Is storage management software worth it?


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BMC also followed the capacity model. "It makes no sense to tie storage management to the number of servers or seats," says Dan Hoffmann, BMC's director of marketing. With the capacity model, however, you need to read the fine print to understand how capacity is determined. BMC considered 2TB of mirror storage to be 4TB of available storage, and calculated the price on the larger figure.

CreekPath Systems Inc., bases its price on the number of switched ports in the networked storage fabric, with an additional fee for direct-attached devices. The basic price buys you the management platform, workflow and policy engines and the security model. Customers typically spend $300,000 to $400,000 initially, says Victor Walker, CreekPath's president. The payback comes from faster provisioning--minutes rather than hours--and better utilization (80% or higher).

CA follows conventional server-based pricing. "This is the same model we use for all Computer Associates software products," says Turner. In addition, most customers purchase deployment and integration services.

Fujitsu Softek is guaranteeing a 25% increase in existing capacity utilization after installing its Storage Manager SRM solution. If you don't see a 25% improvement, both the server and client licenses are free for one year.

Since the guarantee was announced last August, no one has come close to collecting, although customers have vowed to hold the vendor to it, says

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Scott Kennedy, Fujitsu Softek vice president. Only an exclusively mainframe storage environment, which often experiences 75% storage utilization, he concedes, has a chance of collecting on the guarantee. Once open systems storage is factored in, utilization typically plummets and recovering lost or wasted storage becomes easy with an automated SRM tool like Fujitsu's, he says.

Whether it's the new pricing models, a highly competitive market or a dismal economy that's driving vendors to scramble for any piece of business, storage management automation buyers are finding attractive deals. For example, United's Pilafas initially favored Veritas, but even with a 42% percent enterprise discount, the Veritas solution still proved too expensive.

CreekPath gave the company the automated provisioning and reporting it most wanted, and "it had a great roadmap--exactly where we want to go," Pilafas says.

Storage management automation pricing models
  • Well known
  • Increase capacity and fabric without incurring costs
  • Cost increases with every platform upgrade
  • Predictable cost
  • Easily determined
  • Scales easily
  • Potential for rapid price increases
Per port
  • Easily determined
  • Predictable cost
  • Not subject to rapid change
  • Not all managed resources are networked
  • Simple to understand
  • