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Can tools streamline provisioning?

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Four ways to provision storage arrays

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STORAGE ARRAY-BASED SOLUTIONS

Characteristics:
  • Only manages storage branded from one vendor
  • Offers LUN masking capabilities
  • May allow users to create LUNs of different sizes
  • LUNs can be presented on different storage controllers
  • Management software resides on a server outside the data path
Some examples are: EMC ControlCenter SAN Manager, Hewlett-Packard OpenView Storage Allocator, Hitachi HiCommand Device Manager, IBM TotalStorage ESS Specialist and Xiotech REDI Volume Director

NETWORK-BASED SOLUTIONS

Characteristics:
  • Can manage any vendor's storage
  • Offers LUN masking capabilities
  • Allows users to create LUNs of different sizes
  • Software resides on a switch or in a black box in the data path
Some examples are: DataCore SANsymphony, FalconStor IPStor, Fujitsu Storage Provisioner, IBM SAN Volume Controllers and StoneFly Networks Storage Concentrators

SERVER-BASED SOLUTIONS

Characteristics:
  • Can manage any vendor's storage
  • Offers volume management capabilities
  • Discovers LUNs and then presents them as volumes of different sizes to host applications
  • Software either comes natively with OS or may be purchased separately
Some examples are: HP-UX's logical volume manager utility, IBM AIX's cfgmgr utility, Microsoft's Disk Manager utility, Novell's NetWare NWConfig utility, Veritas' Volume Manager

END-TO-END SOLUTIONS

Characteristics:
  • Requires deployment of agents on servers
  • Works in conjunction with storage array, network-and server-based provisioning solutions
  • Discovers LUNs and presents them as volumes of different sizes to host's applications
  • Management software resides on a server outside of the data path
Some examples are: CreekPath Systems' AIM Suite, EMC's ControlCenter (multiple components), Fujitsu's Storage Manager, InterSan's PathLine, Storability's Global Storage Manager, StoreAge Networking Technologies' SVM and Veritas' SANPoint Control

Yet buyers hoping to piggyback their storage provisioning software solutions on top of their storage purchases need to be aware of the long-term implications of this approach. According to Bob Passmore of Gartner Inc., the cost of a software storage solution from a traditionally hardware-only vendor such as EMC may be up to seven or eight times as much as that of a third-party software solution from Fujitsu Softek or IBM. Yet given that any of these solutions contain many different components with many variables, it's hard to say whether any current comparisons are truly accurate.

Access to any hardware vendor's storage array APIs will give independent storage software vendors such as CA, CreekPath, Fujitsu Softek and Veritas an edge over their storage array vendor counterparts. Access to the APIs lets storage software vendors automate the advanced functions of any storage array, such as mirroring and snapshots, through the use of scripts and wizards.

Conversely, the likelihood of one storage array vendor either selling or swapping its APIs with its competitors seems improbable, at best. While vendors such as EMC have announced its intention to reverse engineer the other vendors' storage arrays to manage and monitor them, customers may never know whether EMC got everything completely right. The $10,000 question is how many, if any, of its customers will care whether the company gets it 100% right, especially if buyers get most--if not all--of the provisioning functionality they need out of EMC's product provisioning on these competing storage arrays.

Move to the middle
Despite the promise of these integrated end-to-end provisioning solutions, the whole approach starts to break down in large shops with heterogeneous server, switch and storage environments. In these environments, even the best-designed product will only interoperate with a certain number of storage arrays and switches, and there will always be a lag time between when new features come to market and when they can be used by the software designed and implemented to manage them. Most of the tools on the market only marginally provision storage on the storage arrays of the growing number of providers of serial ATA (SATA) and midtier storage arrays.

This may help explain why companies such as Veritas are moving their products down into the network (Veritas' Volume Manager is currently being beta tested with Brocade) and companies like EMC are moving the intelligence of their arrays up into the network, as evidenced by EMC's recent announcement to do so with Cisco. It also helps explain why companies such as Fujitsu Softek and IBM offer products that enable a central point of storage provisioning, regardless of the tier or intelligence of the storage array behind it.

Veritas' Coughlin states that Veritas' Volume Manager (VM) product is now being designed to run in the SAN fabric. He believes that this initiative will enable customers to go where they want while centralizing online storage management.

While some of the larger vendors still see this network-based technology as being in its infancy, others, such as DataCore and FalconStor, have been shipping this technology for at least a couple of years. FalconStor's director of product management, Jon Greene, sees the fact that the big boys of storage--such as EMC, IBM and Veritas--are jumping into this market as a validation of this space.

Testing it out
Regardless of which provisioning approach an organization decides to pursue, an important step to take before choosing any solution is to determine how to test it in your environment. But before doing so, some preliminary work needs to be done.

For those who do choose to start experimenting with this software (see "Step by step provisioning"), Fujitsu Softek's Jean Banko recommends that users begin by getting an understanding of their current environment. To do so, customers should start out by measuring current utilization rates, finding out how often data is changing, determining what disaster recovery plans are in place and doing some capacity planning to forecast future needs. Once those steps are completed, users can then start testing various products.

FalconStor's Jon Greene recommends a phased approach. Rather than taking the big jump and trying to purchase a one-size-fits-all provisioning solution at this point, he advises that users attempt to solve a specific problem with provisioning. For instance, users may want to consolidate and provision storage behind a certain set of application servers. Alternatively, they may want to use the more advanced technology in some of the provisioning solutions to create a snapshot of the data to a secondary tier of disk that may be backed off to tape and used to shorten the backup window.

Veritas' Coughlin also believes that the best approach to take with provisioning is to start using it in some capacity. He still feels there is a lot of hype around this technology and that, ultimately, it comes back to trust--trusting that what the software promises it will actually deliver. Right now, he primarily sees customers wanting to discover and visualize their storage environments, with some customers willing to accept step-by-step workflow and policy-based provisioning. Most users, he says, aren't willing to automate their environments using the current releases of software.

As provisioning software continues to improve, you should start dipping your toes into the water in order gain an understanding about how automated provisioning will work in your storage environment.

This was first published in August 2003

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