UT Libraries and data storage needs for the future

storage_imageAs more and more information goes digital, the questions around the storage of all this data grow ever more important. UT Libraries is working on that question through its participation in a key university-wide initiative: the ITS Central Data Storage project committee. As the Associate Director for Digital Initiatives, I represent UT Libraries on this committee, which is working to cost-effectively expand centralized data storage services for the whole campus.

First, a little background on digital storage: In 1991 the cost of a megabyte was about $13.00 and the largest drive you could buy held about 270 megabytes. Since then we have seen the cost of a megabyte decline steadily up till today when the average consumer can now purchase 1,058,576 megabytes (aka 1 terabyte) for $99.00, reducing the cost of 1 megabyte of storage to less than a penny.

So, how many megabytes does UT buy every year? Very difficult to answer as so much of the purchasing happens in departments and colleges. But it is also difficult because there are other costs besides just the sticker price for the megabytes, gigabytes, or terabytes or whatever bytes you want to use. These “other” costs relate to what it takes to manage the bytes, to keep them safe and secure, and to send them to people.

There is another factor that comes into play, too, and that is the fact that some megabytes cost more than others. Think about the fact that all automobiles have tires, a steering wheel and a motor of some kind but they don’t all cost the same. We’re getting dangerously close to a raft of acronyms, vendor names and jargon that is guaranteed to make your eyes water (or close) so we’ll avoid using them (SAN, NAS, SATA, iSCSI, FC, NetAPPS, Tivoli Storage Manger, etc…etc…etc…).

Suffice it to say that the University of Texas at Austin is in the business of producing, consuming and managing trillions of bytes of information across as complex an enterprise as you’ll find. That said, we are looking for the most cost effective methods of procuring, managing, and provisioning a spectrum of storage resources for researchers, students, and staff here on the 40 acres.

The Central Data Storage committee, which is led by UT Austin’s Information Technology Services (ITS) group, is working to increase storage capacity based on forecasted growth for central services (like the Blackboard course management system), data backup needs, and requests to migrate services onto ITS hardware.

As a member of the project committee, the UT Libraries is working with ITS and other campus stakeholders to develop a plan for deploying technology resources that all departments on campus can use for storing data of all kinds. Given that the needs of our colleges and departments are so diverse it is particularly important to use shared services wherever possible knowing that times it isn’t possible or cost-effective to share.

It might seem basic, but ensuring that the Libraries have sufficient storage capacity is foundational to our ability to serve the needs of library users. By developing the necessary resources for data storage – and doing so in a cost-effective manner – we ensure that the intellectual resources of the library are available to those depend on them far into the future.

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