Elephants in your datacentre

Yep, there is you know, big, grey and imposing (not yellow and cuddly like this fella!)… OK, not literal elephants of course… well if there is you may have some different challenges to the ones I’m looking to address in this post, may I suggest the nearest zoo!

What do I mean then with this figurative elephant?

Data is the lifeblood of our businesses and in the modern business world we all discuss its management and protection endlessly. There is however an elephant in the room. One we choose not to discuss because it is getting increasingly more difficult to control and we are unsure as to what to do about it.

I think the above quote is a pretty accurate summation of the problem, data is a big complex beast and Nellie aside, how do we go about tackling it.

Like all big problems on first review they look almost insurmountable, but again, as with all big problems, the secret is to start somewhere. We need data strategies regardless of size and type of our organisations, our use of data continues to increase, we need to realise our data is one of the most important assets we own, it’s why the security, protection and control of it is so important.

One of the big challenges we come across when designing new and effective data strategies is we can be concerned about how we deal with all the new stuff that’s out there, how does the cloud affect me, what about data governance, do I need flash, spinning disk, do I use physical storage arrays, virtual storage solutions, software defined storage, the list goes on. This seemingly endless list of things to consider can paralyse us, leaving us pushing back to our businesses saying “we have it all under control, how we do it now is fine” but of course, it’s not.

Almost as dangerous as inaction caused by confusion is inaction caused by something else, beautifully summed up in this tweet I noted this week;

Yep, Sometimes inaction can be caused by self-preservation, afraid to investigate new storage design ideas because, if we do, we may put our careers on the line, but to be honest, if you find yourself in that mind set and I’m sure no one reading this blog finds themselves there (let’s face it you’ve taken time to read a blog post), you are just putting off the inevitable, not understanding how data strategies are changing does not serve you or your business at all well.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying new technologies have to be the answer and everything you’ve done in the past needs throwing out… in fact far from it, a balanced strategy needs to understand what it is you need and then find appropriate ways of delivering that, whether it’s a hot new technology or whether it’s backing up to tape. It’s coming to that decision because it’s the appropriate and correct one for your needs, not the convenient or the cool one, but the right one.

I need to tackle that elephant

Hopefully I’ve convinced you that you need to tackle this elephant, so as the old adage goes;eating-an-elephant-one-bite-at-a-time

Here’s some, hopefully, useful tips to set you off on your elephant tackling journey;

Know exactly where you are

You can’t start any journey without knowing one of two things, the first of those is exactly where you are right now, if you’re going to build a data strategy, you must have a full idea of what your current data sets look like;

  • Where is your data?
  • Who accesses your data?
  • What is contained in your data?
  • How often is your data accessed?
  • How much is live, how much is “stale”?

It’s not an exhaustive list by any means, but it’s a good starting point, know exactly what we are talking about before we kick off any strategy, because if you don’t, you’ll end up heading off down a route and may well end up with the wrong answer.

It’s probably worth looking at some 3rd party tools or assistance for this, but it is hugely valuable exercise, I saw a project last year where they looked at cloud storage, a simple audit of current usage took around £80,000 off the storage bill, as they could take a big section of their data off the performance tier and move into a lower cost archive tier.

Know where you are heading

The second of those two questions is know exactly why you need a data strategy, where you’re trying to get to. This is well beyond just a technical discussion, this has to be a business conversation, because if it isn’t there’s every chance you’ll end up with the wrong strategy.

  • Why are we designing a new strategy?
    • What’s good about what we currently do?
    • What’s not great about what we currently do?
    • What solutions that we know about would be great?
    • What solutions would we like as part of our strategy if they existed?
  • Who’s supporting our new strategy internally so we know our data strategy aligns to business needs?
  • What new technologies are we going to need to adopt?
  • Is there going to be external business pressures such as regulation we need to consider?
  • What’s our retention strategy going to be?

Those are just a handful of the considerations you may need to take. Get a clear destination in mind, you and your elephant will no doubt take a few detours on the way and may stop off for a look around every now and again and may even ultimately change destination, but remember;

If you don’t know where you are going, how on earth do you expect to get there!?

Avoid cul-de-sacs

It happens to often in infrastructure, we start putting together solutions and strategies that lead to silos of resource, be that compute or storage, our modern data strategy has to avoid this, or to be honest, you may as well not bother.

Why design something that can’t then easily take advantage of public cloud compute, hybrid solutions, what if we can’t easily add virtual storage layers, object stores, flash and move our data easily between those tiers while maintaining all of our control, security and insight into our data?. If we do design something restrictive then we are not really building a modern strategy.

I’ve talked often about NetApp and their data fabric, and that is exactly the kind of thing we need to be looking at, be it with NetApp or some other vendor of your choice, a strategy that allows full mobility of our data is a must.

To incorrectly quote dirty dancing

Don’t put your elephant into a corner

Now tuck in

If we are going to eat that data strategy elephant, now is the time to tuck in, there is obviously a lot more in terms of complexity and due diligence, there is potentially a lot of detail to be gathered as we begin, but as a starting point, I don’t think you can go far wrong – know where you are, where you are going and don’t back yourself into a corner in any part of your strategy.

If you take those as the initial steps, I’d like to think you are on the way to creating a strong and robust data strategy.

To sum up

I picked up this excellent phrase from a storage industry friend of mine

It’s all about having your data in the right place at the right time and at the right cost

And I think that’s right, the reality of the way we all want to operate today is exactly that, getting everything where we need it, when we need it and at the right price, the idea we have inflexible data repositories that don’t fit into that should be something we consign to history.

But it is a large task, indeed it is big grey and imposing, however it is a challenge we need to sink our teeth into.

Hopefully you’ve found this content useful, if you want to chat more about it, please feel free to contact me any of the usual ways, I’m on LinkedIN, the twitters @techstringy and you can post comments here of course and I’d be happy to pick up the phone and have a chat.

If you are a bit more local, we are running a data strategy workshop in our offices next Thursday morning (28th April) if you want to have a chat with some of us here, as well as experts from the industry and your IT decision making peers, please feel free to drop on here, register and come get a coffee and a pastry (not elephant flavoured!) and have a data strategy chat.

Happy Elephant Tackling