Users at Storage Networking World in Orlando, Florida, this week said they are looking to consolidate disparate storage systems into a single storage area network (SAN) as their arrays reach end of life to help reduce maintenance costs. However, they also said it is too soon to tell whether those savings will actually be realized through consolidation.

Heterogeneous storage environments are expensive because organisations need support staff, procedures and training for each type of storage system they have, said Mark Shirman, president and CEO of GlassHouse Technologies Inc., a systems integrator and consulting company specializing in storage and based in Framingham, Mass. "If you've got 10 vendors, you've got 10 armies of people to take care of them," which is not scalable, he said.

While consolidating storage requires spending money in the short term, in the long run it can save organisations money by reducing the amount of staffing expertise and training required, Shirman said.

Consolidate to save cost

Several users at the conference said they were consolidating or had consolidated their SANs to achieve cost benefits. Patrick St.-Jacques, technical specialist for the Canada Revenue Agency, in Ottawa, said his organisation had moved from a plethora of systems down to just IBM and EMC Corp. as the storage products in-house reached their end of life. The organisation kept IBM because it uses IBM mainframes heavily and because the IBM contract still has two years to run, he said.

Last year, the Canada Revenue Agency issued a tender, which is like a request for proposals, looking for a single storage vendor and expecting to save money on storage hardware, St.-Jacques said. At the time, different groups in the agency had their own SANs, with separate staffs covering Unix hosts, Windows systems and the mainframe, he said. The staffs merged -- though individuals are still broken out between mainframe support and open systems support -- and the organisation decided on an EMC DMX-3 with 750TB. That, combined with the IBM storage, brings the organization to more than a petabyte, he said.

EMC told St.-Jacques that it was the biggest single order the Hopkinton, Mass., company had ever had in Canada and one of the top five in North America, he said. Because the vendor expected to make money on software and services, the organisation saved a great deal of money on the hardware itself, St.-Jacques said. The benefits of a merged storage organisation have allowed departments of the Canada Revenue Agency to pool knowledge and act as backup to each other, and it has also enabled them to do a better job of due diligence when they're working with vendors, St.-Jacques said.

Similarly, Canada's ministry of education has been mandating mergers between school districts to help reduce local taxes. This required Anthony Brice, who then worked for the North Umberland/Clarington district school board, to merge his storage system with that of the Peterborough district school board, both in Ontario.

The two school districts issued an RFP and decided to use the Eclipse SAN Internetworking Switch from Hitachi Data Systems Inc. because it offered more reliability than the proposal from Hewlett-Packard Co., said Brice, now manager of technical systems for the Kawartha Pine Ridge School, in Peterborough. As servers with direct-attached storage reach the end of their life, the district buys new servers with small disks and attaches them to the SAN, he said.

Other users are attending the show with consolidation plans in mind. Tracy McGee is a systems engineer for the Tulsa, Okla., public school district. The organisation is currently running its schools on an IBM mainframe using a homegrown system written in COBOL and wants to migrate to a packaged product, which it has not yet decided on, she said. First, the organisation wants to upgrade and consolidate its storage, because it knows that whatever educational software it picks, it will need a lot of storage, she said. The organisation currently uses a catchall of products from several vendors, including EMC Corp., HP and IBM, she said. She is planning to write an RFP for storage after the conference.

Temple University, in Philadelphia, is using two midrange EMC Clariions and would like to consolidate its storage further, said Lonny Dash, lead LAN administrator. However, his group does not have complete control over all departments, and several departments have found that it is cheaper to buy a server with DAS than attach to the SAN, he said.

Savings. What savings?

However, organisations that have consolidated said they haven't necessarily seen the financial savings promised to them by vendors because users see the upgrades as an opportunity to request more storage or be more profligate with the storage they have. For example, departments that had used Sun Microsystems Inc. servers with 600GB asked for 1TB on the SAN, St.-Jacques said. In general, users were asking for one-third more storage than they already had, he said.

In fact, the 750TB that the organisation purchased -- which was supposed to last three years -- is going to be used up in March, halfway through that period, St.-Jacques said. In addition, he has had to educate some departments that they still needed to perform file maintenance such as deletion and archiving even though the organisation had bought all that storage, he said.

Brice said he is having the same experience and is having to double the 3TB his organisation originally purchased.