At the simplest level, data center managers have two choices when considering storage options:
- Do nothing and continue to buy more disk storage, or
- Implement some type of storage management solution to help control the seemingly unrelenting nature of storage growth.
You may subscribe to the do-nothing approach and rationalize this decision because of the relatively low cost of disk storage. However, there are more expenses associated with adding storage than the initial capital expenditure. For example, consider the costs of real estate in the data center, the ongoing expense of power and cooling, and the added workload for IT staff. In addition, all disk storage will eventually need to be replaced — if for no other reason than age — and the more disks you replace, the greater the cost.
For these reasons, it is preferable to get a handle on storage proliferation and adopt a suitable data storage management solution. With managed storage, you can better control operating costs, maintenance needs and physical data center growth.
Prioritizing Your Data
The first step should be to get your “storage stakeholders” together. This group of people may include:
- Line-of-business managers
- IT directors
- Department heads
- Storage administrators
- C-level executives
- Legal advisors
- Anyone else involved in making decisions about storage retention and access
At a high level, everyone should try to reach a consensus about how to categorize the company’s data. Though every organization is different, essentially you’ll want to prioritize your data in the following categories:
- Priority 1: Data critical to daily operations
- Priority 2: Less critical data that still needs to readily accessible
- Priority 3: Data that can be archived for potential access at some point in the future
- Priority 4: Data that can be deleted
These priorities correlate directly to the type of storage media that the data will be stored upon. For this reason, keep in mind that depending upon your industry there may be legal guidelines that dictate certain data policies and data retrieval abilities.
Once you have categorized your data and established a corresponding data storage retention and access policy, it is time to start investigating potential storage solutions. A common approach is to assign each data priority level to a storage tier.
Standard Data Storage Tiers
Typically your fastest and most reliable disk array(s). This is the electronic warehouse for Priority 1 data — data that is most frequently accessed and deemed most important to daily business operations. It is most common to see the highest performance, and therefore most expensive, SAS or Fibre-Channel based disks used at this top level.
This tier is usually comprised of larger capacity spinning disks that are not quite as fast as the disks used in Tier 1, and is suitable for Priority 2 data. Often SATA disks are used for Tier 2 storage. Keep in mind, however, that SATA disk drives vary greatly in quality. Some manufactures use terms like enterprise-class SATA and other marketing speak, but the best indication of quality designation is the warranty of the drive. Therefore, be certain to check and compare warranties.
A tape drive, autoloader or library is most commonly used for Priority 3 data archive or backup. You could refer to this as long-term storage. Some tape libraries are left online, allowing end-user access to the data that is stored on the tape. Even if the data an end user requires is offline, some storage management software will indicate this and alert the administrator to load the appropriate tape cartridge. Optical disc drives and libraries can also be used at this tier, although they are not as popular as they once were.
This is the bit bucket, or the trash, and ideal for Priority 4 data. Inevitably, there will be data that is deemed unworthy of preservation — personal mp3 files on end-user computers that policy recognizes as inappropriate, for example. Consequently, the files are transitioned to never-never land. Some organizations are prohibited from deleting any files, however, and therefore Tier 4 storage would not be a valid target option.
This is a fairly new tier, created predominantly because of the availability of Solid State Disks (SSD) of either the DRAM or NAND Flash varieties. SSD usage is largely relegated to special usage, such as for video-streaming applications and disk-backup appliances, which utilize SSDs for meta-data operations. However, many people (me included) believe that SSDs will continue to encroach upon the dominance of traditional spinning disk, as improvements to the technology continue to be made. Already, SSDs offer greatly improved performance and consume far less power than spinning disk, which translates into greatly reduced heat generation and lower operating costs.
Data Tiers and Hierarchical Storage Management
To streamline your data management further, you can implement HSM (Hierarchical Storage Management) software. This solution allows you to set automated storage policy controls based on a set of established file criteria, considering information such as:
- File size
- Age of file
- Type of file
- File ownership
- Date of last access
- Combination of the above
By considering how these criteria apply to different data priority levels, you can easily get your data to the appropriate storage tier with minimal ongoing management. The process runs on a server or a dedicated appliance. Once the file criteria have been met, the file is automatically moved to a particular storage location based upon your set policies. End-user access to the file can be maintained via stub files and pointers, although access may be slower if the file has been relocated to tape, for example.
With HSM software, you can allow end users to access stored files as if nothing has changed, even after they have been relocated.
