Getting serious about storage resource management tools

Times have changed. Storage resource management tools--once dismissed as hype--are becoming more and more useful.

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Remember a storage startup called HighGround Systems? This company coined the phrase storage resource management (SRM) in approximately 1998. HighGround created a fair amount of industry buzz by offering the first SRM software suite and eventually selling the company to Sun Microsystems in December 2000 for $400 million.

This one deal set the venture capital community on fire, and they subsequently threw money at nearly every product and services business plan with the letters S, R and M in it. Industry pundits quickly dubbed both 2001 and 2002 as "the year of SRM," and predicted hockey stick-like revenue growth and a multibillion-dollar market.

But this never materialized. You can attribute the failure to Internet-boom hyperbole, but early SRM missed the mark in a big way. Enterprise storage managers reacted coolly to early efforts because:

  • Early SRM was too expensive. Early market entrants focused on selling software to large companies based on storage capacity across the enterprise. After seeing the price tags on SRM apps, storage executives figured it was cheaper to waste storage resources than to pony up hundreds of thousands of dollars for the new software.
  • Functionality was always limited. Many SRM players could aggregate basic storage utilization information from server configurations and log files, but they were nearly blind when it came to digging into critical storage subsystem management information. Without this deep investigation capability, early SRM systems were often dismissed as little more than high-priced GUIs to view basic server statistics.
  • There was no compelling purchasing rationale. SRM was seen as a luxury, so initial interest was often replaced by indifference. Storage managers under the gun to cut costs found other ways to accomplish this goal, like moving from enterprise to midrange storage subsystems or consolidating DAS-based storage onto a SAN.

Even though the market for SRM software was stuck in slow-growth mode, user and industry interest persisted until 2002 when the SRM market imploded. Vendors like InterSAN and Storscape went belly up. Astrum, TrelliSoft and W. Quinn were acquired (by EMC, IBM and Precise, respectively), and became added features in their buyers' enterprise storage management suites. In addition, former storage service provider hotshots like ManagedStorage International, Storability and Storage Networks attempted to transform their businesses from services to software to sell--you guessed it--SRM. With the market in turmoil, storage buyers turned to more pressing challenges.

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SRM Act II: Times have changed
In the last few years, virtualization and information lifecycle management (ILM) have replaced SRM as the sexy storage technology du jour. Out of the spotlight, however, SRM has quietly grown from overhyped concept into a mature technology. According to a recent ESG Research survey, 44% of companies have implemented SRM software, while another 27% expect to purchase storage resource management within the next year (see SRM implementation plans, this page).

Why have the tables turned for SRM? First, SRM software got much better because device vendors embraced the Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S), thus opening a management window into their subsystems. SRM also became more "application-centric" with links to databases, e-mail and file systems, which increased its value.

As products improved, the demand for SRM increased for several reasons:

  • IT is focused on simplification and cost cutting. Since the boom era, IT shops have put a premium on cutting capital expenses. IT budgets are now growing at a modest 3% to 5%. This frugal mindset means storage managers must manage their assets as a total portfolio, not on a project-by-project basis. SRM helps storage professionals to achieve this goal by providing a complete picture of storage resources in a central location. When a new application deployment requires a 500GB volume, storage managers can check the SRM tool to find available capacity rather than buy new disk enclosures.
  • Storage operations became the bottleneck. Over the last few years, the price per megabyte of storage has decreased by approximately 40% to 50% per year, leading storage managers to add new subsystems and capacity willy-nilly. This created a new set of problems because all of that new storage had to be provisioned, backed up, managed and administered. SRM helps storage staff to consolidate resources, which streamlines storage operations.
  • Compliance requires tighter controls. Government regulations like the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, HIPAA and Sarbanes-Oxley force companies to manage, audit and report on all their IT assets, including storage. With eyes into the infrastructure, SRM can help storage managers to deliver these types of tight controls.

Business, operational and governance requirements have brought an end to laissez-faire storage management. SRM is a vital tool that helps storage executives to bridge existing gaps and move to a more efficient storage infrastructure.

SRM Act III
As it exists today, SRM answers a basic but important question, "What storage resources do I have?" This helps storage managers to lower costs and improve controls, but it's just the tip of the storage management iceberg. As storage becomes a more virtual network service as part of a service-oriented architecture, storage professionals will need answers to questions such as these:

  • What talks to what? Some SRM tools provide physical mapping that tracks the data path from server, host bus adapter, Fibre Channel switch and LUN. In the future, more knowledge of overall storage traffic related to applications, virtual storage configurations and networks will be needed. Similar management information is provided today in NetFlow, a network-based IP statistics collection feature that collects information on IP flows passing through a router. This storage traffic data will become essential as companies integrate and extend SANs across the globe.
  • What has changed? Answering this question takes SRM to the junction of resource management, event management, change/configuration management, analytics and policy. Any configuration, performance, demand or behavioral change should--at the very least--trigger an alert to someone who can react appropriately. In the distant future, some of these reactions may also be automated.
  • Are your storage resources secure? Network managers have automated vulnerability scanners and penetration testing tools to identify security risks and threats, but these remain manual tasks in the storage universe. Future SRM tools will fill this role looking for configuration problems, patching requirements and weak passwords in the storage infrastructure.
  • What do I need? To support user, customer and business partner applications, storage must support service-level management metrics, but this information is just a start. SRM tools must also provide optimization modeling, dynamic quality of service capabilities, load balancing and real-time provisioning. For example, when L.L. Bean decides to hold a one-hour online, 50% off sale, the storage infrastructure must take the necessary actions to maintain database performance and SLA requirements on the fly.

These enhancements will likely roll out over time in leading SRM suites from companies like AppIQ, Computer Associates, CreekPath, EMC and Sun. In the meantime, storage managers should assess their needs, monitor new storage management integration and API standards, and ask vendors for confidential presentations on their product roadmaps. Remember to approach SRM with a balance between short-term "gotta have" requirements and strategic IT needs.

Bottom line
In its short life, SRM has followed the hype cycle from the penthouse to the basement, but it has emerged as an essential tool for enterprise storage management. We're now moving from Act II to Act III of the SRM play where the tools grow up, achieve enterprise reach and extend their value. It's still a work in progress, so storage managers should remain active audience members, monitor their short- and long-term needs, and communicate requirements to strategic vendors.

This was first published in August 2005

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