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    Assessing the need for storage virtualisation

    by Ian Hight

    By Ian Hight

    IBM Power Systems storage tape reseller nz

    Introducing the concept of virtualisation for storage systems and set out the key components of the storage virtualisation plan. 

    I will also drill down into the assessment that provides the foundation for executing a storage virtualisation project.

    Purpose of the assessment

    A storage virtualisation project has the potential to reduce complexity and thereby reduce the costs of storage infrastructure and on-going storage management. The completed assessment acts as a planning resource and can be used to communicate the project business case to management.

    It should also identify storage virtualisation goals, establish measures of success and guide the overall storage virtualisation plan. The assessment should be a detailed investigation of the costs and benefits also the degree to which storage virtualisation will impact the organisation’s infrastructure.

    How the assessment works

    In my view there are six mandatory steps in the assessment (and one optional step):

    1. An analysis of the business units and applications which will be supported by the new infrastructure – the analysis will include the amount and types of storage, infrastructure replacement costs and data protection policies
    2. A description of the desired future state that includes estimates of how the tiered environment will appear to the applications (e.g. numbers of locations, amount of storage, protection goals, etc.)
    3. A financial analysis of the organisational impacts that include current and projected total cost of ownership (TCO), growth projections and any other analysis needed to develop a business case
    4. Estimating the costs and benefits of future projects that will exploit virtualisation, such as thin provisioning (optional)
    5. Validation of technical and business assumptions
    6. Communication of the preliminary assessment to management and lines-of-business and incorporation of feedback from them
    7. Final report to management and lines-of-business

    An assessment should be completed over a period of weeks or months, with ongoing and periodic improvements to the plan as warranted. The assessment should also be updated as the storage virtualisation effort evolves through the various phases including design, build, test, implementation and handover.


    This phase involves setting goals, time scales and budgets, sizing the work effort and developing the detailed work plans with the agreed resources. The main driver behind storage virtualisation is to meet the storage service levels that business users require within a budget they are prepared to pay.

    Built into this are goals to improve storage efficiency, increase business flexibility and flat-line or even reduce the storage budget in a growth environment.

    The scope and size of a storage virtualisation assessment depends on five key factors:  
    1.    Size and diversity of infrastructure targeted for storage virtualisation
    2.    Diversity of applications and the supporting storage pools
    3.    Degree of decentralisation (i.e. the number of storage pools being consolidated into a storage virtualisation pool)
    4.    Complexity of the environment (e.g. workloads, disaster recovery services, copy services, etc.)
    5.    Desired level of depth and accuracy of the study

    In drafting your schedule of work, a credible first pass assessment can be achieved in an elapsed time of some nine weeks. The schedule will also enable you to budget more accurately for the resources and tools you will need. This broad schedule can be used as a guide:
    •    Week 1:        Expectation setting meeting with management and lines-of-business
    •    Weeks 2-3:  Initial data collection on current environment
    •    Weeks 3-4:  Research and proposed desired solution
    •    Weeks 4-5:  Research future technologies that exploit virtualization (optional)
    •    Weeks 5-6:  Conduct gap analysis / capture missing data
    •    Weeks 6-7:  Analyse business case and produce a draft report
    •    Weeks 7-8:  Incorporate feedback from management and lines-of-business
    •    Weeks 8-9:  Prepare final report and communicate findings, conclusions and recommendations

    Resourcing Storage assessment storage analysis

    There is a range of tools and skills needed for the assessment and they should be planned for ahead of the project. Typical technology I would recommend includes cost/benefit and ROI tools, risk assessment frameworks, disaster planning checklists and other diagnostics tools plus project management and other collaborative tools to wrap around the project.

    The key skills needed for the project are staff members (or consultants) who understand the current and potential storage infrastructure, architects who can configure and price the alternatives and a project manager who can liaise with other users, particularly line-of-business application owners, as to their requirements.

    As to the personnel requirements, a project manager and a team of in-house staff and consultants should be committed to the process (If they are not committed, then business as usual tends to detract from their efforts). In general a typical storage virtualization assessment will consume between 150-250 person hours to complete.

    Preparing for the Assessment

    In preparing for the assessment, there are a number of key activities: building the team (particularly the leadership); setting out the work plan; and agreeing the escalation procedures. 

    Building the team

    A storage virtualisation assessment can be accomplished by a relatively small project team of three to four staff with limited, specialist support from other contributors, depending on the size and scope of the project. Organisations with geographically-spread branches may need more supporting team members to provide details of this distributed IT infrastructure.

    The ideal team roles are: a project leader to give guidance, manage resources, establish timeframes and drive the work plan; infrastructure specialists with a broad understanding of application requirements; a business analyst capable of constructing a business case; and a line of business user who understands the organisation’s business requirements for applications and is able to provide input balancing improved storage service levels with the cost of storage. The team should of course have a senior executive as project sponsor, preferably the CIO, to demonstrate the importance of the assessment.

    Setting out the work plan

    Business case for storage virtualisation assessment

    The main activities (directed by the team leader) will be to set project goals, schedule resources, control quality (to include capturing missing information and ensuring communication of the results), keep the project on schedule and within scope and approve and communicate changes to the project.