If you are constantly adding more storage to accommodate data growth, you may want to consider a storage management solution like one of the above. Meet with key decision makers and storage stakeholders to talk about categorization of your data. Discuss what data retention policies should look like, as well as ongoing access to data. Remember to check legal implications if they apply. Finally, engage a trusted business advisor with storage management expertise to help you sort through the many available products in the marketplace and select the best solution for your requirements.
Perry Szarka is a Solution Consultant at MCPc with expertise in data storage and network infrastructure. He works closely with clients to understand their business objectives and discover solutions to help them achieve their goals.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T. What a classic song by Aretha Franklin. She sang it with such sass, confidence and power. This makes perfect sense, given that respect is such a powerful word and so integral to our workplaces. Showing respect in professional environments is so important that many companies even include the word in their value statements.
Respect in the Workplace
At MCPc, we have created a working environment where it’s not okay to yell, ever. We smile and greet each other when passing by in the hallways. We value one another’s time and personal commitments. Because good teamwork comes from being considerate of others’ belongings, abilities, beliefs and personalities, we work to ensure that our environment is free from all levels of harassment.
In short, we treat each other with respect.
“As a new associate at MCPc, I feel respected when my coworkers are sure to introduce me to any visiting customer or vendor they know I work with, but haven’t yet met in person,” said David Martter, Customer Service Representative.
Encouraging Respect from the Top-Level Down
Treating one another as equals, no matter their position, is a golden rule that starts with our executive team and trickles down. Successful associates at MCPc don’t understand the phrase, “It’s not my job.” In fact, even executives have been known to shovel the sidewalk in front of our office if our facilities team — who usually takes care of shoveling — is swamped with orders to get packed and shipped.
Managers who treat their team members respectfully are critically important to good organizations. At MCPc, we expect our managers to show respect to their team members by clearly defining expectations, valuing their opinions, treating everyone fairly and taking timely steps to correct any offensive behavior they may see. Ultimately, great managers should care about each team member as a person and encourage his or her professional development.
“It’s important to show associates that you respect their accomplishments by recognizing them,” said Karen Kulow, Sales Support Representative. “A quick letter to a supervisor letting them know how much you appreciate something one of their team members did is key. Just last week I sent a note to a coworker's manager letting them know how their team member made my customer’s life easier by expediting an order for them.”
Respect Outside Our Walls
It’s not just internal — we are equally serious in regard to how we treat our customers. MCPc employees strive to carefully listen to customer needs, be empathetic toward them and develop solutions that meet their specific goals. After customers have trusted us with their time, concerns, and often budgets, it’s important that we show our respect by genuinely keeping their best interests at heart.
“Responding promptly to customer inquiries shows respect,” said Cindy Magic, Sales Support Representative. “Don’t leave customers wondering if anyone is on the other end of their emails. Being respectful of their time when calling is also key.”
A Conscious, Continuous Effort
We know we’re not perfect when it comes to being respectful, and we continue to work toward being better at it every day. For example, we encourage all employees to consciously think about things such as:
- Not using speakerphone in close-cube settings
- Always showing up to meetings on time
- Giving credit where credit is due
- Not sending unwanted email
- Communicating directly, honestly and effectively
- Giving their very best to the job every day
How Do You Define Respect?
Dictionary.com defines respect as “esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person, a personal quality or ability.” I truly believe that showing respect in the workplace, through words and actions, can boost self-esteem and camaraderie. This attitude helps associates respect themselves and others more, thus creating a healthy and cohesive working environment.
How do you show respect to your co-workers? Do you feel respected at work?
Beth Stec is VP of Corporate Communications and Human Resources at MCPc, and is responsible for the development and management of personnel programs and policies. Connect with Beth on LinkedIn.
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Today we’re starting a new feature for the MCPc blog — the IT Monthly Roundup, a collection of articles from the previous month that are important, impactful or otherwise of interest to today’s IT professional.
We understand how hard it is to stay up-to-date with all of the news and complexities of our industry so we’re hoping that providing a monthly wrap-up will be useful to you. Let us know what you think and if we missed your favorite article, please share it in the comments below.
Today, we’re taking a look at: the benefits and ROI of Windows 7 upgrades, how virtualization and cloud computing relate to one another, data storage options for varying needs, five ways for network managers to improve efficiency and how Internet-phone providers may change telecommunications.
Midsized Companies Migrating to Windows 7 Find the Payback Worthwhile
For CIO Symmetry, Ed Scannell shares the findings of a recent IDC report, which showed that on average, small-to-medium-sized businesses that upgrade to Windows 7 from XP or Vista can see a 100% ROI in 7.2 months.
