Deconstructing data centre sprawl

Over recent years, all enterprise businesses have had to face up to the constant challenge of managing ever-increasing volumes and varieties of data. Business data is expanding at an exponential rate, and this rapidity of growth is only likely to accelerate further. The growth in social media, mobile data, multimedia files, enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer resource management (CRM) and business intelligence data are all contributing to data centre sprawl.

Data centre sprawl is characterised by an infrastructure of physical storage equipment that lacks long-term efficiency or data protection strategy, generally built around server racks with low usage levels that are wasting space, time and energy allocations. Sprawl is crippling for any businesses, preventing the effective protection, management and storage of data, while inhibiting business growth and in some cases leaving critical IT system vulnerable to total failure or outage.

Many businesses IT infrastructures have been reduced to intimidating, wire-crossed jungles of physical storage equipment that have been allowed to expand organically as IT staff have tacked on additional repositories in panic responses to rising data demands. Most resorted to backup solutions that had limited capacity and no ability to scale performance, and now those initial fire-fighting methods have backfired as businesses have lost the ability to pause and restructure, resulting in detrimental data centre sprawl.

Initially, business owners felt that they had to accept sprawl as the only viable option in combatting data growth. However, the problem soon reached critical mass when energy bills skyrocketed, physical spaces became filled to capacity and green mandates changed the ways in which businesses had to address their energy spending. IT over-complexity eliminated data visibility, while redundant, end-of-life technology became difficult to pinpoint in mazes of heterogeneous hardware.

Today the demand for effective data protection and storage is set to increase further still, with the average enterprise business expected to experience up to 60 percent data volume growth each year. Data is appearing in new forms, existing data continues to grow richer and more varied, and consumers now expect to be able to store more data and to access any of it instantaneously.

For highly-competitive enterprises, the issues associated with data centre sprawl are numerous and critical. Lost or irretrievable data contributes to slashed productivity and reliability, resulting in financial losses, incomplete projects, and duplicated efforts. Worse still are the damaging effects of a loss of business reputation, as valued customers, prospects and auditors sense mounting disorganisation.

Symptoms of data sprawl first become visible internally, as IT managers discern that reports have grown erratic or inaccurate. Soon however, business planning becomes difficult and budgets come under strain as funds are funnelled into additional storage technology. Eventually, data crashes can no longer be addressed through system restoration, while business continuity and data disaster recovery plans become ineffectual and impractical.

Fortunately, the steps required to tackle data centre sprawl are the same for companies that have already become swamped by organic data management architecture, as they are for companies acting in proactive anticipation of data overload. The first line of attack is for a comprehensive audit of the backup environment. This type of audit enables IT managers to get a clear picture of what data is stored where, and to reassess the under use or redundancy of rarely-accessed devices.

This complete system analysis will allow for the construction of data maps, which establish basic transparency and enable IT managers to audit storage devices for their efficiency and purpose. In addition, accurate mapping of data storage will provide a foundation for updated contingency plans in the event of a data crash. The last stage of the process is to migrate data from end-of-life devices to more efficient systems, opening up additional space by decommissioning outdated architecture and allowing for data consolidation on reliable and stable technology.

IT staff should look for ways to consolidate their backup environments onto fast, scalable systems. These systems should also provide detailed reporting on the status of data as it passes through backup, deduplication, storage, replication, restore, and erasure. In doing so, enterprises can cut costs, dramatically decrease sprawl, increase IT staff productivity, and ensure consistent, consolidated data protection companywide.

However, without a cultural shift in the way a business copes with data growth, future scalability will not be possible. IT staff need to implement growth plans for a single system of data management and storage protection, eliminating organic growth of limited capacity physical storage structures. Ideal hardware will deliver high processing power coupled with great storage capacity and be well-suited for modular, ordered infrastructure growth. Continued monitoring and maintenance of an organised, grid-based layout of physical storage devices will allow IT heads to implement high-ratio deduplication technology for the management of content and data storage. And once data centre sprawl has finally been harnessed, IT managers should mandate clear processes of auditable data erasure to put the brakes on their own personal data explosion.

Tim Butchart is EMEA vice-president for Marlborough, Massachusetts-based data protection specialist SEPATON.