    A team leader should assign key functions to relevant team members, such as data collection and analysis, developing a proposed solution with initial costing, finalising the business case and building and presenting the management report. A typical storage virtualisation assessment will consume between 150 and 250 person hours to complete.

    Work plans can be established using these key milestones:

    • Kickoff meeting: team members should be prepared to briefly discuss infrastructure goals, challenges, current approach and application requirements. The scope of the applications and storage to be investigated should be set
    • Data collection: a series of one hour meetings with the data collection analyst and one or two others with knowledge of the infrastructure requirements. The key here is to engage the appropriate number of individuals necessary to develop a credible picture of the existing storage infrastructure, costs and service levels
    • Build the storage virtualisation design: one day for the infrastructure expert to construct basic storage virtualisation design and cost structure (one-time and ongoing); two hours to review the plan with technical and business stakeholders
    • Construct the business case: two days for the business analyst to construct a business case with the cost/benefit analysis details; two days for the analyst to assess costs and benefits of future exploitation of storage virtualisation
    • Business case presented to team: two hours to present the business case to the team and then capture comments and review assumptions
    • Final report written, delivered and presented: a half day to revise assumptions and incorporate feedback with a further two days to construct final report and prepare the presentation to the management committee (and a further two hours for this presentation)
    • Ongoing measurement: One day per quarter throughout the project to realign the plan based on design, build, implementation and operations feedback

    Escalating issues

    I want to mention escalation channels which can arise from a lack of commitment to the process, lack of quality information or disputes over assumptions used to determine costs and benefits. I would suggest the following escalation levels as a guideline, to ensure the project timeline is not delayed unnecessarily:

    • Level 1 - team members resolve issues with no need for escalation
    • Level 2 - issues brought to team lead who uses mediation within the team
    • Level 3 - team lead uses mediation plan employing resources from outside the team, such as internal experts or external consultants
    • Level 4 - team lead is unable to resolve conflict and escalates to executive sponsor

    Once the team, including the executive sponsor, is in place and commitments secured from all major participants, it is time to build the business case for storage virtualisation.

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     Developing the business case 

    I now want to move on to discuss building the business case to justify the costs and resources needed for the project.

    The business case should be assigned to one of the project tea

    m members with an understanding of the economics of procurement and the analytics of return on investment. After allowing for some 7-10 days of researching and compiling the various cost elements I would suggest setting aside a further two days for drafting, a day for review and edit and half a day for presentation to the budget holders.

    Setting the timeframe

    The business case compares staying the course with the existing environment with changing to a virtualised infrastructure. To set the timeframe over which the business case will be constructed the team needs to agree over what period of time the infrastructure will be completely refreshed.

    Storage virtualisations delivers lower storage costs but these take place over time. Hardware savings are likely to be offset by more expensive virtualisation software and switching infrastructure, in the case of organisation using storage networks.

    Application availability typically improves when storage virtualisations occurs because processes and procedures are simplified which then improves infrastructure flexibility and quality, again over time. I would therefore recommend at least a three-year timeframe, maybe even four or five.

    Elements of the costing model: existing environment

    There will be a wide range of costs for the existing infrastructure. Amongst these costs are: production hardware (storage and connectivity/networks); backup/recovery hardware; implementation services and maintenance; storage management software licensing; write-down of retired equipment and software; and the salaries of management and staff (plus consultants’ fees).

    Where possible, set out the existing costs and alongside list the corresponding costs of the new virtualised environment. Then quantify the savings (or additional costs, such as those of the assessment project itself and of virtualisation software) and spell out the overall financial benefit over the agreed timeframe.

    Constructing the financial analysis

    The financial analysis will quantify the difference between the ‘as-is’ and the ‘to-be-assumed’ IT costs. Amongst the factors to take into consideration are:

    • Reduced cost of storage from, for example, applications no longer requiring the level of storage currently provided and improved utilisation of that storage
    • Lower cost of storage administration from improved tools to allocate storage usage
    • Efficiency gains in storage management in such areas as floor space, power consumption and staffing
    • Improvements in storage service levels for applications and the impact on the business of any reductions in service levels
    • Reduced cost of storage operations and connectivity, on such items as ports, storage network switching, provisioning, backup/recovery and data protection
    • Benefits of earlier implementation of future projects such as tiered storage and thin provisioning

    Include the benefits for the organisation

    IBM Power Systems storage tape reseller nz

    As well as quantifying the IT benefits, the business case will be strengthened by including other organisational benefits storage virtualisation brings. Ideas here might include:

    • Increased productivity from better availability of applications to line-of-business managers and users
    • Improved user productivity from better performance and enabling faster changes to existing applications and quicker implementation of new applications
    • Business continuity improvement such as a faster recovery from a disaster
    • Reductions in lost data from breaches of security
    • The degree to which future storage projects, built on virtualisation, would impact availability, flexibility, security and application performance

    Finalising and presenting

    Once drafted, the business case should be presented to the full team to revise assumptions, rerun data and get their input into the final presentation for the senior management budget holders. The case should lead with the executive summary which includes the high-level costs vs benefits and the team’s recommendations.

    With the business case reviewed and signed-off (with presumably some changes…) it is now time to carry out the assessment itself.

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