A good chunk of attendees of Storage Networking World revealed that trying to handle data management while maintaining a tight IT budget is their biggest management headache. The 1,200 or so attendees at the conference listed their top IT concerns in a poll undertaken using electronic handheld devices.

Conference organisers said that 42% of respondents indicated that operating under constrained IT budgets for staff, storage capacity and tools is their biggest data management challenge. Meanwhile, 23% said long term data preservation is their top issue, while 14% selected integration of management tools. To round out the top concerns, 13% cited the need for data search and access tools and 8% indicated a need for better security and compliance technology and services.

Meanwhile, 51% of respondents noted they are responsible for managing an ever increasing amount of online data during a time of flat budgets. About 30% of attendees said budgets are shrinking and 18% indicated that budgets are keeping pace with data growth. Only 1% of respondents indicated online data has decreased.

The survey also found that most IT managers feel the technology currently in their data centres is lacking. For example, 66% of respondents said the IT infrastructure used by their organisations is somewhat up to date, and does not let them be as responsive as their businesses demand. Twenty five percent of respondents said their data centres are a competitive weapon, and 9% indicated that their infrastructure was "woefully behind" competitors.

Richard Schulz, an IT manager at wholesale bedding company Sports Coverage, said data management is at the top of his list of concerns. Schulz said his company runs a plethora of disparate applications for financial and human resources functions, for electronic data exchanges and for order processing and receivables. "You have all this structured and unstructured data. You have all these levels of data to manage. Trying to keep track of where it all is isn't easy," he said.

Schulz said he has considered using both public and private cloud computing services to help unify management of the company's data. However, Schulz said he needs more evidence to allay his fears about the security and reliability of cloud technologies. "I see the automation of data migration as the biggest benefit of cloud," he said.

Others at SNW also said cloud technologies could possibly resolve their top data management concerns if they can get an on-premises architecture to manage mission critical and sensitive data.

In fact, 36% of respondents said hybrid public/private cloud technologies could be the best bet for making their data centres more efficient, while 36% cited virtualisation tools. About 12% of respondents said that data deduplication is the best bet, while 11% selected data centre consolidation and 7% private cloud technology.

Despite the interest in cloud technologies, a good portion of respondents did express concerns about their reliability and security. For example 30% indicated that they are not sure whether cloud service providers can yet adequately protect protect, backup and restore corporate data, 28% said they are worried about letting cloud services firms have custody of their data, 22% cited concerns about transferring critical data over the Internet and 20% feared the consequences of storing their company's data alongside that of other corporations.

David Janecek, vice president of IT at Credit Solutions, turned to virtualisation to consolidate servers. He said the most difficult task was to select applications to go on virtual machines. Janecek said he has virtualised 80% of his server environment and now has 80 virtual machines running on seven physical boxes. The consolidation eased management tasks while simultaneously cutting energy costs.

Janecek suggested that all applications be tested to find which are best suited for a virtual server. "Thoroughly test," he said. "You don't want systems to go live and then tell your boss we're trying to be more efficient, but you just brought down a whole department."

That said, Janecek said the biggest benefit of virtualisation has been the ability to bring a new application online quickly, typically in less than a day. It took a week or so to bring apps online in the past, he added.

Bruce Gorshe, director of data centre operations for Avnet Technology Solutions, said the data in his seven frame storage area network (SAN) has grown from 300TB to 500TB over the past year due to an acquisition.

Avnet's IT team upgraded the infrastructure to more efficiently handle the glut of data. New storage technology allowed him to shrink his array footprint from seven racks to two. Gorshe said the IT consolidation from five-year-old technology reduced power consumption by 40 kilowatts or 6% of his annual consumption.

"Any money we save we'll be allowed to reprovision. I think that's an encouragement to the team," he said. During the project, Gorshe was told he could not disrupt service to the employees or customers. "For me, the most difficult aspect was no downtime," he said.