Additional benefits to Windows 7 deployment, as reported by IDC, include:
- Decrease in IT support needs — an average 65% decrease in PC service desk support hours, 55% drop in PC operating system support hours and 45% drop in PC deployment hours.
- More productivity from end users, due to a reduction in malware, downtime and reboots — resulting in an average of 43 additional productive hours per user, per year.
If you’ve been considering an upgrade to Windows 7, check out Scannell’s article (he links to the IDC report as a PDF download) for more on the potential benefits.
3 Vendors on the Relationship Between Cloud Computing and Virtualization
In this article for Read Write Web, Alex Williams (@alexwilliams) examines videos from Cisco, Citrix and BlueLock in which company representatives address the issue of how virtualization relates to cloud computing.
There has been a fair amount of chatter online recently as to whether or not virtualization and cloud computing are the same thing, and for his article Williams went direct to vendors to get their take — and graded each on their explanation.
BlueLock was the “winner” of the virtualization-cloud video contest, largely due to the company’s clever use of Legos to help viewers visualize how virtualization is changing data center design, which in turn provides a better infrastructure to support cloud-based services. However, each company provides a fair assessment of these technologies and how they can better support today’s rapidly changing IT environment.
At the end of the day, I suppose this is all an argument of semantics, but one thing is for sure: virtualization and the cloud will be top-of-mind for IT professionals for the foreseeable future. If you don’t have a good understanding of how these technologies can work for your business, check out the full article.
The Six Levels of Primary Data Storage
By Matt Prigge, this InfoWorld article takes a look at several basic options for data storage, and what type of organization may be a good fit for each. Says Prigge, “the primary storage ladder can be broken down into six distinctive rungs. Who you are and what you do will determine your best option.”
He goes on to explore the options in ascending order of complexity, along with recommended number of users, approximate cost, redundancy level and hardware/software examples for each:
- Peer to peer
- File server
- Low-end SAN
- Enterprise-class SAN
- Network-based storage virtualization
Read the full article for details on the above storage structures, or to determine what options might be appropriate for your organization.
Top 5 Network Management Investments
Spurred by virtualization, tight budgets and smaller staffs, the need for improving efficiencies within IT environments continues to grow. For Network World, Ann Bednarz offers five suggestions for network managers looking to do more with less:
- Consolidate management tools across the enterprise, which in addition to cost savings can also help you get a clearer understanding of your complete infrastructure, rather than individual silos.
- Invest in network configuration and change management (NCCM) tools, which can help to provide network disruption notifications more quickly through automation, as opposed to manual monitoring.
- Increase application awareness, including: what applications are active, what users are accessing them and the end-user experience with each.
- Pay for analysis, not monitoring, when considering new software-management tools.
- Exploit untapped capabilities in existing toolsets, by making sure that you fully understand what all of your existing tools can do for you.
For details on each of these suggestions, see Bednarz’ complete article.
Internet Phone Providers Shake up Telecommunications
TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington (@arrington) reported that Cisco may be looking to purchase Skype before the Internet-phone company completes its IPO process. Nothing has been confirmed at time of publication, and even the Wall Street Journal’s Deal Journal is having trouble understanding exactly what value Skype can bring to Cisco. That being said, this is in the wake of Google announcing its free Internet-to-phone calling service, Voice Calls from Gmail, as reported by the New York Times’ David Pogue.
So, what does all this mean to you? As Internet services continue to offer free or low-cost calling options, and as the call quality increases, you may see drastic changes to your telecommunications environment. If unsanctioned, employees using these services at work may affect wireless network quality for others. Or, if your company is considering further adoption of these technologies, it’s time to start thinking about what that means to your voice, video and data network.
What Do You Think?
What articles, blog posts, videos or podcasts did you find interesting last month? This post is an MCPc blogging team collaboration. Post a comment and we’ll be sure to keep an eye on those sources for future wrap-up articles like this one.
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In 2006, Melanie Rieback, a researcher at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands wrote an article entitled “Is Your Cat Infected with a Computer Virus?” The article noted the increasing adoption of implanted RFID tags for tracking pets and questioned whether those tags were susceptible to computer viruses.
The larger implication of the article was that if implantable devices could be contaminated, a risk was created for humans as well as animals.
RFID Tags Explained
RFID tags are tiny microchips combined in a package with an antenna. The tags have the ability to send out signals to a wireless network, which can be used to determine the tag’s location or perform more sophisticated applications such as transferring records.
