How to select an SRM suite

Key features of SRM products

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Shopping for a storage resource management (SRM) product is much like going through a buffet line: The choices are plentiful and it's easy to overindulge. Today's SRM tools offer a full menu of features, but before you dig in you need to know which are must-haves and which look tasty but provide little sustenance for basic storage reporting and provisioning needs.

SRM tools tell users how much storage they have, where it is and who's using it. They also manage an increasing number of storage devices and integrate with existing database, e-mail and backup software for detailed storage reporting. At a minimum, an SRM product should include the following core features:

Don't dump device software
Cisco Systems Inc.'s SAN-OS command line interface (CLI), IBM's Enterprise Storage Server (ESS) Specialist and McData Corp.'s SANavigator are just a few examples of the software vendors provide to manage their storage devices. Before abandoning these products in favor of a storage resource management (SRM) suite, remember that the process of certifying SRM software for specific storage devices typically lags new product releases--so the SRM product you're considering may not work with older products in your environment.

The device vendor's software is often included with the hardware or available at minimal cost. Note, too, that many SRM products require the vendor's software for their application to work. Administrators therefore need to determine if they should pay a premium for an SRM product's device management capabilities if it essentially just acts as a dashboard to connect and run the hardware vendor's software.

  • Alerts and reporting
  • Capacity management
  • Central management console
  • Chargeback
  • Content management
  • Device discovery
  • Forecasting
  • Support for the Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S) roadmap

Beyond core functions, SRM applications become more specialized. For instance, AppIQ StorageAuthority Suite and CreekPath Systems' CreekPath Suite are designed to manage a storage array from any vendor. If a global view of enterprise storage assets is at the top of your list, check out Global Storage Manager (GSM) from Storage Technology Corp.'s (StorageTek) Storability Software Division. And for a centrally managed shop with a savvy storage staff and a lot of EMC storage, EMC Corp.'s ControlCenter could be a good fit.

Core components
There are substantial differences among SRM products. Some have separate modules that do device management, enterprise-wide reporting, backup, and e-mail or mainframe integration; others include these features in their base package. As these supplemental features become standard fare, look for new features such as change management, impact analysis, global name spaces and information lifecycle management (ILM) to find their way into SRM apps.

The level of detail each suite provides depends mainly on a product's design. For example, AppIQ's StorageAuthority Suite, CreekPath Suite and StorageTek's GSM offer the most complete views into a storage environment because of their application-to-spindle designs. When used with their host-based agents and optional application-specific modules, these products let administrators discover and document the exact physical device on which application data sets reside.

Suites from Computer Associates (CA) International Inc. and Softek Storage Solutions Corp. do a better job at analyzing, classifying and managing host data because of their logical design, which starts at the host or server level and then looks down into the storage infrastructure. But they're weaker at providing detailed views and management of the physical infrastructure.

These shortcomings are likely to be rectified by most SRM vendors by mid-2005, as they merge the two design approaches to present a holistic view of a storage environment. As storage environments become larger and more complex, SRM suites are also gaining in complexity. CA's BrightStor Suite promises logical and physical discovery, as well as integration across multiple operating system platforms; however, you need to obtain a different module for each operating system environment you want to manage and still another module for the infrastructure discovery. Similarly, EMC's ControlCenter can discover and manage different operating systems and storage nodes, but the product modules require a solid understanding of the storage environment.

Users also need to be aware of the effort required to roll out each suite's components. Installation and configuration times depend on the number of modules and company size. If all the baseline components are purchased, expect it to take six to twelve months to complete the entire implementation, although smaller environments may require less time.

The first modules implemented should be those that discover and visualize the storage infrastructure, such as AppIQ Inc.'s StorageAuthority Manager or Softek's SANView. These modules usually don't require host-based agents and don't disrupt an environment.

Modules for features such as alerting, chargebacks and content management will require agents. The time needed to install and configure agents varies, but vendors are increasingly providing a single host agent for all of their host-based monitoring and management features.

This was first published in December 2004

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