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Five Ways to Get the Most Out of Existing Storage

With the prices of hard drives skyrocketing, here's how you can extend the life and usefulness of the storage gear you already own.

Recent flooding in Thailand has affected many hard drive manufacturers, resulting in price hikes for hard drives of as much as 50 to 100 percent. How long this will last is unclear, but in the meantime, you can postpone new purchases of storage gear by implementing these methods to help reduce unnecessary files, reduce the space used on the system, and allow for expansion with existing systems.

1. Use Storage Management

Storage Management software is available in a wide variety of price ranges, from free open source packages, to expensive enterprise-class systems that continuously monitor storage and optimize usage. Of course, you can also simply search your drives manually for large files, MP3s, JPEGs, or PST files. The general idea is to identify possible files that aren’t needed or could be stored on other storage, like local PC hard disks, which often have lots of unused space.

It isn’t necessary to spend a lot here; for instance, you can send an email asking all users to archive unused email files to a PST on a local drive. Be sure to include directions, and it will greatly reduce the storage used by the your email server. Likewise, you can implement policies on storage of personal files to ensure that they’re not taking up space on the company network.

2. Use Deduplication or Compression

Once you’ve pruned existing files, you can use deduplication or compression to fit more data into your storage. Deduplication scans a storage system, looking for duplicate files, and deletes the extra copies of the files, leaving a placeholder where they were. Any user who tries to access the placeholder gets taken to the proper file. Compression, which reduces the amount of space used by files, works best on files such as word processing or other text files, and is less effective on media files, since they're often already compressed.

3. Create Storage from Unused Space

You can use inexpensive or free software, such as a Linux OS, to repurpose old equipment as storage servers. This option involves installing Windows or Linux on the old server, and turning it into a file server. If you have one or more old systems sitting around, you can have them up and running quickly. You can also take drives from several old systems and put them into one server, since older systems typically came with smaller hard drives.

Once the systems are up and running, you can use them for any type of files, though you may want to use them as secondary storage, keeping the newer, higher performance storage for the most important applications, such as email, databases, collaboration or home directories.

4. Move Files to Secondary Storage

Many organizations have high-performance storage such as fibre channel or iSCSI RAID systems for important applications, but often that same storage ends up being used for applications that don’t need the high speed. You can use storage management applications, or move data manually, but moving less frequently-needed data to secondary storage can free up lots of space on the expensive equipment. Storage management software often can allow you to create several tiers of storage, including one with the highest performance a less-expensive high-performance system, a secondary storage system, as well as offline storage such as tape or optical disk.

5. Consider the Cloud

If you’ve exhausted all the options and are still running out of storage space on existing gear, consider cloud storage. You can temporarily (or permanently) move data to a cloud vendor’s storage without having to go out and buy new equipment. The great advantage here is that cloud storage is pay as you go, so you only pay for as much as you’re using. The downside is that the storage is outside of your control. Depending on how critical the data is, you may want to have additional safeguards both for storing the data multiple times, and for encrypting the data, both en route and when stored at the cloud provider’s location.

Whether it’s to ride out the results of flooding, or to deal with the ever-increasing amounts of data in use in most organizations, there are alternatives to just buying more storage. Many newer storage systems from vendors such as EMC, NetApp, HP, or Compellent offer the features mentioned above, including storage management, compression or deduplication, storage tiering and storage migration. But you can get some of the same results without buying a new system, using readily available software or doing the tasks manually.

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