Major Security Concerns
Dr. Rieback posited the question of whether, during a transfer of information, a virus could be introduced on the tag; and, if such a virus was introduced, could it then be transferred to other parts of a network?
At the time the article was published, the IT security community dismissed the possibility. The consensus was that because of the read-only capability of most RFID devices, viruses would have no way to replicate.
However, RFID technology capabilities have grown dramatically in the last four years. Read/write devices are now common. Unlike read-only tags — which only contain the information put on them when they were manufactured — read/write tags can be overwritten. This means that information can be sent to, and recovered from, these tags. In short, the early argument against Dr. Reiback’s theory is now defunct.
The First Computer Virus to Infect a Human
To demonstrate the dangers this advanced technology can pose, Dr. Mark Gasson of the University of Reading, England recently performed an experiment that caused him to make newspaper headlines as the “the first man in the world to be infected with a computer virus.”
RFID chip — small enough to be implanted in a hand.
Dr. Gasson programmed an RFID chip to open doors and to activate his cell phone. He then implanted this chip into his arm. The result: using the chip, he could activate door-entry systems and wake his cell phone just by walking within range.
For the next part of his experiment, Dr. Gasson sent a virus to the tag. When the tag was used to enter his lab, its virus was passed on to the network that controlled the door-entry system. From there, it was passed to the tags of Dr. Gasson’s colleagues who used the entry network. This proved, according to Gasson, that the human body could be the carrier of contamination that could infect a computer network.
IT Security Community Reaction
The IT security community largely condemned Dr. Gasson’s methodology and his conclusions. The human-computer virus connection, they said, was an alarmist grab for personal publicity.
In his defense, Gasson told the Sydney Morning Herald he was “exploring from a multi-disciplinary perspective the potential and risks of implanted devices,” and that the research “used vulnerability in the technology to allow an engineered computer virus to propagate via an implant."
This intentional attempt to spread a virus to a device inside the human body invites the question of whether a virus could maliciously be spread to implanted medical devices.
Many pacemakers, for example, wirelessly communicate with computers in a doctor’s office. This allows the doctor to easily collect information and keep track of what’s going on with his or her patients. Could a life-threatening virus use this connection to spread to these devices?
Medical Device Viruses at the VA
A recent article in InformationWeek reported that the Department of Veterans Affairs has taken 122 medical devices offline in the last fourteen months because of malware contamination. Diverse equipment — including MRIs, CT scanners, EKG machines and audiology diagnostic machines — were included. The total represents a small percentage of the VA’s 50,000 medical devices, but the threat is seen as significant.
"The major challenge with securing medical devices is that, because their operation must be certified, the application of operating system patches and malware protection updates is tightly restricted," said Roger Baker, assistant secretary for information and technology at the Department of Veterans Affairs. "This inherent vulnerability can increase the potential for cyber attacks on the VA trusted network by creating risk to patient safety.”
Viruses Spread Between Devices
As Danny Lieberman showed last month in an article published in Infosec Island, viruses can be transferred through medical devices into a hospital’s network.
In the InformationWeek article, Baker expressed his concern: "These infections have the potential to greatly affect the world-class patient care that is expected by our customers. In addition to compromising data and the system, these incidents are also extremely costly to the VA in terms of time and money spent cleansing infected medical devices.”
The VA, like many healthcare organizations, has a strict policy on the application of operating system patches, malware protection updates and the re-certification of compromised equipment. Therefore, it typically takes several months before a medical device infected with a virus can be cleared for reuse.
Implications to IT Professionals
So, could your cat get a computer virus? Probably not.
Dr. Gasson did not, in the end, have a computer virus. He was merely carrying a device that had a virus. The fact that the device was embedded under his skin is actually immaterial, as he could have achieved the same effect by carrying an infected smartphone.
It’s more important to focus on the device: there was nothing in the tag to keep it from acquiring and spreading malware. Though in most cases, viruses can’t get past an individual device due to firewall protection, a device itself that isn’t secured poses a potential risk.
For example, the inability of a pacemaker to associate with a hospital network would be of small consolation if that pacemaker resided in your chest and was being controlled by someone with malicious intent. It is important that those responsible for security in healthcare organizations be aware of these potential access points for attacks from unexpected sources, and provide security for every intelligent device.
Bill Cannon is Vice President of Business Development at MCPc, and an IT industry veteran with expertise in networking and telecommunications technology. Connect with Bill on LinkedIn.