A surplus of storage options

Depending on how you look at it, buying additional storage capacity to keep up with your department's growing stockpile of electronic data is either getting easier or a lot more complicated.

The reason for the conflicting assessments is simple. Several products and services were introduced this past winter that are designed to take the headache out of managing storage. The tricky part is picking the right one, a problem that didn't exist years ago when adding enterprise storage was as simple as asking your trusted mainframe vendor to install another disk subsystem in your data center.

Among the new options are storage systems from manufacturers such as Hitachi Data Systems Corp. that come with extra disks inside that you can't use right away. Once you outgrow the base storage capacity that you initially bought, you just flip a switch to turn on the extra disks and send the vendor another check.

There are also new services such as the one offered on the General Services Administration schedule by Litton PRC Inc. It lets you buy storage capacity for a monthly fee, as you would buy cable or phone service, leaving the ownership and management of the storage hardware to the contractor.

Of course, those two options are in addition to the growing number of storage architectures available. Do you use traditional server-attached storage, or do you go with network-attached storage devices that can plug into your regular network wherever you need extra storage space? Another option is to set up a dedicated storage-area network, supposedly one of the most scalable — and complex — storage architectures.

The answer is not so simple. It depends on how much you expect your storage requirements to grow, the availability of an information technology staff to manage your growing storage pool and whether you're comfortable entrusting your data to a storage outsourcing firm.

The idea behind Hitachi's new Just in Time storage program and others like it is to help organizations with unpredictable and fast-growing data storage requirements smooth the financial and management bumps associated with deploying new storage capacity.

Just in Time storage was introduced in December with Hitachi's largest disk array, the 37-terabyte Lightning 9960. The vendor expanded the program last month to include the 3.2-terabyte Model 9910.

Even though you don't pay for the extra capacity until you use it, which helps avoid upfront costs for excess capacity that you might not use, you do pay a slightly higher price than usual for the base storage capacity, "less than one cent per megabyte," said David Broom, director of storage utility for Hitachi Data Systems, Santa Clara, Calif.

Another key goal of programs such as Hitachi's is to reduce disruptions that are common with traditional storage upgrades, according to Steve Duplessie, senior analyst with market researcher Enterprise Storage Group, Milford, Mass. "Normally you don't add capacity or a new array seamlessly on the fly," he said. By comparison, storage on demand "is relatively low impact."

The programs are also designed to ease storage-management chores, saving on staff costs. Hitachi can monitor the storage systems from its data center to help customers plan and execute their upgrade strategies. "With Just in Time, we think people will spend a lot less time doing storage-capacity planning," Broom said.

With Litton PRC's Storage on Demand Services, the goal is to eliminate agency ownership and maintenance of storage devices entirely. "This is for people who don't want to purchase a piece of equipment, but want flexibility, a complete service and a low-risk approach," said Bill Adolfson, products manager at Litton PRC, McLean, Va.

Agencies typically enter into a three-year contract with Litton PRC, and the integrator places its own storage arrays at the customer's facility, where they are managed by Litton.

Adolfson said there are two benefits to the Litton PRC service model. First, data is stored at the government facility, not at a third-party data center, as is the case with many so-called storage service provider offerings. "This preserves the secure nature of the customer's environment," he said. Second, agencies can pay for the service using funds from their more flexible operation and maintenance budgets, as opposed to making capital expenditures for storage equipment.

Litton PRC has one federal customer so far, a large agency that provides IT support to the Defense Department, though Adolfson declined to identify it.

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