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Auto provisioning still a tease

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Are customers ready?
Most users aren't prepared for a fully automated storage setup, either, because their policies are murky or because they don't really have a handle on how storage could work in a perfect universe. Others may never want everything automated, says Illuminata's McAdam. "A lot of customers don't want to relinquish that kind of control. It's a leap of faith they'll have to take."

Gary Fox, vice president and director of enterprise data storage at Wachovia/First Union Bank in Charlotte, NC, agrees. "We would like to see that kind of automation, but it's got to be a rules-based system that we have some governance over," he says. "We have to be able to set parameters - not just let it go out and grab more space for something." The reason, he says, is that most organizations "don't police themselves very well," and someone has to be able to make judgments about how things are done. Indeed, Fox's group exists mainly to allocate storage space to the bank's internal customers.

For some users, McAdam compares the situation to when software installation became automated. As an "old systems programmer," she didn't know whether she could trust if the automation would really work. But over time it proved itself, and she realized that it was "great" because it helped her get home at night.

She envisions this type of push-back among storage administrators, too, until companies realize

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that automation ultimately helps reduce risk. "A lot of outages in the data center have to do with human error," and automation reduces that hazard, she says.

However, according to Stephan Elliott, Director of Storage Management for the Hurwitz Group in Framingham, MA, before the storage department can even think of deploying policy management software throughout the organization, it needs to get all its ducks in line to make sure there's buy-in on the political, cultural and legal issues surrounding policy management. Elliott says, "The human element to policy management is the most difficult part - the technology is much easier to deploy."

CA's Coulter sees the day when storage policy-management decisions - such as adding more storage or when to move data to long-term archiving - will be made within the company's business units instead of within the IT or storage department. "Why not put the power into the hands of the people who are paying for it," Coulter says. He concedes that systems administrators will still be responsible for installing the storage gear and seeing that things hum along smoothly, but Coulter says the people who work in the business units have a much better idea of their storage needs than the people in IT.

But back to the present: EMC's Hollis says only a few of his customers are currently investing in heavy-duty storage infrastructure software, including automation. These are shops mostly in the financial services, telecommunications and large-scale manufacturing industries that are also automating as much as they can elsewhere in their IT architectures, too. He sees storage automation becoming more of a mainstream force in about two years.

Related problems
Automation can open up a rat's nest of questions about storage policies and procedures. Some key concerns are:

  • What's the right set of policies?
  • If the automation changes the IT workload, how should the IT group be restructured as a result?
  • What services, training and education are needed to help use automation tools to their maximum potential?

"Automation requires a top-down storage approach," says Bill North, director of storage software research at International Data Corp., Mountain View, CA. Customers that automate only pieces of the complex puzzle are at risk. Without knowing what the application requirements or storage requirements are, one can't be sure about the quality of the resulting automation.

As North says, "There's a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done before we can get there. We're in the 'walk before you can run' stage."

This was first published in October 2002

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