Data storage issues have always been with us. Not long ago, getting more storage space meant purchasing an extra filing cabinet or two. Within an office, documents were transferred via sneaker Net, and sharing data with remote offices meant utilizing the United States Postal Service.
Today, information storage needs are greater and more complex. Data stored electronically still tends to pile up, requiring new and better ways to organize and access it. At the same time, the pace of business means workers must be able to share files with colleagues across town or around the world in the blink of an eye. And this must be accomplished in a cost-effective and secure manner. Fortunately, there are a number of technologies available or on the horizon designed to fill those needs.
Share and Share Alike
"Government tends to be, by its very nature, geographically dispersed," said Mark Cree, general manager of the storage router business unit for Cisco Systems. Cree said departments have a propensity to maintain their own storage pool of duplicate and unique data, a practice that can be expensive. "You need to consolidate storage to reduce the total cost of ownership," he said.
Enter the storage area network (SAN). Instead of keeping a copy of shared data at each regional office, information can now be stored centrally on a bank of servers that are easier to secure and maintain. However, all of this data is of no benefit if users cannot access it.
Previously, this meant installing a fiber channel network, an option that is expensive and geographically limited. Now, organizations are finding ways to communicate with their SANs over existing Internet Protocol networks, a practice deemed IP-based storage.
"IP-based storage is gaining," said John Webster, an analyst with Illuminata. He cites its extended reach, which allows it to connect even smaller servers in remote locations, as a reason for the surge in its popularity. "I see that developing fairly rapidly," he said.
IP-based storage networking uses an organization's existing network to access the SAN, reducing reliance on fiber channel technology. IP-based storage can also bridge the gaps between existing fiber-channel networks. Blanca Gomez, marketing manager for Adaptec, said IP-based storage allows an organization to "leverage [their] existing infrastructure," delivering data over an IP network from fiber-channel network to fiber-channel network. A standard called Internet Small Computer System Interface (iSCSI) makes this possible. Once this standard, written by Cisco and IBM, is ratified in early 2002, organizations will be able to access a SAN over their IP network using a storage router.
Ram Jayam, vice president and general manager of the storage-networking group at Adaptec, believes that agencies will know when they are ready to adopt IP-based storage for their organization. "If you are storing a lot of data and need it 24/7, you're ready for IP storage," he said.
Metro-optical networking is another option for increasing the ease of data storage and sharing. This technology makes use of fiber-optic networks already in existence in major cities such as New York and Philadelphia. Because fiber carries light, it can be segmented into up to 32 colors, each of which can carry a different stream of data. "The initial capital investment is pretty hefty," Cree said, but he believes governments will adopt metro-optical networking because of its high level of security and scalability.
Installing any kind of storage architecture will entail a significant financial investment. This is where the Storage Networking Lab comes in. Hosted by Imation, the lab is vendor-neutral and contains over 140 pieces of equipment that allow organizations to test a storage architecture before committing to purchase. "A SAN can have 10 vendors, each of [which] individually says, 'This will work,'" said Bill Peldzus, storage consulting marketing manager for Imation. By renting time in the lab, either with or without the services of a storage consultant, an agency can test equipment using their own, often homegrown, applications and their own data. Renting the storage lab runs between $4,000 and $8,800 per day, providing independent validation that Peldzus calls a smart investment.
The rapidly increasing demand for effective and secure storage led the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) to form a committee to address storage issues and identify best practices. Bobby Patrick, chairman of the ITAA data storage committee and vice president of strategy and development for Digex, spearheaded creation of the committee. "Digex approached ITAA and said, 'Look, we have a glorious storage problem in front of us,'" he said.
This glorious problem is of critical importance to governments, who need to be aware not only of their storage technology but also of who controls it. "Information traditionally stored within government walls now is stored across the Internet," Patrick said.
Maintaining the security of such data is one of the issues the committee will address.
Patrick believes storage issues will become increasingly important as organizations store more data and need to maintain it accurately and securely. "I think you will see storage as a public issue, like security is today," Patrick said.
On the Horizon
Storage media and architectures on the horizon hold great promise for handling increasing loads of data. DataPlay is a small disk the size of a quarter that is capable of storing up to 500MB. Although it will be targeted primarily at the consumer market, where it will store music, video, pictures and text, it may find a home in an organization that requires a highly portable storage solution for its road warriors. DataPlay will hit the market in early 2002.
A decade or so down the road, holographic storage may play a role in solving storage problems. By taking advantage of exact angles of reference that are possible with laser beams, a holographic storage medium will be able to store a vast amount of data in a small physical space. This technology is currently in the early stages of research and development.
Data storage has come a long way from the extra filing cabinet. With greater security, reliability and speed, storage can't help but become even easier to manage.