In a digital age in which businesses regularly are inundated with information that must be stored and categorized, demands for new larger-capacity equipment and other data-storage resources are rising at a blistering pace.
Although many companies and organizations now must have storage and backup tools for their data, information-intensive institutions, such as hospitals, large utilities, and banks, are seeing particularly strong growth in their storage-capacity needs, computer consultants here say.
Its like closet space, says Dusty Miller, president of Network Design & Management Inc., of Spokane. It loads up quickly and you need to expand, and the more room you have, the faster it gets filled.
NDM provides computer-networking services and software to Inland Northwest businesses, as well as big companies such as Dell Inc., Nintendo of America Inc., and Novell Inc. Miller says smaller businesses that have fewer than 20 computer users can get by with a $6,000 server with four hard drives. Such a server, with total storage capacity of 50 to 70 gigabytes, usually can meet the needs of an operation of that size for up to three years, he says.
Companies with 800 employees or more typically use equipment such as blade servers, which contain multiple hard drives and are stacked to minimize the amount of floor space they take up, Miller says. Blade servers have a starting cost of $4,000, plus the cost of buying a rack to hold the servers, he says.
Companies in recent years have started using what are called storage area network (SAN) and network attached storage (NAS) systems, he says. An SAN is a high-speed network that interconnects data storage devices with data servers. It can be connected with remote locations for backup storage, and can incorporate subnetworks using NAS systems.
An NAS system is a hard-disk storage system specifically designed for handling files, rather than block data, and that has its own network address, rather than being attached to a department computer, which makes finding files faster. SAN and NAS systems have starting costs of around $40,000, Miller says.
A larger company in Spokane thats using an NAS system is Avista Corp., which is seeing its data-storage needs grow by 50 percent to 100 percent a year, says Jim Corder, the companys director of infrastructure services. He says Avista is going on a storage diet to try to minimize the amount of data it stores, particularly in e-mails, and that most of the maintenance of its data is outsourced.
Even though the prices of data-storage computer equipment are falling, administrative costs associated with such storage are rising as data grows exponentially, Corder says. Avista currently has the capacity to store 20 terabytesa terabyte is 1,000 gigabytesof information. Ten terabytes are capable of holding the entire print collection of the U.S. Library of Congress.
Storage-related equipment and services account for about 3 percent of Avistas capital investments budget, and about 3 percent of its recurring expenses budget, Corder says.
Even though youre investing in storage, it more than offsets the cost of producing physical pieces of information in paper form, he says.
Avistas storage needs have escalated partly because of increasingly sophisticated portable devices and software programs that take up more storage space, Corder says. Record-retention laws that have been passed by the federal government in the wake of the Enron and WorldCom scandals also have contributed to that rise, he says.
Devices such as flash media, smartphones that integrate both personal information management and mobile phone capabilities in the same device, and high-resolution digital images all create more information that must be stored and managed, he says. He says 30 percent of Avistas storage growth owes to portable-device storage needs.
Additionally, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which states that all business records, including electronic records and messages, must be saved for at least five years, poses a daunting challenge.
Hospitals also are outgrowing their data-storage resources, as paper records are converted to electronic forms and radiography images are digitized and stored electronically, says Bryan Hillstead, administrative director and data storage manager for INHS, Inland Northwest Health Services, who is assigned at Empire Health Services.
Every time you scan a document youre looking at adding 30 to 60 kilobytes of information to storage for up to 20 years, Hillstead says. A typical patient chart could contain 200 pages, and were moving toward a totally electronic medical record system.
INHS stores and provides backups for data from all the hospitals in Spokane as well as Kootenai Medical Center, in Coeur dAlene, and Mason General Hospital, in Shelton, Wash., he says. It has around 450 servers at its data center here, and sends backup data to an off-site storage vendor, he says. The data center serves roughly about 18,000 users and contains information on some 2.5 million patients, he says.
INHS uses a combination of SAN, NAS, and six-drive servers, he says. It started upgrading its systems in 2002, when it had a capacity of less than three terabytes and 115 servers, and now has a 100-terabyte capacity and is using about 35 percent of that capacity.
INHS currently is testing equipment it has recently purchased for a remote hot site, where mirrored copies of critical information, such as lab work, radiography, and financial data will be stored. INHS is looking for a building to house that hot site, which will double its storage capacity at a cost of millions of dollars, he says. He declines to disclose the exact amount of those costs, but says even after that capacity growth he expects INHSs storage capability will grow by an additional 5 percent to 10 percent within another five years.
Banks here also are trying to cope with higher information storage loads. For instance, Spokane-based Washington Trust Bank has been investing in more advanced storage technology to accommodate increased demand.
Although our business is growing, our data storage needs are growing at an even faster rate than our business, says Jim Brockett, chief information officer.
Brockett says that in addition to normal business growth, storage demands are being driven by technologies such as voice-over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, the Internet phone technology, and software the bank uses with various data, such as loan information. Washington Trust added an SAN system earlier this year, and eventually plans to move all of its information from blade servers and other computers to the SAN system, he says.
Washington Trust uses off-site storage vendors for its backup data and outsources some of the management of that data to data-management companies in Spokane, he says. Currently, it has storage capacity of about seven terabytes, and is using less than half of that capacity.
Spokane-based companies and organizations arent the only ones that store data and use data-management services here, says Octavio Morales, business operations manager at Liberty Lake Internet Exchange LLC (LLIX). LLIXs high-tech services include server co-location, data storage, and disaster recovery. It has several thousand private and commercial customers throughout the Pacific Northwest, and more than doubled the number of its customers last year, he says.
Morales says companies in Seattle and Portland view Spokane as an ideal location to host their backup data, because Spokane is relatively safe from terrorist attacks, has virtually no natural-disaster threats, and yet is relatively close to those major cities.
Post 9/11, a lot of companies realized that a great place for their data-backup needs was within a days driving distance from their primary location, he says. Spokane has a wonderful networking infrastructure, and is in a sweet spot to provide those services.
Spokanes improved communication-networking infrastructure helps fuel data-storage growth here, he says. Larger bandwidths encourage businesses to use those fatter pipes and increase data capacities. Once that data is generated, those businesses IT departments have to find ways to store and provide backup support for it.
Its like the chicken-or-the-egg analogy, he says. Im not sure which came first, more bandwidth or the applications that take advantage of increased connectivity, but whatever the cause, the effect is a dramatic jump in demand for storage equipment and services.
The best strategy businesses can use to keep up with increased data-storage demands is to upgrade capacities, Miller says. Housekeeping policies that try to reduce the amount of information being used and stored typically waste time, he says.
The cheapest way is to buy more equipment and services, Miller asserts. Throw more disks in and keep expanding.
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