Storage has become the latest commodity on the IT market to search for an effective and efficient means of external or outsourced support. This is due to the exponential growth rate which businesses are confronting from a storage capacity perspective, which must concomitantly meet the demands of an online world which wants 24x7, uninterruptible access to its stored data. "This relentless march of data volume, coupled with high user expectation, will continue unabated, driven of course by continued progress of Internet and mobile technologies," says Glen Macdonald, software division manager at Drive Control Corporation (DCC). This has given rise to a new player in the market place, the storage service provider (SSP).
"Although, at first glance, it would appear that SSPs offer the client the typical benefits of outsourcing a non-core activity - taking away the headache that storage may well represent, not to mention the need for a full-time storage manager - there are as many, if not more negatives which companies should consider," Macdonald maintains.
"This applies particularly to local organisations, which are at the mercy of the South African bandwidth restrictions. SSPs work over the Internet, and therefore their efficiency is very much determined by the efficiency and capacity of the bandwidth where they are operating. With the current restrictions on bandwidth, this potentially represents a huge frustration in downloading stored data from the SSP."
Then, according to Macdonald, there is the problem of client involvement in this whole process.
"Typically, the client must be quite involved in this process of off-line storage with an SSP, deciding what to store and then dialling up and transferring this data to the SSP. It is not yet an automated process, so that means it takes up the client's time and resources," he says.
Of course there is the perennial problem of budget spend - particularly in a country such as South Africa, where small to medium-sized enterprises (SMMEs) particularly are very hesitant to commit any budget resources to an IT facility that may not be seen as part of their core business.
"We see this type of budget apathy a lot in the SMME sector of the local market; where every rand is under a huge amount of pressure to be spent in numerous different ways," Macdonald explains.
"This leaves IT - and storage for that matter - falling somewhere between two stools, not quite a 'grudge' buy, or one that is resented and yet not quite regarded as a business necessity, either."
Security is apparently another major concern confronting companies who are thinking of going the SSP route.
"As with anything else that is outsourced, security becomes a key issue. The data that is outsourced to the SSP may be mission-critical to the client; however, it is not critical to the SSP. Therefore, in the unfortunate event of the SSP going out of business or losing the client's data, what recourse does the client have?" highlights Macdonald.
And then, he points out, there is always the worry that even if the data in question is securely stored by the SSP, in the event of a PC crash, what guarantee is there that the data will be retrieved from the SSP in the same format and condition in which it was stored there in the first place?
This all seems a bit of a gloomy prognosis for companies considering the SSP scenario as being the potential answer to their storage hassles, as the negatives certainly seem to outweigh the positives. Particularly when one considers that even the cost-effectiveness of the SSP route will change relative to the amount of information storage one outsources.
"In other words, the billing works on a sliding scale, calculated on volume of data stored by the SSP. The more you store, the more you pay - meaning that in the long run, this method is not necessarily the most economical either," Macdonald cautions.
What route should companies take, in that case?
"I really see intelligently managed storage as the answer," he remarks. "In other words, companies should aim to manage their storage requirements more effectively, by being more analytical and critical of what needs storage in the first place. Typically, this may mean employing methods such as hierarchical storage management (HSM), which prioritises the storage of information according to its criticality.
"Furthermore, storage or IT managers should be limiting users' disk space, and placing certain file-type restrictions on Internet users too - simple, yet effective policy decisions."
Drive Control Corporation, Glen Macdonald, software division manager, t: 011 887 8927, email@example.com