Measuring Critical SAN Management Return On Investment (ROI)

Monday Feb 3rd 2003 by John Vacca

SANs hold the promise of bringing significant business benefits to any enterprise, and, like any other paradigm shift in technology, they require a substantial financial investment in the process. John Vacca provides a high-level overview of the factors of ROI for SAN software and how the ROI can be predicted and analyzed.

Most data and storage area network (SAN) management solutions today are piecemeal, partial solutions to an increasingly complex problem. Compatibility problems persist and clear management standards have not emerged. The result is an array of point products from multiple vendors, some of which do not work well by themselves and most of which do not work well together. Managed storage networks go beyond the benefits of simple storage area networks (SANs), storage consolidation, and centralized management. They are dynamic SANs that provide intelligent, automatic, and proactive management capabilities.

Implementing a dynamic SAN without powerful storage management software is like taking two steps backward to go three steps forward. SANs, or fabric-attached storage, hold the promise of bringing significant business benefits to any enterprise, and, like any other paradigm shift in technology, they require a substantial financial investment in the process. It is intuitive to most information technology (IT) professionals that SANs have the potential to alleviate many of the storage-related problems that plague today's IT enterprises, including:


  • Averting downtime-related risks,
  • Containing upward spiraling acquisition and personnel costs,
  • Increasing requirements for better quality of service, and
  • Managing capacity growth.

The Return on Investment (ROI) can be quite compelling, and true enterprise benefits can be realized almost immediately when a SAN is designed to address these issues. This is why today's IT decision makers must base their SAN strategies not on a solution's technical merits but instead on its ability to deliver a positive and compelling ROI. With the preceding in mind, this article provides a high-level overview of the factors of ROI for SAN software and how the ROI may be predicted and analyzed.


Justifying SAN Investment

In spite of all of the persuasive technical reasons for implementing one, justifying a SAN investment can be a slippery slope. A SAN, like most networks, entails complexity in the form of a storage-only fabric. This is a prerequisite for bringing a SAN under centralized control and management. The turning point where this sophisticated plumbing system delivers enterprise benefits is centered on the SAN management software that reins in the intricacies of this fabric and presents its interconnected resources in a consolidated graphical view. Adding this intelligence at the network level not only enables topology visualization but also provides a platform for monitoring and configuration control. It also establishes policies for the automation of numerous tasks associated with heterogeneous SAN management.

These benefits can be pervasive in any implementation. Nevertheless, ambiguity often sets in when the time comes to analyze the potential return on such a SAN investment. IT decision makers are no longer satisfied to evaluate new SAN strategies based solely on their technical merits. Justifiably, they want assurances that a new solution will deliver quantifiable enterprise benefits. Data abounds throughout the industry enumerating the:


  • Hourly costs of downtime for various types of enterprises,
  • Orders of magnitude of hardware and labor cost savings, and
  • Sizeable ROI achieved by certain applications.

However, the margins of error can diminish the credibility of the forecast substantially when an IT decision-making team tries to correlate these numbers with their own environments. There is a way to overcome these uncertainties -- you must use a methodology that applies a user's own data to measure the potential reductions in total cost of ownership (TCO) and the resulting ROI. "What-if" analysis can be applied to assess a range of possible outcomes by using an analytical tool. Solutions providers can then work with end users to measure TCO and ROI for a proposed environment.


SAN Management Analytical Tool Solution

The issue at hand becomes one of identifying and then measuring the incremental value that a SAN management analytical tool (SANMAT) brings to the solution. In other words, this becomes an issue when a SAN is in place or at least a decision to implement a SAN has been made. The term "SAN management analytical tool" cuts a wide swath. The layer of software that manages the SAN infrastructure is of interest here.

Managing all of the devices on the network is not as important as managing the infrastructure. So that the full value of the SAN may be exploited, you must be able to interface to the software and firmware elements. When one views the gamut of a SANMAT as a stack, it fits well into the overall enterprise framework management structure. This, of course, is based on a policy-driven management of SAN infrastructure devices and their interconnection. Below this level are virtualization and storage resource management (SRM) layers. Finally, the software/firmware inherent to storage subsystem and network devices comes into play here.

