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Dan Tanner, an analyst at the Aberdeen Group, Boston, MA, likens the situation to the central nervous system in a human body. There are things that we don't control, such as breathing on a regular basis, but that we could intervene with if we choose - such as holding our breath when we walk through an area with dense gasoline fumes. Likewise, the vision with storage automation is to have policies or other classes of things that the user can and should intervene with - from a business perspective - and then things below that are automatic and are never touched by human hands.
Chuck Hollis, vice president of markets and products at EMC Corp., defines three types of automation. One is the automation of repetitive tasks, such as scheduling backup and verifying it's been done. Second is integrating related tasks for an end-to-end solution, such as provisioning storage and making the host bus adapter, file system and related storage piece enabled to do the task.
The third type of automation is something Hollis calls "coaching with expertise," which is basically a system that helps users, for instance, find 100GB of storage for a new application in a system that's already maxed out.
EMC's automation plans
"If you take a look at automation today, you'd be sorely disappointed," Hollis admits. Currently, EMC can automate things such as performance service levels. But if an application requires a certain level of service and isn't getting that level, the administrator can be notified and corrective actions suggested. EMC software can also automatically fix capacity problems. If the NT file system should be 90% utilized and is heading over that limit, the system can automatically add more storage.
But these features only work across EMC's own arrays, Hollis says. The company's AutoIS initiative, announced in October 2001, is about taking these tasks and automating them across Hitachi, Compaq, NetApp, and other storage hardware. EMC's StorageScope already does this to some degree by integrating storage management information from different vendors and then presenting it in multiple views. Likewise, the firm's Resource Availability software monitors host-based operating systems, databases and other pieces and reports on the status and usage of related storage resources.
The next releases of both these products - as well as Workload Analyzer, which tracks performance metrics - will have "more intelligence" about other vendors' hardware, Hollis says.
Longer term, over the next two years, Hollis envisions real-time performance analysis, with suggested corrective actions, across different vendors' arrays, switches, servers and applications. "We're staring that right in the face," he says. Another key initiative is replication management across different vendors' gear, including remote replication for things such as disaster recovery, application testing and version control.
IBM's building bricks
At IBM, the company is getting ready to deliver on StorageTank next year - that will be the company's first serious foray into policy-based storage automation. Beyond that are initiatives such as eLiza, which focuses on self-healing servers, storage and software. The goal is to make storage more able to detect and fix problems, retrieve different types of information and protect itself from unauthorized access.
"The idea is to provide more of a mainframe mindset in a distributed storage world," says Brian Truskowski, chief technology officer at IBM's Storage group. "Over time, we'll see more things like having more instances of a [a logical partition] LPAR, where something else can take over in case of failure." These are features that have been long available in mainframes that are moving into distributed storage architectures.
Longer term, IBM is investing in a concept called intelligent storage bricks, Truskowski says. "They have knowledge of other bricks or components in the environment," including gear made by vendors other than IBM. They can also plug into today's storage architectures, he says. If one brick becomes overloaded or unable to function, another can take over. "If you buy storage in the form of intelligent bricks, there's a certain autonomic intelligence that eases the management of the environment."
Still, these bricks are a ways off - IBM is looking at this project as a research activity, not quite yet as a product. In the meantime, the company is investing in something it calls domain wizards - software that can help manage and automate storing an Oracle database on the Shark. "This won't help with the entire environment, but it can help optimize something specific," Truskowski says.
This was first published in October 2002