Responsible corporate fiscal management dictates that IT departments run their operations as mission critical and provide maximum services at minimal cost. Chief information officers (CIOs) must carefully evaluate what infrastructure expenditures offer the most cost-effective solutions available to support the company's applications. Because downtime leads to tremendous lost opportunity and lost revenue, applications need to be 100 percent available while producing and requiring more and more data. Storage technologies are evolving rapidly to meet the demands of mission-critical applications, but CIOs must ask what is the true total cost of storing data, including owning and managing that data.

Storage: Total Cost of Ownership
The answer to any question about the cost of storage is complex. IT departments can currently purchase disk storage for $0.013 to $0.230 per megabyte; DLT tape media costs a mere $.002 per megabyte. However, the total cost of ownership (TCO) for storage includes other factors and hidden costs that make data ownership and management potentially expensive. Unmanaged risk is one of the most important but difficult-to-assess hidden costs.

An IT department can equate the cost of unmanaged risk to the dollar amount of loss a company can sustain when it faces an IT disaster. In a well-managed, well-protected environment, an IT staff can greatly mitigate these costs by carefully choosing the right type of infrastructure to guard against risk.

Costs of Unmanaged Risk
Downtime is still among the largest threats to mission-critical applications. Although downtime costs vary greatly depending on the application, they can reach as much as $6.45 million dollars per hour (e.g., for financial brokerage applications). CIOs must weigh the cost of risk against the cost of a fault-tolerant, highly available storage architecture. Given today's storage-architecture choices, if companies carefully consider what architecture they must implement to guarantee the required availability, downtime shouldn't be a problem. Storage Area Network (SAN) topologies, for example, guarantee data accessibility in all but the most critical disaster situation; wide-area connectivity and remote backup make hot disaster-recovery sites a cost-effective option for many companies. RAID provides data availability and recoverability that often suffices for noncritical applications—especially when IT performs both full and incremental backups. SANs augment RAID protection by providing redundancy and eliminating the risk of a single point of failure.

Other than a disaster or catastrophic hardware failure, factors such as poor planning can cause costly downtime. A critical piece of storage-infrastructure planning revolves around optimizing the company's storage resources. Poor planning can mean disruptions because of unplanned service needs, hardware addition or removal, and other nonapplication-related operations. Companies that spend money to carefully plan an optimal storage environment can avoid downtime—thereby saving money over time.

Another risk is poor performance when applications use storage. Applications must be able to access the data they need, use the data, and store it optimally. Poor storage practices can cause poor application performance, which leads to lost productivity and decreases profitability.

A final risk is customer dissatisfaction. Do customers conduct repeated business with a company, or do they go elsewhere because of a company's long data-access times, poorly managed data read/write operations, and lost or unavailable data? Good storage architecture must contribute to overall customer satisfaction and guarantee return business.

The total cost of owning storage and managing data varies greatly from company to company. IT administrators must weigh many factors, such as customer needs and business applications, when they design and implement a storage environment. An IT department that intelligently deploys hardware and software technologies, mitigates risk, and has an appropriately staffed storage administration group will have a low storage TCO.