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Strategic plumbing

October 18, 2010

I was in Des Moines last week to present at the Iowa IT Symposium put on by EFM Events. Although my talk was on how to manage content to reduce litigation, compliance, and audit cost/risk, a big focus for the event was storage, and I was excited to get the opportunity to learn about what’s going on in the industry.

That having been said, I definitely got exposed to lots of great trends in storage management and heard some killer case studies. But what was missing, for me, was a consideration of the strategic dimensions of storage management, i.e., moving beyond managing containers in order to reduce cost and improve performance to begin to integrate storage management with enterprise disciplines like risk management, ECM, compliance, and litigation management.

I had a lot of good conversations with folks at the conference about this topic, and a common thread running through all of them was the fact that none of their organizations approached storage management from a strategic perspective–it was just plumbing as far as leadership was concerned. Important plumbing, to be sure, but still just plumbing.

One metaphor that came up a lot to discuss the difference between plumbing and strategic approaches to storage management was city planning and the transportation infrastructure.

We’ve all likely been to cities or towns where city planning has been done in a less-than-strategic way: traffic congestion, public transportation that doesn’t meet citizens’ needs, uneven commercial development, and so on all make the place less livable than it otherwise could be. This is city planning as plumbing.

Strategic city planning, in contrast, enhances the livability of a place by asking questions about the people who will live there:

  • What do they tend to do each day and at what times?
  • How could they do each of these things by walking, driving a car, riding a bike, or taking public transportation (or even from home)?
  • What are the current problems citizens face with the infrastructure of the place?
  • What is the mid- and long-term vision for the place? How must the current infrastructure evolve to help it reach that vision on time and within budgets?

In terms of strategic storage management, you would need to ask an analogous set of questions:

  • What do users do with the content we store for them?
  • What’s the lifecycle of that content and how do users work with content differently at different points in that lifecycle?
  • How does content travel across applications and repositories as it moves through its lifecycle?
  • Beyond just cost, space, and performance, what are the drivers users need storage management to address?
  • Given the mid- and long-term vision for the organization, how can storage management capabilities like tiering, content addressable storage, and thin provisioning contribute to the desired future state?

No answers here, but definitely a commitment to thinking more about how storage management can support enterprise strategy. And I’d love to hear from folks out there who have opinions on this, are trying to get strategic with storage at their organizations, have a good case study or war story to share, or just want to weigh in on the subject. Jump in and let’s get the conversation started.

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