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Digitisation: The storage revolution

Digitisation: The storage revolution

The world is becoming more digitised. From health records to legal notes and consumer devices such as e-readers, all kinds of verticals are facing an influx of new data, and each of those verticals has different requirements for the access and use of that data.

Look at the medical industry, for instance – institutions are facing pressure to digitise medical records, but in Australia, that creates some steep requirements. Policy here is to retain records for the life of the patient, plus seven years after their death. If a patient lives to 100, 107 years of medical records needs to be stored somewhere, and those records - filled with large images like x-rays - can be significant in size. The other interesting quirk to the medical industry is that some of the medical records of a patient might be required in a very short time-frame. Storing everything on tier-1 storage would be expensive, but a doctor (or, worse, a surgeon) might not have the time to wait for archives to be pulled up from tape.

The legal profession faces a different challenge entirely – the digitisation of weighty documents is not necessary as such, but a properly digitised and indexed library will cut down on valuable research time for lawyers and researchers. The concern there is setting up a proper indexing and search engine.

In the consumer space, technology such as e-readers are changing the infrastructure requirements of distributors and retailers.

“Historically we’ve had a Web book store and it’s just been a channel to market – you’d put the order in and the book would be sent out,” CA business unit director for recovery management and data modelling business unit, Scott Caulfield, said.

“Taking the book and transforming it into an electronic medium means we don’t have to store it in a warehouse, but we do have to store it somewhere digitally, and we do have to make it available to you quickly and easily as a consumer. If we can’t do that, it impacts on our brand reputation, and that impacts on how much money we can make.”

It’s hard to imagine a vertical where the digitisation of data is not having an impact, but those three examples above prove that the storage requirements as a result can be varied.

IDC claims that this will lead to vertical-specific solutions being developed to address the individual needs of each vertical.

“In the past people have taken the position ‘throw disc at it because disc is cheap', and whilst the cost of GB per dollar is in decline, the reality is the acquisition costs of disc are not the problem,” IDC director of enterprise research practice, Simon Piff, said.

“In the past it’s been considering akin to plumbing – only a plumber thinks strategically about the plumbing, and then you complain when the toilet doesn’t work. The verticals are focused on their industries, not storage, and that leads to all sorts of opportunities in advising people and come up with best practices on what kind of data you want to be keeping on what level of storage.”

It’s something that EMC is actively working towards. “What we do is invest and develop out proven solutions that come back to addressing some of the issues they have,” EMC marketing manager of storage platforms, Mark Okey, said.

“For financial services and insurance, they’ve usually got a heterogeneous environment, and it’s important to make sure it can scale and provide high availability, but if you look at forensic science, they’re going through that transition from moving from an analogue repository system to a digital one, so they are concerned with compliance and policy-driven and protection in storing those images,” Okey said.

The Swiss army knife approach

NetApp’s approach is to be as flexible as possible when building solutions. The vendor’s principle technologist for Australia and New Zealand, John Martin, claimed there were times when a flexible approach could mitigate unexpected situational changes.

“I’ll use an example: a firm that managed a large number of properties had decided to go for a tapeless backup solution, so they bought a very large number of TBs worth of capacity to hold all their backups for their requirements. Then the financial crisis came along, and they suddenly didn’t have any budget for buying storage for a little while.

“Then they said ‘you know what? We can continue to use tape for a little while longer.’ They repurposed that backup to disc capacity and found out they could use VMware and they started to use it for different purposes just by changing the software options and come of the configurations around the hardware they purchased. So by configuring the hardware in a slightly different way they were able to get a different result.”

Previously customers would purchase and provision storage on a ‘per-project’ basis. With the advent of server virtualisation, however, it has become possibly to create an infrastructure that is scaled and has more built into it.

Indeed, other storage players prefer not to consider vertical solutions at all. Compellent partner, XSI data solutions, is more interested in cobbling together a solution that is equally applicable to all verticals, than adapting to different markets.

“Whether it’s NAS, SAN or whatever else, if you have the right products, you’ll do well – what you need is customer driven features, not vendor driven features,” XSI state manager for Victoria, Fergus Gartlan, said. “What Compellent has done is applied VMware into storage, and has virtualised every block underneath the storage. We’re no longer tied to the geometry of disc drives, and disc drive sizes and feeds, because you can have multiple RAID volumes across multiple types of disc drives,” Gartlan said.

“You can’t shoehorn a particular type of box into a customer that just fixes one thing when in six months time another project comes along which means the customer starts regretting what he bought.”

It’s also important to take note of the software sold with the storage solution. Gartlan said customers might get caught out, and disappointed, when a solution they outgrow requires new software – where possible, software should be able to be rolled into a new box solution.

Managing media

Verticals that make extensive use of rich media come with yet another list of unique requirements. Concerns for these verticals revolve around workflow management and making sure datasets, video and personal messaging are properly managed.

Quantum’s solution is to create a software application that allows different operating systems to share the same disc, allowing people with different applications sets on those operating systems.

Quantum Australia and New Zealand country manager, Keith Busson, said engagement with vertical customers was often a challenge, because often a group of customers were users, not IT staff.

“In rich media it would be a production team. These guys don’t know IT, they use IT, but they don’t know what’s under the covers,” Busson said.

“One of the challenges for anybody trying to get into a vertical is that you have to talk their language – in the rich media space that means you need to understand standard definition, high definition, 3D, frames per second, and what that all means to you as a storage provider.

“You have to be able to turn that into terabytes and an infrastructure that works.”


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