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Tools that automate complex storage processes are beginning to appear. Here's what's available and what benefits the tools can deliver today.

Managing all or most of your storage resources from a "single pane of glass" has been the Holy Grail of storage management, but the vision remains largely unrealized. For a variety of reasons, storage resource management (SRM) tools aren't engineered to deliver complex, multistep services such as storage provisioning, data migration and performance optimization across heterogeneous storage devices. They're also unable to coordinate the numerous people required to complete these tasks. When IT process automation is applied to storage management, it begins to address the issue of linking complex processes with multiple independent tools and automating some of the more rudimentary activities.

IT process automation tools provide a workflow that guides the storage administrator through the process. The real value is when these workflow engines are integrated with storage management apps to provide storage admins with information to make intelligent decisions and automate some of the more basic tasks.

Newer technologies, like storage networks, and server and storage virtualization, provide greater flexibility to mix-and-match IT resources to meet changing business needs. The ability to reallocate resources dynamically, independent

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of the physical configuration, has dramatically changed how IT services are delivered. But despite their benefits, newer technologies can often add management complexities.

For many firms, the yearly cost to manage an app can far outweigh its initial purchase price. In most IT organizations, it's a constant battle to balance capital and operational costs. The more complex the task, the more special management skills are required, and the management of these tasks is mostly done manually.

Highly skilled specialists are hard to find, take a long time to develop, are well compensated and difficult to keep. Jobs like provisioning storage, migrating data between arrays and optimizing performance can require the interaction of several experts. For example, moving a single application from one storage array to another may require the participation of storage, network, system, database and application admins. In addition, the business unit needs to be notified and management has to approve the changes. Through the planning, setup, execution and clean-up phases of a data migration project, there could be 50 to 100 unique operations.

To streamline the process, many companies dedicate project managers to coordinate the efforts of everyone working on a project. Most companies use Excel for status tracking and SharePoint for collaboration. These tools help, but require too much manual intervention.

All companies have a process they follow when they want to perform a storage management operation. Larger companies typically have run books that list the tasks, order of execution, individuals who will perform each task and approvals required. Run books codify a company's best practices about how it wants specific operational tasks performed. IT process automation (also referred to as run book automation) automates the end-to-end workflow associated with each procedure.

The goal of IT process automation is to move operational management from the craftsmanship era of storage management, where highly skilled personnel use a combination of scripts, point tools and manual processes, to an era of mass production where storage management can be performed in a repeatable fashion using interchangeable administrator resources.

This was first published in May 2008

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