The IT industry is abuzz with talk about the advantages of server virtualization and the cloud — and rightly so. These technologies let organizations make efficient and flexible use of available compute capacity, while helping drive down the cost of software and infrastructure ownership.

At the same time, no IT organization can afford to neglect recent advances in storage. For one thing, the sheer volume of data is expanding exponentially as organizations gather vast amounts of information, perform an increasing number of business processes digitally and continue to amass documents over time. Also, storage has become critical to achieving key IT goals. In particular, widespread virtualization requires that large numbers of server and desktop virtual machines be kept readily available on centralized, shared storage resources.

Perhaps most important, legacy storage technologies were not architected to support the virtualized enterprise. They make it difficult to manage and scale storage resources in today’s highly dynamic computing environments, severely restricting IT’s ability to respond cost-effectively to constantly changing business needs. In marked contrast, advances in intelligent storage directly address these realities, enhancing the competitiveness of the business and positioning it for successful growth.

Although various emerging technologies are currently competing for finite IT dollars, next-generation intelligent storage represents a particularly compelling investment for several reasons.

1. Controlled infrastructure costs

Storage is a fast area of growth in IT spending, often outpacing systems and software. This growth results from the rapidly expanding volume of enterprise data and from compliance and security regulations that require organizations to keep data in-house for extended periods of time.

Next-generation intelligent storage is designed to tame storage costs by using existing capacity more effectively than legacy storage and by deferring capital expenditures on storage devices. For example, by combining thin provisioning, thin copies and scale-out architecture, IT can support additional business services with a relatively small capital outlay. This approach enables decision makers to scale capacity incrementally as required — rather than purchase a full complement of expensive storage gear up front.

2. Heightened IT staff productivity

Personnel represent one of the greatest expenses for any IT organization, so it is essential to optimize the value of existing staff resources. Unfortunately, manual management of increasingly complex storage infrastructure can consume a disproportionate amount of staff time and effort, especially when IT must respond to sudden shifts in capacity or performance requirements.

In contrast, next-generation storage enables IT to take advantage of both built-in device intelligence and hypervisor integration to help automate and simplify a wide variety of storage management tasks, such as load balancing, data tiering, RAID configuration and storage provisioning. As a result, IT can support additional business services with existing staff and flexibly allocate staff resources to strategic projects.

3. Outstanding application performance

As executives, sales personnel and other staff members become dependent on immediate access to back-end data for smart on-the-spot decision making, their tolerance for inadequate application performance is approaching zero. Performance is also becoming increasingly important as organizations use technology to interact meaningfully with customers.

Next-generation intelligent storage supports exceptional application performance and consistent adherence to service-level agreements (SLAs) because it is designed to automatically place the right data on the right tier. This automated, highly granular data tiering also helps to substantially reduce the cost of achieving a high level of performance. In addition, tight integration with hypervisor platforms allows intelligent storage to optimize performance by dynamically reallocating resources in response to changing demand.

Intelligent storage enables these performance improvements without requiring the overprovisioning of capacity to accommodate intermittent peak demand. Instead, it allows available infrastructure to be intelligently and automatically applied as necessary to overcome potential performance bottlenecks.

4. Enhanced business agility

Organizations are empowered to win in an increasingly volatile marketplace when they are able to detect and respond to change faster than their competitors. A conventional, manually administered storage environment can be a significant impediment to achieving this business agility and competitive success.

Next-generation storage is designed to deliver the kind of intelligent automation that is essential for real-time response to shifting business requirements, and to provision additional capacity on demand. Intelligent storage also detects changing patterns in data usage, so that the most frequently used data can be automatically migrated to high-performance storage resources. In addition, virtual machines can be automatically migrated to help make the best use of available compute and storage resources and ensure adherence to SLAs. In these ways, storage becomes a core enabler of business agility, instead of being a constant drag on it.

5. Reduced business risk

As companies implement more customer-facing IT services than before, business continuity has become extremely important. Outages lead to lost revenue, customer dissatisfaction and weakened brand value. But business continuity has become more challenging as IT environments grow in size, complexity and volatility. Virtualization also multiplies business risk by consolidating a growing number of application workloads on fewer physical servers — so any disruption in a virtualized production environment may now lead to widespread service disruption.

Next-generation intelligent storage helps overcome these serious business-continuity challenges by enabling simplified data protection and disaster recovery processes through a combination of automation and tight integration with virtualization platforms. As a result, organizations can mitigate business risk while relieving IT staff of many common continuity-related management tasks.

IT is making enormous strides in cost-efficiency and business responsiveness through technologies such as virtualization and cloud computing. With parallel advances in how storage is provisioned, managed and optimized, IT can extend these gains and avoid operational risks. The time is right for IT decision makers to evaluate and implement next-generation intelligent storage to control costs, boost staff productivity, optimize service levels and mitigate growing IT-related business risks.

Lenny Liebmann is a writer and consultant with more than 30 years of experience in information technology.

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