Paramount to the efficacy of a SANMAT's contribution to the enterprise, department and workgroup environments in which the SAN is deployed is interoperability and a tight coupling to the interfaces at all of these levels. A SANMAT must address the need to interface with major enterprise framework management software, and it must also provide application program interfaces (APIs) that allow external programs to access third-party information and commands available within the SAN environment. A SANMAT should seamlessly adapt to any environment, with an aggressive strategy for API plurality. This must be fully in stride or coincide with advances in all of the complementary software that comprises a sophisticated SAN management solution.


Translating SANMATs into Enterprise Benefits

Getting a handle on how a SANMAT impacts Total Cost of Storage Ownership (TCSO) requires an extensive examination of how it affects costs. Costs are divided into three major areas:


  • Infrastructure Costs: Acquisition costs of SAN and network hardware and software, as well as labor (IT staff and third party) costs for integration and software customization.

  • Operational Costs: Administrative (labor) costs associated with asset tracking, performance monitoring, problem resolution and maintenance.

  • Risk-related Costs: Operating profit impact relating to network response time (especially with eCommerce applications) and productivity impact due to network degradations, plus the cost of downtime contributions.

The challenge in discerning the contribution of a SANMAT lies directly in measuring the incremental value that is provided in each of the preceding cost areas. This is because the areas of cost reduction apply, for the most part, to the complementary parts of the SAN solution (i.e. other layers of storage management software and the hardware infrastructure itself).


Measuring ROI with a SANMAT

Each enterprise that evaluates a SAN management solution has a unique set of both technical and enterprise requirements. Assessing the potential ROI for any set of circumstances should become a standardized practice with a SANMAT. Diverse clients with diverse needs are among many end-users who make software decisions based on quantifiable enterprise benefits.

Projecting cost savings can be a daunting assignment, especially with so many variables in the ROI equation. Many enterprises are now able to accurately project the ROI they could expect from a SAN solution. This is because SANMATs can gather the important data points in a well-organized process and then present the benefits in a clear and logical format.

Finally, IT professionals can now make more informed decisions regarding their short-term and long-term storage strategies -- especially with all of the data that is readily available. There's also a degree of uncertainty for each variable, as with any financial forecast. In other words, to see how sensitive the results are to changes in variable values, a SANMAT dynamically allows users to examine "what if" scenarios. Thus, important decisions regarding SAN management software can be justified with a high degree of confidence by using a SANMAT.

After the solution has been deployed, a SANMAT can be used to verify that the enterprise benefits derived from SAN management software are indeed in line with projections. The value that an enterprise can realize goes beyond that which is measured by a SANMAT. Although difficult to quantify, intangible benefits such as increased customer satisfaction and loyalty, improved competitive advantage, better administrator morale, retention, and productivity are important factors as well.


Summary and Conclusions

No matter how diverse a SAN design may be, an undeniable enterprise case for a SANMAT can be proven with a comprehensive ROI analysis tool. Implementing a SANMAT is a critical step toward achieving the ultimate goal of a storage "utility" (where storage is managed by automated policy engines). Even today, the enterprise benefits of a SANMAT are exceptionally compelling, especially when SAN technology is still on the road toward this ubiquitous utility.

IT decision makers who are long-term strategists need assurance that a SAN management platform installed today will easily evolve toward their visions of a storage utility. Because of its broad range of heterogeneous devices supported, application awareness, robust capabilities, scalability, and ability to integrate into enterprise frameworks, a SANMAT is the platform at the core of this vision.

Finally, a SANMAT provides an exceptional ROI. This justifies its use for solving today's storage challenges, especially as the ROI continues to rise in parallel with fulfillment of the long-term SAN strategy.

John Vacca is an information technology consultant and internationally known author based in Pomeroy, Ohio. Since 1982, John has authored 39 books and more than 485 articles in the areas of advanced storage, computer security and aerospace technology. John was also a configuration management specialist, computer specialist, and the computer security official for NASA's space station program (Freedom) and the International Space Station Program, from 1988 until his early retirement from NASA in 1995. John was also one of the security consultants for the MGM movie titled : "AntiTrust," which was released on January 12, 2001. John can be reached on the Internet at


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