VMware thin provisioning, volume management and data movement.
Often, integrating function into the application can provide superior efficiency, integration, performance and availability, but not always. As well, application-specific infrastructure function will be tied to a particular application and infrastructure supporting that application. Being able to share infrastructure function across multiple applications confers cost advantage because the function is a fungible asset.
The strategic issue for CIOs is how to make this decision point. Wikibon research shows that placing function in Oracle for example will almost always be more expensive however is often justified. With Microsoft Exchange the cost equation depends on scale – e.g. at less than 1,000 users embedding function into the app is cheaper, at scale it’s more expensive. (See Cheap or Cost Effective IT note)
At the moment, the infrastructure has lots of complexity that doesn’t directly support the business (via the application). This is true of the network, servers and storage. Infrastructure 2.0 is about being able to reduce complexity, improve the way the application is protected, and enhance how it behaves from a performance standpoint. The goal is more efficient and agile infrastructure that can support changing business requirements and allows the business to pay for what is consumed.
Action Item: CIOs need to take an application view of infrastructure function. Design your infrastructure to be cost transparent and delivered to the business in a manner that allows the business to deploy the pieces of the infrastructure that are needed in a cost-effective way. This will accelerate the imperative for infrastructure 2.0 and directly add business value. For the purposes of this discussion, business value can be thought of very simply as either lower cost or increased revenue. For CIOs the choice of infrastructure strategy is a function of the priorities of the business and the application supporting it.