Storage costs for ECM and DAM Systems

  • 13-Aug-2009

We have had an interesting internal discussion at CMS Watch the past few days, surrounding the cost of storage for content technology systems. It is a discussion that too few buyers have before embarking on costly ECM or DAM projects. Enterprises often assume that storage, just like networking, is simply a corporate IT overhead -- and maybe in your organization it is -- but that doesn't mean it's free.

So how much does storage cost? Well, it's like the answer to the question, how long is a piece of string....."it depends." But a better answer may be "more than you might think." In many cases much more, and quite often more than the cost of the application software and associated services will cost you.

The variables here revolve around the type of content you manage.  If it's mostly html files, then the volume will not likely be too high. If on the other hand, it is typically Office files, or worse still Rich Media (such as video files) then your storage needs will shoot up. These days Terabytes of data are the norm; typical ECM installations have 25-50TB of content, and some run into the multiple Petabytes. And these numbers are only likely to grow as rich media and ever richer documents become the norm.

Another factor that can seriously impact your storage costs surrounds the issue of lifecycle management, and version control.  If redundant files are moved off the live system to an active archive as and when they become redundant -- and in turn are destroyed when they reach the end of their lifecycle -- your storage costs will become more manageable.

If on the other hand, you just keep everything, the costs will skyrocket. In previous consulting engagements for large enterprises I have found less than 4% of the content sitting in file servers to be relevant: the vast majority of the content is out of date, duplicated, or not even business related (porn, recipes family photo albums, and the like). Good content housekeeping is just common sense.

So how much does storage cost? Well depending on your media of choice, 25TB will cost you anywhere from just under a $100k per year for a hosted service to $350k if you were to buy, install and manage the hardware in-house. If you get into the Petabyte category then you are in the millions to start the discussion.

You of course need to look at all the storage options, and understand that storage costs are not just as simple as calculating disk space. There are trade offs in terms of access, performance, and price between Direct Attached, SAN, and NAS options.  You will likely end up with a mixed environment.  Just as you also need to consider the cost and need for Disaster Recovery, Back-Up, and Archiving in addition to your primary requirements.

Likewise you will need to consider the physical distance between consumers and stored data.  Don't let anyone kid you -- a file accessed in Tokyo sitting in a file server in New York will take longer to render than one sitting in Kyoto...

And yes, just in case you are thinking about it: to back up one Petabyte, you will need another Petabyte at least....soon adds up doesn't it?

There is a myth that storage is cheap; it's not cheap. Just because you see 1GB flash drives going for a song at your local store, does not mean that enterprise storage costs have plummeted.  They haven't. Moreover, they are not going to, since our needs remain insatiable and are only set to grow. So next time you are considering investing in a system like SharePoint, FileNet, Artesia, or MediaBin, make sure you think through your storage needs carefully, and cost them realistically from the outset.

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Faith Robinson, Content Strategist & Industry Thought Leader

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