How to select an SRM suite

Storage resource management products provide similar core functionality, but many offer modules for ancillary functions. Setting priorities helps to narrow the search.

Key features of SRM products
Click here for a comparison table about SRM products (PDF).
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.

Testing SRM
Here are some key items to consider when selecting and testing storage resource management (SRM) products:
Set priorities. Each SRM product solves different problems and performs some tasks better than others. Prioritize your requirements before selecting vendors. Examples of items to consider:
  • Do you want to report on the storage nodes in your environment or manage them as well?
  • Do you need file-level reporting?
  • Will one group or multiple groups manage the product?
Weight the criteria. The list of items to test can be extensive. You may not be able to test or verify every product's features, so you should create a weighting for each item that reflects its importance to your storage environment.
Ease of installation. Installation complexity increases with the number of devices you want to manage with an SRM product. Choose products that provide central management consoles, have agents that can be configured from the central management console, and that minimize or eliminate the need to do server reboots.
Performance impact. Be sure to note if the agents create performance problems. Some product's agents are continuously active, while others wake only to collect data at scheduled times. Items to monitor include CPU and memory utilization, as well as increased I/O activity when the agent is active.
Reporting. Determine what reports you need and verify that the product can deliver them. If the default reports don't fulfill your needs, SRM vendors are usually willing to customize reports for your environment.
Access to product development. While SRM tools have improved significantly, most will lack some of the features you'll need. To request and eventually get those features, it's important to have access to the SRM product development team.
How SRM products differ
The ability to discover and monitor databases should be considered a mandatory SRM feature. Database integration lets administrators identify the activity of data within databases and its access frequency. This information can be used to determine the type and amount of disk an application needs. Users may also discover that table spaces within a database were allocated large amounts of disk that were never used, or that dormant or rarely accessed data can be moved to a lower-cost disk.

Several SRM vendors integrate their suites with e-mail and backup apps. With compliance such a hot issue, integrating with mail products such as Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange, and backup products such as EMC's Legato NetWorker, IBM Corp.'s Tivoli Storage Manager and Veritas Software Corp.'s NetBackup, is paramount. E-mail integration lets administrators set policies that identify aging messages and move them to cheaper disk or tape. Similarly, integration with backup software lets admins monitor and execute backup jobs, and receive individual and global reports on tape capacities.

The degree of visibility into Exchange databases varies. Tek-Tools Inc.'s Profiler's Exchange reports are typical for products offering e-mail integration. Profiler tracks the number of messages received and sent per user, mailbox size and detailed information about e-mail attachments. Early next year, Tek-Tools will add the ability to move, archive and delete e-mails.

Other products, including those from AppIQ, CA, EMC and Hitachi Data Systems (HDS), which OEMs AppIQ's SRM products, let administrators see the data path from the Exchange server through the SAN and down to the actual disk spindle on which the database resides. CA also lets users perform trend analysis and forecasting to project the future growth of e-mail databases. EMC's ControlCenter 5.2.1 with the File Level Reporter option lets administrators stage, move, copy, delete or compress Exchange data, while AppIQ StorageAuthority for Exchange and its OEM analogue Hitachi HiCommand QoS for Microsoft Exchange monitor e-mail queue sizes for messages needing to be routed, received, sent or awaiting directory lookup.

SRM products have also added backup monitoring. EMC's ControlCenter monitors the number of backup/restore jobs, checks whether backups succeeded, tracks which files were missed, and lets users set policies to back up missed files. Tek-Tool's Profiler Rx for backups allows chargebacks based on tape usage. CA and Softek use the data they gather to define backup policies that optimize data placement, automating the movement of data from disk to tape to help users start an ILM-type process.

Many suites provide performance management tools to pinpoint SAN performance problems. Generally, the best place to gather performance statistics is at the server or host, then at the storage array and finally at the network level. Because the server usually handles the majority of operations that could impact performance, consider tools such as Softek's Performance Tuner and EMC's Performance Manager for collecting server stats such as I/O wait times and activity on specific block devices.

Array vendors generally provide the best SRM tools to manage their own arrays, but for users with heterogeneous storage environments, look to SRM array options from AppIQ, CA, CreekPath, Tek-Tools or Veritas.

On the security front, administrators generally want the user logins of the SRM suite to integrate with their existing Windows Active Directory or Windows Domain. This simplifies the creation and management of user accounts that manage the SRM suite.

Redefining SRM ... again
ILM may eventually find its way into the broader definition of SRM. Administrators who are better versed in capacity, content and performance management are starting to get a handle on their data, and SRM products may eventually manage the ILM process.

SRM suites are maturing, but users shouldn't assume any vendor's shrink-wrapped suite will work off the shelf. But once successfully installed, users will see that SRM suites can deliver long-promised functionality.

This was first published in December 2004

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