Security and Virtualization Still Hot in the Face of IT Budget Cuts

IT managers at Storage Networking World (SNW) this week said their budgets have been cut, and they are concerned about the recession’s impact on their departments over the next year. Even so, impromptu electronic audience polling indicated that they plan to bolster data security and roll out green technologies in 2009.

About 665 IT managers showed up for the event, about 8% fewer than last year, and it was clear that the economic downturn is on many minds. Of those in the packed hall who took part in an electronic audience poll, 48% said they’re somewhat worried about the slow economy’s effect on their business and IT departments. Thirty-four percent said they are very worried about the recession, and only 18% said they’re not worried at all.

Dave Burhop, CIO at the Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, said his budget was cut by 3% this year, a move that affected the number of contractors his IT department hires. This year, Burhop is staying with internal resources and asking IT workers “to suck it up and work the 12-hour days.”

Burhop said he’s also deploying VMware in his data center to reduce server sprawl from 3,000 boxes to 1,000. The center supports 100,000 state employees, and cutting down on the number of servers will save not only on floor space, he said, but power consumption as well.

Fully 50% of SNW attendees polled said their top challenge in storage management this year will be IT budget constraints. Twenty-three percent cited the complexity of managing their infrastructure as their biggest concern, while 16% pointed to reliable backup and recovery solutions, and 11% worried about reliability and availability.

M. Andy Hansen, principal engineer for IT and server operations at Herbalife International of America Inc., said his company’s budget is flat this year, and the business is no longer allowing any “one-off” IT projects. All project requests must be submitted by October, with no add-ons allowed after that.

Herbalife has a data storage infrastructure that’s expected to grow from 250TB now to 400TB by year’s end. It is now evaluating storage virtualization vendors so it can pool legacy systems and new EMC Symmetrix and Clariion arrays, Hansen said. He has already rolled out server virtualization for the vitamin vendor’s 700 servers, 140 of which are now virtual machines.

“We’re doing a lot of virtualization, and I know we’re going to have a positive power impact because of that,” Hansen said, adding that company is looking at a variety of ways to save money. “One thing our company has been doing is you have to bring your own cup to work now. There are no Styrofoam cups anymore. I was talking to the director of facilities, and he said we save $70,000 a year because we don’t buy Styrofoam cups anymore.”

At SNW, 41% of those polled indicated they already have storage virtualization projects under way or that it’s a “done deal” as part of their IT strategies; 25% said they will have deployed virtualization in a substantial way over the next year, while 34% said it’s not a high priority.

Attendees also indicated that the top challenge related to storage for virtual server environments is effectively managing storage capacity.

When asked about security, 26% said their weakest point is general data and database encryption, while 22% and 21% indicated they are worried about virus and denial-of-service attacks and a lack of IT security expertise, respectively. Sixteen percent said they are most concerned about data theft or loss.

Burhop said a lack of good encryption on mobile devices is what keeps him up at night – “people forgetting to properly manage the data and leaving it in the back seat of their cars. We’ve got to get that taken care of, and we’re working closely with VITA to get that those laptops are encrypted.” VITA is the Virginia Information Technology Agency, an organization created to consolidate the state government’s technology infrastructure.

Green and cloud computing initiatives also figure prominently in plans for 2009. A quarter of those polled said they will roll out an energy-saving project this year, another 30% said they’ve already taken on such initiatives and plan to do more this year, and 4% said they’ve completed their green initiatives and plan nothing more. The remaining 41% have no plans to launch a project this year to reduce energy consumption.

As for cloud computing, Jeff Kubacki, CIO at Kroll Ontrack Inc., a technology services subsidiary of Marsh & McLennan Cos., said his company is looking to consolidate infrastructure and reduce costs over the next couple of years.

“The problem I have with the cloud is the sensitive nature of the data I have,” Kubacki said. “The biggest issue is: Will our customers allow us to have their data somewhere besides the confines of my data center?”

Kubacki’s biggest data management headache is managing the migration of 13 petabytes of data. He said too much of it is now on high-end, Fibre Channel storage, so he needs better tools – whether developed in-house or through a third-party service provider – to manage the burgeoning storage-area network and move much of the unused data to cheaper disk arrays. That’s true “especially in cases where we’ve been hosting data for vendors for several years.”

One emerging technology that could help with Fibre Channel disk sprawl is solid-state drives (SSD), which have the I/O speeds required for the ever-increasing CPU requirements of relational databases, but without the need to throttle hundreds of spinning disks to get there.

Even so, Kubacki said he isn’t looking to SSD use because his entire IT environment recently moved to high-end EMC storage. “We’re able to manage that environment with less than five people because the team is very comfortable with the technologies we have,” he said. “We can do that because we configure all the Clariions the same way, and it maps to our internal storage management allocation system.

“At this point, I’m also building a new data center, and just like I haven’t talked to some of the other disk providers to this point, I’m not considering SSD because I don’t want to take my eye off the ball in terms of the team building the data center and putting in disaster recovery,” he said. “To introduce a new technology now, I think, would be disruptive.”

In contrast, Herbalife’s Hansen said his shop is about to install its first RAID array made up entirely of SSDs in his Symmetrix array. “It will be in production, and we’ll probably set our indexes on it,” he said. “We’ll see how it goes. If we get that virtualization thing, we can get SSD from another vendor that might even lower our cost to use it.”