Insurance Networking News recently interviewed Joe Clabby, vice president, server and storage systems strategies, at Summit Strategies Inc., a marketing strategy and consulting firm based in Boston. Clabby has a strong background in networking, systems platforms, operating environments and business application reengineering. He has been in the computing industry for more than 25 years, and has written numerous reports, including "Staring Down the Storage Sinkhole."INN: You describe the current state of storage as a "fragmented morass of data management, storage management, back-up and recovery, as well as related technologies, management tools and manual processes." How did we get in this mess?

CLABBY: Storage to date has been very proprietary in nature. Each vendor has had a different scheme for storage management and data management, and different approaches to data back-up and recovery, and so on. Only recently have vendors such as IBM and HP gotten aggressive in driving standards into the storage community. And with the Storage Networking Industry Association standards in particular, the barriers to heterogeneous management of storage subsystems and data-and the procedures for backup/restore-have been simplified. We're moving in the right direction now, so many of these issues should start to dissipate over the next three years.

INN: You also say the end goal, from a technology perspective, is to "better organize, protect and manage all classes of information, structured and unstructured, as well as multiple formats and media." Why are CIOs trying to accomplish this?

CLABBY: The personnel costs related to the deployment and management of storage systems are very high. In some parts of the world storage administrators with specialized skills are making $85,000 to $100,000 to manage pools of storage resources. And if an enterprise is doubling the amount of storage it needs each year, it has to hire more and more of these people to manage this storage. Storage management products become extremely important given this scenario. If a CIO can reduce the amount of money he or she needs to spend on storage administration by using sophisticated, automated storage management software, that CIO can reduce operating costs related to administrative expenses.

INN: You say customers want highly integrated storage management environments, heterogeneous virtualization capabilities, and automated workload management and provisioning of storage resources. Describe each of these developments and why each is important.

CLABBY: Virtualization is all about the pooling of resources. These resources can be organized into pools within an array-or tens, hundreds or even thousands-of discrete physical arrays can be pooled into a single logical storage pool. Workload management is assigning workloads to various devices. This comes into play when trying to figure out where to host data (on which storage devices) to most rapidly process that data, for instance. Provisioning is all about building-up and/or tearing down environments to adjust for different workloads.

The storage market is currently heavily involved in consolidation. The next logical steps are virtualization and provisioning. All of these activities-consolidation, virtualization and provisioning-are important because they ultimately help an enterprise improve utilization and gain better control over their storage environments.

INN: Describe the storage vendor environment. Who are the major players, and where do they stand in terms of addressing the need for storage virtualization/provisioning?

CLABBY: In my mind the major players are Symantec with Veritas (a very bold and bright acquisition by Symantec); IBM with SAN Volume Controller; Hewlett-Packard (with various products, but I especially like HP's Storage Essentials because systems and storage management use the same interface) and Hitachi with its high-end TagmaStor offering. All of these vendors do virtualization very well. HP and IBM are particularly adept in provisioning.

INN: What steps should insurance companies be taking to move toward the "end goal?"

CLABBY: The roadmap is pretty straightforward. Insurers need to inventory what storage they have. They need to consolidate where possible to improve utilization rates and reduce maintenance costs. Then they need to turn their attention to virtualizing systems and storage resources-again to improve utilization rates and gain control over existing inventory. Finally, they need to invest in storage management software in order to lower administrative costs. This is a simple formula, and the return on investment becomes obvious quickly.

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