Space – The Final Frontier

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Article from ADMIN 23/2014
People who have worked with computers for a decade or two have "war stories" about how small hard drives used to be. In any circle of IT people, the one-upmanship becomes laughable.

People who have worked with computers for a decade or two have "war stories" about how small hard drives used to be. In any circle of IT people, the one-upmanship becomes laughable. The first volley of "I remember my first disk was only 30MB and it cost $200" comes flying over the bow, and someone returns fire with "Our first server had two mirrored 90MB disks for a company of 100 people." And, on it goes, until some old-timer chimes in with a mention of MFM or RLL drives, which silences all of the ungray members of the group. The youngsters frantically fiddle with their phones to find out what MFM and RLL mean.

Trust me, if you don't know what MFM or RLL drives were, you don't want to know. Some things are better left in the past.

We now speak of multiterabyte-sized drives like we once spoke about our new 125MB drives, but whether we speak in megabytes of spinning, mechanical platters, or terabytes of NAND flash, we can never have enough space. Our space requirements grow by numbers that we can neither comprehend nor accurately predict. We don't care that we waste it. We allow virtual machines to consume it at alarming rates. We place terabyte-sized disks into systems that only require 100GB at most over the life of the computer itself.

Space truly is the final frontier.

We think of disk space as being cheap, yet disk capacity is now perhaps an enterprise's largest financial outlay. According to Gartner's Enterprise Storage Management research, storage grows at about 45 percent per year. That number implies that storage capacity doubles every 18 months. The number that's more surprising is that only 65 percent of enterprise storage is effectively utilized.

At US$ 30 to US$ 50 per SATA drive terabyte, it seems that we can afford to waste space, and we do. At 65 percent utilization, how much space do you waste in your data center?

The solution to this runaway storage inflation is to manage storage capacity better, lower your costs, and put an end to wasted space. One of the best ways to manage storage is through tactics such as "Boot to SAN" or booting from flash drives and using leveraged storage for all systems. Thin provisioning for virtual machines is a good practice if properly managed.

I think if the bean counters in your company knew about the amount of wasted capacity and the number of recoverable dollars lying around in your data center, new conversations would arise around the topic of storage management. If you had to justify each gigabyte that you use, you'd be less likely to waste any. There's no shame in being frugal with resources; if those were your dollars, I think you'd be more concerned. Storage management and capacity planning aren't glamorous, but consider it your mission to maximize efficiency, to plan for growth, and to better use your resources. Saving money, decreasing waste, and lowering costs might save your job, pump your resume, and get you noticed in a positive way the next time the boss writes those elusive bonus checks.

When you're sitting around with your friends reminiscing about the way things used to be, you could add that you saved the equivalent of the company's entire disk capacity from 1987 to 2010 in a single year. Now that's some trivia worth remembering and telling. Go and save your company some money by recovering wasted space, by increasing utilization, by proposing some new technologies, and by focusing your energies on the bottom line. Go and tell your management how much you've saved. Go and make use of spreadsheets and graphs to illustrate your accomplishments. Go boldly and make a few cheesy Star Trek references of your own along the way.

Ken Hess * ADMIN Senior Editor

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