Storage in a recession

The thing to do is to save money – now

The USA is in a recession with other countries likely to be affected. What does it mean for storage customers and storage suppliers?

We storage customers are affected by two broad pressures now: we have more data to store; and we have less money to store it. What we want from suppliers is a response to that: here is how you can store more data for less money; and here is how using this will lessen your total storage bill now, right now.

Total storage bill, and not just the e-mail archive bill or eDiscovery bill or DR replication bill. As a customer a pressing problem might be that my branch office high-availability concept looks great but needs a networked storage array for failover between two servers to work. The two servers and software cost $15,000 but the networked array costs $30,000 and change.

Sorry, but I’m not going to buy this. Instead I’ll stick with my creaky old and inconvenient system and have less availability. Customers are going to quietly go on buying strikes. They will quietly slow and even stop spending on point storage projects unless those projects produce an immediate cut in their overall costs.

Customers can’t afford to wait three years for a return on investment in a recession. They want it now. They want to able to go to their CFO and say: “Pony up $200,000 for project FixThatWreckedSystem because we’ll save $350,000 in year one.” They understand that CFOs want to cut spending in a recession. That’s the general rule.

For suppliers it means that unless they have a customer who is growing and growing, and has increasing revenues, and needs to spend money, and can afford to spend money, they have a customer who needs to save money, now. At once. This instant.

How do you sell to that customer?

It’s a solution sell. Right, of couse, what’s new?

What’s new is that the solution is a solution to a different problem. It’s a solution to the how-do-I-save-money-right-now problem. You have to have a product proposal that enables a CFO to see the IT department spend decreasing by more than the cost of the products or services your’e selling that financially besieged person and do so in the year of the sale.

I want it now. The savings on demand business. That’s the world we’re entering.

So how do you do this? If you’re a big supplier with a knowledgable direct sales force then you direct them to understand the totality of a customer’s IT infrastructure and come up with customised, innovative and instant money-saving ideas. If you are a small supplier or you sell through the channel then you can’t do this.

You have to come up with innovative and instant money-saving ideas that apply – generally – across your customers. It’s going to involve a rip-and-replace type scenario, only the replacement cost of what you propose is less than the annual running cost of what you’re saying they should replace.

What are the candidates? Off the top of my head look at de-duplication. If you could expand the effective capacity of a disk backup system or a nearline disk storage facility twentyfold and thus enable existing storage arrays to be retired then go right ahead.

Look at virtualisation of storage, at how it is done. Some block storage virtualisation products can run as VMware virtual machines and construct the SAN storage using the direct-attach storage on the ESX server’s hardware. Wow; no need for an external array. No need for a physical storage virtualisation server. That saves money.

If you have a disk-based nearline storage facility think about power-down for the drives and also look at MAID. MAID (massive array of idle drives) is power-down plus. The majority of the drives are spun down. This saves a heck of a lot more power than having them spinning, even at the reduced rate of power-down arrays. If user access time requirements can be fielded then a MAID array will take up a lot less space and use a lot less power.

Think roughly of one MAID array replacing three separate arrays and using less power than a single one of those arrays. That might save you money, especially if you pay for data centre space as well as equipment energy costs.

Look at storage as a service. It might be cheaper to pay someone else to host some of your data than pay for your own infrastructure. But look for savings that are constant. You don’t want to save with online backups in year one but find you are spending more money in year three, more again in year four and so on. It’s got to be save, save, save all the way.

Get gigabytes of old data off spinning drives and onto tape or optical disks that just sit in a slot and don’t consume power.If a tape library or optical archive appliance can replace two or three drive arrays, possibly more then that’s got to be good news. Check out archival software and systems as a way of doing this.

Look at virtualisation of storage again, but in a different sense. You might consider moving to a block or file virtualiser that enables you to run heterogeneous storage arrays behind the virtualiser. Instead of paying for gold-standard arrays you could buy cheaper ones and get the same level of service and data protection. ‘You could’ but that doesn’t mean ‘you will’ unless someobody has done their calculations and investigations right.

Replacing costly storage with commodity storage, be it for files or for blocks, looks like a good place to look for savings. If a supplier can say ‘spend $15,000 on my virtualisation software and $60,000 on some arrays but retire other arrays that are costing you $100,000 or more a year to operate’ then that’s a pitch customers might want to hear more about.

Suppliers generally have to play by new rules. They have to say to customers ‘buy this kit, this product, this service, and you will root out cost, more than the kit’s price, in year one.’ That’s the message storage customers want to hear.

Welcome to the recession. It’s a time when your customers will really want to hear about cost-cutting storage innovations.

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