When it comes to storage networking the results speak for themselves. SANs users have seen their infrastructures deliver significant benefits and providing the basis for secure information management policies and practices. Following an astonishingly fast adoption rate, over 50% of organisations in Europe have now implemented storage networking (see TechWorld ‘Europe is SAN crazy!’) according to a recent industry survey by Macarthur Stroud International. Not forgetting that storage networking was still in its infancy just five years ago, what are the drivers behind this meteoric growth? How has the market changed in the past few years and are end users unaware of the extent of the return they actually got on their investment?

The operational benefits
The recent trend towards consolidation of resources has prepared the ground for the arrival of SANs. Organisations have rationalised their IT data centres to maximise the returns from their networks and gain better control of the large volumes of stored information. This lead users to become more aware of the amount of data present in their organisations, and spurred them to set up improved data protection policies and practices. As a result the time taken by the backup process has shrunk and the recovery of any lost data can now be achieved quickly and easily. The development of storage management tools also means that today resources can be allocated to specific applications; there is no need for the physical movement of disks to ensure that arrays with 100% utilisation do not cause unplanned problems. Continuous backup protection throughout the day can also be deployed using disk-to-disk processes while tape for off-line backup and archival can be implemented to support best practices.

Through the consolidation of system and storage resources, organisations have been able to reduce the number of servers and, as a result, the number of software licences required to run different applications. Savings have been realised in premises and personnel costs too.

SANs: creating the business case
Data is growing exponentially year-on-year and this trend is set to continue; today a high priority for IT managers is the management of information resources. Keeping systems fully operational and meeting service level agreements are today competing with other priorities. Aspects of corporate governance are having to be addressed by IT departments in new ways. Now that the regulatory and legal requisites - such as Basel II, Data Protection Law and the FSA standards - of maintaining all relevant business transactions, emails and databases are unavoidable, it is no longer just the responsibility of the users, but also that of the IT department.

This time of the year is particularly gruelling for the IT department. Budgets are reviewed, reallocated and cut. Infrastructure or support groups seem to get subjected to particular close scrutiny, especially by business units anxious to reduce their allocation of overheads. And yet the amount of information continues to grow, the threat of downtime gets more and more real and legislation on business continuity and data storage gets tighter and tighter.

Highlighting the benefits
So how can the IT department justify investment? Deploying project-planning software is a good starting point; the tips below will also be of assistance:

- Develop a balanced project portfolio that includes investments in the development of the systems infrastructure, maintenance of existing processes and all new application systems.
- Perform audits of completed IT projects, and keep an ongoing record of how much business value is generated from IT. The results might be surprising and will assist when budget proposals are challenged.
- Insist that all new IT project proposals include a return on investment appraisal.
- Keep an eye on what other companies are spending on IT, and how investment profiles compare

Storage today is an asset in its own right, not a drain on resources. Deployed in the appropriate fashion, a networked storage solution will deliver substantial benefits and improve the bottom line.