Storage strategy is vital in age of Sarbanes-Oxley

Kiwis are not as good at storage planning as they think

New Zealanders seem to be better at planning for storage management in the medium and long-term than users in most other Pacific rim countries.

But Robert Nieboer, Melbourne-based strategist with StorageTek, is sceptical of this.

A snap survey of attendees at recent storage strategy seminars in Auckland and Wellington earlier this month found 54% answered "yes" to the question: “Does your organisation have a documented storage strategy?” This result surprises Nieboer.

“This either means Kiwis are better liars or they’re simply much more optimistic [compared to their overseas counterparts]", says Nieboer, who has worked with companies in Japan and Europe, as well as in Australia.

In general, he says, the percentage of people with a genuine claim to such a strategy is very low.

“I’d like to see the details of some of those strategies,” he says.

Asked about the constraints on storage development, most local attendees identified tighter budgets and increased management complexity.

Nieboer says there is evidence many IT managers subtly rob other parts of the ICT budget to shore up the mounting storage management bill.

Specific skills are lacking, he says. “We don’t have universities graduating storage managers. You have to train them or steal them from other organisations.”

Three-quarters of the cost of data protection — a significant aspect of storage — is in the cost of staff, say Nieboer. This points to the need for solutions that take people out of the equation as much as possible, by managing the transition of data to less expensive media without human intervention as it becomes less mission-critical.

He divides storage into two overlapping universes: the operational, which connects client systems over a SAN using virtualised online storage; and the backup environment, which involves shifting data automatically, according to the organisation's policy guidelines governing what goes into online, nearline and archival storage.

Data should be aggressively backed up to cheaper storage, says Nieboer. “Most of it isn’t coming back.”

On average, only about 2% of data more than 30 days old is ever accessed, says Nieboer, although this obviously varies depending on organisation and applications.

Despite the supposed high number of companies with storage strategies, only a small proportion of NZ organisations surveyed use storage resource management tools, and 36% of them say they had “never thought about” such tools. Another 10.3% say they don't need them.

It is misrepresenting the discipline to call it “storage strategy”, he argues. It’s information management strategy and, hence, of crucial importance to business.

The strategy should be planned in cooperation with the business managers who, Nieboer says, often tend to be unrealistically cautious and want data to be extensively mirrored so need to be made aware of what this costs.

Compliance with current or anticipated controls on financial information so as to stem fraud is often cited as a reason for greater cost and complexity. This is based on the assumption that more data will need to be stored, and for longer. But, this is a phantom problem, says Nieboer, as only 2% of organisations have any plans regarding the deleting of old data.

The data which would be needed for a Sarbanes-Oxley type of review is probably being retained anyway, says Nieboer. The need is to organise it properly.

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