Guidelines for putting a network storage policy in place

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A strong management policy can help an IT department reduce the time and cost of managing network storage and, at the same time, can keep a network server from turning into a dumpster.

Using storage resource management (SRM) tools combined with a network storage policy, an IT department can easily set space limits and unobtrusively monitor the rate at which space is being used, who is using it and how much are they using, who has taken non-company liberties with their space, and what strategies to take to get space issues under control. However, IT policies, by their very nature, often cause angst among employees, which can result in a push-pull relationship between both camps. To this end, some IT departments have designed their network storage policies to minimize employee angst, but, to control storage with a firm, but flexible grasp. The guidelines presented in this article include some of their best practices.

Test Driving, with corporate support, can help determine network storage polices

Before you beginning developing a storage policy, get the buy-in from corporate management, human resources, and legal. Ask a senior IT staff member to spearhead the rollout policy.

Test-driving an IT network storage policy can help determine a workable policy for the entire corporation. That’s the route Upjohn Pharmacia, based in Kalamazoo, Mich., has taken. Linda Eschevarria, a systems engineer, is part of a Windows NT group tracking storage space on 29 servers used by 5,000 employees. “Our IT policy specifies what employees can and can’t store on network servers. Eventually, this policy will go to human resources, then legal, and become part on a corporate computer usage policy.”

Likewise, Larry Miner, an IT specialist at U.S. West, in Bellevue, Wash., currently tracks storage usage on 17 servers–each server has about 1,000 employees. Most of his work consists of determining the best way to set space allocations in a mature Windows NT environment where employees have mountains of data. Miner’s recommendations will go to a corporate compliance group that will make the final decision on another piece of a corporate storage policy to be followed by 50,000 employees.

SRM tools help to carry out network storage policies and plan for storage

As you develop your policy, invest in storage resource management tools and ascertain current storage patterns. Work with local systems administrators to set thresholds and alerts for specific storage resources.

Storage resource management software from BMC Software Inc., HighGround Systems Inc., W. Quinn Associate Inc., and others, encompasses central detailed monitoring, alerting, reporting, and trending of specific storage resources, such as disk partitions and files, and the data stored on them in a networked system.

Miner uses WQuinn’s QuotaAdvisor to set thresholds on specific space allotments per group by attributes, including files, directories, and disk drives. He has set QuotaAdvisor to alert both an employer and him if a space allotment is about to be exceeded. With WQuinn’s DiskAdvisor, Miner can run real-time canned reports, such as a listing of files with certain extensions.

IT must determine whether to have space allotments

Next, set fixed space allotments as needed and establish procedures about how alerts will be handled.

At U.S. West, Miner has assigned space allotments to groups of individuals and monitors their space by their directories. Some groups have 250MB per individual, while others have 500MB per individual. Whenever someone comes close to exceeding their space allotment, QuotaAdvisor sends both the employee and Miner an alert, usually e-mail telling them to remove some documents. Miner has decided not to set up QuotaAdvisor to lock an employee’s write privileges if they don’t free up space.

DiskAdvisor has helped to cut down on calls to the IT department. He says, “If someone wants a larger directory space, we can give them a Web-based report listing files they may want to archive or to delete. They can click on a file name and delete it. If they need more space, they must get approval from their business unit.”

Steven Toole, marketing director for WQuinn, says that some customers, especially investment firms, don’t bother employees with space allotment alerts. He says the alerts get routed to the help desk only. “These individuals can look at files and then take action.”

Network storage policies must fit the organization

You should work with employees to assess their storage needs. Make certain types of servers available for applications, such as archiving. And monitor space usage, but leave punishing flagrant space abusers to human resources and legal departments.

Echevarria of Upjohn Pharmacia says she isn’t sure what the recommended IT policy will say about space allotment. For now, her group uses HighGround’s Storage Resource Manager to track space usage by attributes, such as file extensions. If she sees an executable program, such as PhotoShop in someone’s server directory, she’ll send them an e-mail message asking them to delete it. Likewise, if she sees an application program, she’ll ask the employee to store it on a specific application server. She says, “Most people are cooperative about following through on these requests.”

Network storage policies need to be let gently out of the bag

When it’s time to implement the new storage policy, have the senior IT member issue communications to department heads and their employees about the policy and the way it will be carried out. In particular, they should specify the housekeeping tasks employees are asked to do.

Before going ahead with QuotaAdvisor, Miner put up a Web page about the space allotment policy and sent out corporate communications to all those whose directory would be monitored. “Until you have an approved policy set up, getting people to follow it can be tough.”

The IT department needs to present the policy in such a way that employees can understand the rationale for it. John Webster, storage analyst for Illuminata in Nashua, N.H., says, “They need to understand that managing storage has nothing to do with the cost of the physical media, but with safeguarding their information and making it readily available to them without interruptions.”

Network storage policies should travel beyond the limits of space

As you refine your policy, you’ll want to establish backup procedures for mobile employees or enlist an e-storage service for mobile backups. Decide what to do with files when employees leave the organization or transfer to a different department. Also, gather historical data about storage patterns for capacity planning, budgeting, and look at the feasibility of doing storage chargebacks to departments. //



Elizabeth M. Ferrarini is a Boston, Mass., journalist and the author of several books about online services.

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