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A cure for secondary data storage services blues

Effective user-centric data storage management eases copy data management and object storage uptake while enabling secondary storage services to evolve.

All large companies run secondary data storage services such as data protection applications for backup, disaster recovery and archiving. Many also deploy copy data management to allow a single "gold" copy of a piece of data to support multiple secondary use cases (e.g., application development and testing, business analytics, data protection and so on). Object storage uptake, in the meantime, has rapidly increased, converging with CDM to provide petabyte-scale storage for capacity-intensive applications such as content repositories and content sharing in geographically distributed environments.

These secondary data storage platforms typically offer mature data services for copying, compressing, migrating and retrieving data, but most enterprises face challenges when it comes to efficiently aligning data services with user-centric storage requirements. Efficient storage management is usually impeded by the inability to fully automate service-level agreement (SLA) compliance, the need to manage secondary data using different storage products and the inability to make well-informed data-driven decisions.

These limitations often leave IT administrators asking questions, such as the following:

  • How do I ensure we are delivering the performance, resiliency, governance and capacity needed for each business group and application workload?
  • How do I simplify storage operations across users with a wide variety of data requirements?
  • And how do I know we are providing the best storage economics?
One of the most critical capabilities for business-centric services is a web-based portal for managing SLA compliance.

To meet the need for more efficient user-centric storage services, secondary data storage vendors need to evolve their products to provide granular data management within converged secondary storage. Specifically, they must move beyond policy-based templates and disparate storage systems and furnish unified, software-defined storage (SDS) products that automate SLA compliance, support multiple secondary data use cases, and offer intelligent data placement so their products improve user satisfaction and more efficiently streamline IT operations and reduce storage costs.

The length of this column doesn't allow me to lay out a detailed description of all the requirements for efficient user-centric secondary data storage services, so I've summarized three functional categories I believe are key and identified representative vendors within each area.

Ability to determine the level of SLA compliance: One of the most critical capabilities for business-centric services is a web-based portal for managing SLA compliance. The portal should foster timely collaboration between business groups and administrators to create user-specific SLA profiles, automate tracking of storage operations, supply visibility through dashboards to ensure SLA compliance, and alert administrators and users when data operations fall outside agreed-upon SLA guidelines. SLA profiles must go beyond defining data recovery and retention objectives to deliver the ability to set parameters such as application-specific requirements, minimum and maximum number of copies, data governance and security considerations, thresholds for data migration and storage costs relative to user budgets. Most CDM vendors let you define SLA requirements using policy templates. Dell EMC's eCDM has gone a step further to provide full-lifecycle SLA compliance that includes monitoring quality of service relative to SLAs to determine compliance level.

Unified SDS products that support multiple secondary storage use cases: Depending on the use case, secondary data has different performance and capacity requirements. Also, secondary storage products should seamlessly move data between flash, HDD and cloud storage tiers based on storage policies governed by SLA parameters. For example, a test/dev workload uses random I/O and should be prioritized for flash storage, whereas a backup job uses sequential I/O that should be more focused on HDDs. Content repositories for video, image and audio files have massive, petabyte-scale storage requirements, so these files should be placed in scale-out object storage that delivers linear performance as capacity increases. In addition, SLA parameters can be used to migrate to cost-effective cloud storage data once usage drops to a certain level. Data efficiency (compression and deduplication) and data security services (encryption) should also be utilized in accordance with SLA parameters. CDM players such as Actifio and Cohesity integrate policy-driven data migration that includes flash, HDD and cloud-based storage tiers. Cohesity has the advantage of seamlessly supporting large data requirements with their hyper-converged, scale-out, secondary data storage architecture. IBM Spectrum Copy Data Management automates data tiering and IBM Cloud Object Storage with scale-out storage capability is part of the IBM storage portfolio.

I believe vendors need to fully enable efficient user-centric storage management without constraints that force companies to implement dissimilar data management software and multiple storage platforms.

Data indexing and analytics that enable data discovery and data-driven decisions: Most CDM and object storage can create a metadata index and search and report at the virtual machine disk, storage volume and file name levels. This kind of reporting is good for understanding storage utilization, usage trends and available storage capacity, but falls short of providing the in-depth data visibility needed for improving security, determining data compliance and finding files based on content. A good example of a product with strong data visibility functionality is the Cohesity Data Platform, which is CDM with a deep search capability that enables users to search on data within files to do custom data queries and pattern matching. This full-text search capability is valuable when organizations want to find files based on content, for example, to ensure data compliance by determining the location of files with sensitive data, such as usernames and passwords.

Secondary data storage applications and services such as CDM have evolved to deliver significant operational improvements and substantial storage cost savings through policy-based automation and secondary data consolidation. For CDM and object storage adoption to increase and for secondary data management to move to the next level of delivering business value, I believe vendors need to fully enable efficient user-centric storage management without constraints that force companies to implement dissimilar data management software and multiple storage platforms. Only then will customers realize the productivity gains and cost savings needed to drive mainstream adoption.

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