FAQ

Integrating reporting tools into your storage infrastructure

Integrating reporting tools into your storage infrastructure can be a crucial part of any storage management plan. In this interview, Bob Laliberte, an analyst at Milford, Mass.-based Enterprise Strategy

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Group, discusses the benefits storage infrastructure reporting tools can provide any IT professional's storage environment, as well as strategies for maximizing the efficiency of a storage management plan. 

Table of contents:

>>Storage infrastructure reporting tools
>>Using a separate tool for storage reporting vs. using an integrated tool
>>Integrating reporting tools in a storage infrastructure
>>Leveraging reporting tools in the storage infrastructure
>>Using reporting tools on a tight budget

What vendors offer storage infrastructure reporting tools?

Certainly, every storage vendor has some type of software that they offer and there are a lot of independent software vendors out there as well, so it really depends on what you're looking for. When you're looking at the major space in the storage-area network (SAN) environment, certainly all of the storage vendors have a variety of offerings; EMC Corp. ControlCenter, Hitachi Data Systems InfoStor, Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp. and NetApp all offer different tools for different levels.

Then there are a lot of independent companies out there, like AppTier, Symantec Corp. or Tek-Tools Software Inc., even companies like Quest Software Inc., which acquired MonoSphere Inc.

If you're looking in the file space, there are companies like NTP Software and Northern ParkLife Inc. that have solutions. There is even this new emerging space where I see vendors like SANpulse Technologies Inc. or Storage Fusion Limited that come in and offer a snapshot view of environments.

 Are there any benefits or drawbacks of using a separate tool for storage reporting as opposed to using a tool that's integrated into existing software? 

Absolutely, and this is an area in which I've done some research for storage resource management (SRM) and asked a lot of end users why they bought a particular SRM tool. It's interesting that the research pointed out that they bought it because it has multiple, different features and functionality integrated in the package. But then I asked them what they were actually using, and it turned out that most of them were using the technology for only one or two things. That tends to be utilization and reporting capabilities.

So when you're talking about the drawbacks of a separate tool vs. using one that is integrated, it really depends on what you're trying to accomplish and what kind of investment you want to make. Certainly, a lot of the individual tools tend to be easier to deploy and manage, especially if they're specifically targeted applications reporting on storage utilization. The more functionality that you want, the more difficult it is going to be to integrate and manage on an ongoing basis.

On the flipside of that, those tools that are integrated with other pieces of software can ultimately deliver more value. If you want to have a tool that is going to deliver visibility into a virtual machine down to an array, and you want to be able to do things like provisioning, having an integrated package will provide more value. But it is going to take a little more investment upfront, from a pricing perspective, as well as a time perspective to get it installed, tested and working properly.

How easy is it for new reporting tools to be integrated into the systems already existing in a storage infrastructure?

That is really going to depend on what you have in your infrastructure. Typically, most software packages are going to have some simple way to pass on information, but tighter integration is going to be needed at an engineering level. So that's something to take into consideration. When you're bringing in tools to your environment when you already have tools in place, those tools are going to be easier to integrate if they all came from the same vendor than they would be if you're integrating tools from multiple, different vendors.

 Where in the storage infrastructure is leveraging reporting tools helpful?

There are a lot different areas where these tools can be helpful, and first and foremost is visibility, especially with all of the virtualized environments that are being deployed. It's really difficult to manage your environment when all of your applications are playing hide and seek. So getting that visibility from the storage layer up to the application layer, or at least up to the virtual machine level, provides a level of insight that enables you to manage your environment more in the context of the data center, which I think is getting to be a lot more important.

Another huge area is around utilization; especially in the current economic climate, you really need to make sure that you're maximizing the investment that you already made. Being able to determine any areas where you have orphan storage that you can go back and reclaim before you go and spend any money is obviously going to be very important. By having that visibility into utilization, you should be able to track it and have a historical representation of it. Then you start to trend your environment and forecast when you're going to need more storage so you can start to adjust your procurement process, which is ultimately going to save you a lot of money.

Another area where we're starting to see these reporting tools provide value is in the change management space, especially in the large environments that can get incredibly complex and where some of the changes may not be well documented. So the ability of some of these tools to report on what has changed is going to provide a lot of value and ultimately help customers avoid downtime and, at the very least, minimize that downtime by being able to rapidly identify what has changed to cause that.

Are these types of reporting tools really expensive and what can you do if you need this type functionality on a tight budget?

There are a couple things you can do. There are some tools out there that don't have a wide range of functionality and might be more focused on just utilization, so you can get into them at a much lower cost point. Products from AppTier and MonoSphere [now part of Quest] provide a good way to get into the game without having to put in a lot of time, effort and money upfront.

Another big trend we're starting to see, especially in the SMB [small- and medium-sized business] space, are companies looking to consume SRM as a service. So rather than make an investment in the software upfront and dedicate a team of people to manage it, they're looking to be able to consume it as a monthly service. There are a range of offerings that are out there as a service. Some of them will be a continuous monitoring environment and others are more like point-in-time solutions.

The offers that we mentioned earlier from Storage Fusion and SANpulse are ones that a lot of the managed service providers are leveraging where they can use them to go in and take a snapshot of that environment. These are reality sanity checks that you can take on a monthly or quarterly basis to give you an idea where that environment is and [what] you would get charged on per-usage. These are some of the areas that I'm seeing that can help you to reduce the cost of getting the information that you need on a regular basis. It's really up to the organization at what time intervals they need to have this -- whether it's a continuous type of solution or if it's something that they can live with on a monthly or quarterly basis.

 


This was first published in June 2009

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