Yes, users should consider migrating to a utility model. But don't tune out yet. And yes, the idea has been floating around the data centre for the past three years, and yes, many people remain sceptical.
But what if the next time you start a project associated with your storage strategy -- especially upgrading your storage network -- you consider employing a utility model as part of the planning process?
In many ways, the process required to build a storage utility isn't that different from what users are already doing in order to gain support for IT budget expenditures. The differences come down to how new storage projects are funded, how administrators manage their operations and how dependent business operations have become on storage and other data center operations.
Much of the confusion over the utility model is due to the feeling that it requires outsourcing some part of operations to a vendor that, in turn, charges back based on capacity or processing usage. While this is one approach, it's not the only one enterprises are taking. In fact, more enterprises will deploy their own internal private utility models that accomplish many of the same goals as outsourcing -- and without giving up the data center keys.
Defining the utility model
So what is a utility model? It's a number of things. It's a deployment model that changes the way storage and other data centre services are managed. It's a new way of accounting for IT infrastructure usage. But most of all, it really is a new philosophy meant to answer the increasingly asked question: How is IT relevant to business?
Traditionally, the IT budget process has included a lot of lobbying by IT administrators. They make their cases for spending a fixed sum for a storage network, or allocating funds for a new storage system or better management software. The pitch also includes asking for money to maintain everything. That's the process.
But imagine a model in which storage and storage networking purchasing decisions made by storage administrators become directly tied to business requirements. It could happen if an innovative IT person decided it was time for storage purchases and operations to be directly tied to business operations. It could also happen if IT managers improved existing operations, such as backup, so they could be run as internal, usage-based charge-back services.
In a lot of cases, people don't even know that some of their newer management and financial practices are, in essence, treating their storage operations as though they were utilities. A number of data centre executives at a financial services forum admitted that, while they were interested in running more of their operations as computing and storage utilities, they didn't have time to put full strategies in place.
Interestingly, a number of these execs were getting direct contributions from business units for their annual IT budgets, and others were already charging business units for usage, capacity and processing. Both of these practices are hallmarks of the utility model that have already become common at many Global 2000 companies.
There are a number of misconceptions about the storage utility model. They include:
So, where do you start?
There are a number of things users should consider when planning a utility storage strategy. First, do an inventory of your storage operations. What are the costly, business-critical services you currently provide to business units?
Second, figure out how you would charge the business units for this service.
Third, make a plan. Key things that need to be considered include: How will you monitor usage? What's the rollout strategy? How do you educate business unit managers about their consumption, and how can they reduce expenses?
Finally, prepare to change. You won't be able to turn your entire storage budget into a cost-sharing model without a lot of education and hard work. It will take time, so create easy pilots that start to get business types thinking about what IT (and specifically storage) costs really mean to them.
Following are projects you should consider as possible storage utility model pilots: