A Path to Green Storage

By Virginia Citrano  |  Posted 2008-01-30 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Information lifecycle management helps companies handle the data deluge by providing a framework for classifying stored information, finding the right storage technology, creating retention guidelines and managing costs.

 

A Path to Greeen Storage

John Halamka, a self-professed Prius-driving vegan, is the kind of guy who would have found a path to green storage even without outside prompting. But the many hats he wears in business have made energy-efficient, long-term storage an absolute necessity.

Halamka is chief information officer for CareGroup Health System, a confederation of four Boston-area hospitals with more than 1,000 beds. He is also the CIOand dean for technology at Harvard  Medical  School. In all, that leaves him with 200 TB of medical records, which, thanks to compliance rules, need to be maintained for 30 years. Personnel at Halamka’s institutions expect Internet connections to be fast and reliable. They also expect to have ample storage for not only every PowerPoint they have ever created, but also for the growing volume of medical research passing through their computers. In all, the storage needs of Halamka’s systems were growing at 25 percent a year.

“Given that oil prices have hit $90 a barrel, telling senior management that we have to reduce our energy usage was pretty straightforward,” Halamka says. And it wasn’t just imported oil pressuring rates. The utility that CareGroup and Harvard Medical both rely on has a fixed capacity for power, heat and cooling, so when the plant gets to maximum capacity in summer months, it raises prices.

Halamka took a methodical approach to cutting storage power consumption at both of his institutions. First, he moved everything to 750-GB serial advanced technology attachment (SATA) drives. He noted in a recent blog post (geekdoctor.blogspot.com) that while many of his constituents were worried about how the slower SATA drives would perform, no one remarked on the change when it actually happened.

Then he took the eminently practical step of cutting back on how much data was stored. His backup systems now deduplicate files; if a document is attached to an e-mail sent to all 5,000 of his institutions’ employees, only one copy of the document is stored. In doing so, he managed to cut the space needed for archiving by 50 percent.

Halamka also instituted hierarchical storage management, meaning data is prioritized based on importance and the frequency of it being accessed. As files age and access becomes less critical, they migrate from a high-availability, high-speed storage area network to network-attached storage (NAS) or content-addressed storage ( CAS). Unused files eventually get moved to tape. Unread e-mail and old attachments are also archived to CAS. While Halamka’s institutions must keep medical records on hand for a long time, they are not required to permanently store e-mail, instant messages or personal files.

And even though Halamka has been rigorous in his ILM strategy, he concedes that managing the demand for storage is difficult. “We have tried to enforce e-mail and storage quotas, but it is much easier to just increase the supply of storage than limit demand,” he says. “We’re continuing to try to strike a balance.”

Halamka, who uses a variety of EMCequipment—including a Symmetrix enterprise storage array, Clariion SANdisk array and Centerra NAS system, along with Sun Microsystems’ StorageTek tape libraries—also took a step with his storage systems that might not be for everyone: spin down and slow down technologies. “Suppose that virtual-tape libraries are used for backup, but backups are only done four hours a day,” Halamka says. “The drives can be slowed or stopped when not in use.”

Halamka’s strategy is aggressive, but he has an ambitious goal. “I want to stay under 200 kilowatts for the next five years,” he says, “and I want to accommodate growth.”

The same can be said for ILM. It may not have all the tools it needs and is exposed to human failings, but ILM has a lot of growth to accommodate.



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