Can ITIL save storage?

How an ITIL-based approach can help storage management

I have a nightmare vision of storage administrators becoming clones of the mail carrier Newman from the TV sitcom Seinfeld, who once bemoaned the endless pressures of his job, crying, "The mail! It just keeps on coming and coming!"

One can make a case that of all the specialties that encompass the IT infrastructure, storage presents some of the greatest challenges. While all areas of infrastructure face the challenges of improving security, meeting greater service demands and containing cost, the combination of high growth rates, lack of effective means to classify stored data and the nearly infinite retention of that data presents a unique problem. In effect, storage organizations are drowning in data -- it just keeps coming!

To keep their heads above water, the natural tendency among storage teams is to seek out technology to survive the data onslaught, and while technology advances are critical, they aren't enough.

A growing number of IT organizations are undertaking process-transformation initiatives by embracing best-practice frameworks such as ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library). Traditionally associated with service management functions like help desk and asset registers (such as the configuration management database, or CMDB), Version 3 of ITIL has evolved into a comprehensive IT service life-cycle framework that includes strategy, design, transition, operation and continual improvement.

How can an ITIL-based approach help storage management? To begin with, it can provide clarity and set expectations of what the storage group delivers through a published service catalog. It also establishes metrics for both quality of service and the cost of delivering those services that will help build a business case for future initiatives as well as establish baseline targets for improvement. It also enforces operational disciplines to ensure consistency and repeatability.

Mapping ITIL concepts to storage management may seem daunting at first. The traditional ITIL material focused on servers, networks and security with almost no specific mention of storage. However, it is possible to adapt this information to evaluate functional areas of storage management -- capacity planning, acquisition and provisioning, operational practices in SAN configuration management, and data recovery -- and identify critical areas for process improvement. From there, one can establish a transition plan.

If this sounds difficult, the truth is that it can be. Process and workflow development is the "heavy lifting" of IT management, but it has been made at least a bit easier by the existence of material such as ITIL. What is even harder is considering the projection of storage volume into the future and its associated management costs if "business as usual" does not change. Unless one is planning retirement in the next few years, it's vital to get started now.

Jim Damoulakis is chief technology officer of GlassHouse Technologies Inc., a leading provider of independent storage services. He can be reached at jimd@glasshouse.com.

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