How to select an SRM suite

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:

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  • 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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