Repurpose legacy storage systems for reliability and savings

Planning to move to a new data storage platform? Before kicking your older legacy storage hardware to the curb, consider the benefits of repurposing your existing technologies.

As some organizations turn to newer and better storage technologies, others are repurposing legacy storage systems for less demanding applications.

Benefits to turning to legacy storage systems over more recent developments can vary. For some legacy storage users the goal is cost savings, while others appreciate the reliability that comes with older systems. "Older storage technologies can be repurposed to more peripheral uses," said Marty Puranik, CEO of cloud computing and hosting services provider Atlantic.net. "For example, an older storage server that might not have the performance you need can still be used as a backup server or in a test and development environment."

"When moving from one storage back end to another like HDD to SSD, SSD to NVMe, or on premises to cloud, you can prevent [a] complete rip-and-replace and repurpose storage by following a few guidelines," said Gaurav Yadav, founding engineer at Hedvig, which sells cloud data management technology. "Your storage vendor should be capable of supporting your outgoing and incoming storage device, so you can pin less demanding applications to low-end storage."

Repurpose purposely

Ideal repurposing candidates include virtually any storage technology that isn't totally obsolete or is so old that it may be on the verge of failing. "For example, in SSD drives, the wear indicator can signal how much life is remaining," Puranik said. "If not much [life] is left, it's probably not going to be worth the time to repurpose it because its total lifespan is almost over."

Although storage repurposing has its place, there are situations where it doesn't make sense and can even lead to trouble.

Older storage technologies can sometimes be repurposed into tools that support backup and enhance security. "For example, these technologies can be leveraged for backup storage in the universal backup best practice -- the concept of 3, 2, 1 -- which refers to maintaining three copies of data, leveraging two different storage types and keeping one copy of the data offsite, disparate from the rest," said Kong Yang, head geek at SolarWinds, a systems and network management tools supplier. "Additionally, older storage technologies can often be used to hold data for a security honeypot, which helps to isolate and monitor cyberattacks."

Although cloud storage is often considered the best backup strategy from an economic perspective, having an older, on-premises storage array with a decent amount of useable life at your disposal can offer a good short-term option, noted Justin Augat, product marketing head at Virtustream, Dell's cloud computing subsidiary.

One of the reasons cloud has become popular as of late is the availability of test/dev resources for developers to work on new applications. "In this case, if you have an older [storage] system that works perfectly well, the development team could likely use it to expand their test/dev capabilities beyond just one specific, critical application," Augat said.

Years ago, information lifecycle management (ILM) was a popular term used to describe the shifting of data from high-performance, high-cost storage to lower-performance, lower-cost disk storage as the data became less valuable. "While that story now includes cloud as a strong ILM option, an existing storage system can be a useful tool in tiering data as it loses value over time," Augat said. "This enables the latest systems to be focused on mission-critical data, while older tier 2 systems can focus on less critical data."

Yang noted that while the cost-benefit ratio varies significantly across different IT environments, repurposing legacy storage systems can enable an organization to improve service delivery consistency, increase delivered services reliability and provide a normalized experience at any scale. "In fact, driving these business goals allows repurposed legacy technologies to transcend cost savings and become a source of revenue," he said.

Look before you leap

Although storage repurposing has its place, there are situations where it doesn't make sense and can even lead to trouble. "If you are shifting older gear into something that's performing backups, for example, [repurposing] may be a good choice," Puranik explained. "But if you're doing it to bypass doing a critical upgrade and leaving yourself open to unneeded risk, then no."

A storage provider typically wants customers to migrate to the latest version of its technology. One way they accomplish this is by giving legacy storage systems and services minimal or even no direct support. "This lack of support creates pain points for the IT department using the technology as IT admins are left to patch security holes and resolve issues, such as service incompatibility," Yang said. "IT organizations or departments must understand these limitations before implementing legacy storage technologies, recognizing that this technology should be retired when it fails or requires updates."

The biggest risk storage repurposers face is that the salvaged legacy storage systems aren't capable of handling their new role. "If you shift a server from storage to backups, and it's not able to back up what you need [to have] backed up, it will be a real problem, and that would be penny wise and pound foolish," Puranik warned. "You need to make sure the older hardware can do what you need it to do."

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