February 27, 2003, 12:00 AM

Finding cheaper ways to make money with all kinds of stored data

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He adds that the amount of data stored keeps rising, not only because of company expansion but also because retailers in general are learning to use more fields of data to improve their operations.

The ability to retrieve that data for special analysis and reports is key to improving overall operations, Crabtree says. For example, reports on an unusually high number of voided sales receipts could alert managers to fraud at POS counters. In another example, Shoney’s might access stored POS data to analyze the effect of regional promotions on sales of particular products in particular restaurants.

Crabtree says he’ll deploy serial ATA drives from Promise Technologies and 3Ware Inc. Other ATA vendors include IBM Corp., Fujitsu Ltd., APT Technologies Inc. and Adaptec Inc.

More Flexibility

While ATA drives are emerging as strong alternatives to SCSI drives, the NAS and SAN systems that use SCSI drives are also offering more flexibility and new opportunities for deployment.

Retailers as well as other companies have come to rely in recent years on high-capacity network attached storage and storage area networks. Despite their often confusing acronyms of NAS and SAN, each of these storage technologies serves a clearly defined purpose. But where these systems were once restricted in the storage needs they could support, serving to increase a retailer’s overall cost of storage, they’ve recently evolved to be more flexible and therefore less costly to users.

An NAS system is designed to handle front-end data files related to web pages, supporting activities such as order processing. SANs focus more on the information held in databases, such as back-office financial information. To get optimal performance from storage systems for both front-end and back-end data, retailers would have to invest in each of these costly systems. Because many of these systems are customized for individual companies, their prices can easily reach into tens of thousands of dollars or more.

Agility

But now the trend is in dual-serving storage systems that can combine attributes of both NAS and SAN configurations, allowing users to transfer storage from one to the other. That can be particularly helpful to retailers with multi-channel operations, where one channel might be growing faster than another. If the Internet side of a business is growing faster than the brick-and-mortar side and runs out of storage space on an NAS, Goodwin says, a retailer could move that data over to a storage area network instead of having to invest in a new or larger NAS system.

“It should give them the agility to allocate storage where and when it’s needed, and better asset utilization of the storage that they have,” Goodwin says.

At the same time, the added flexibility in the way these storage systems operate will drive even more storage options coming from storage technology vendors, Goodwin says. “It gives vendors like the traditional NAS vendor the opportunity to sell in the SAN space,” he says.

At Shoney’s Inc., Crabtree says the new flexibility he has in deploying storage systems makes it easier to satisfy his company’s expected returns on investment. “We don’t care about ROI figures, because storage is something we have to invest in, and we know we’re getting the most performance at the best price,” he says.

paul@verticalwebmedia.com

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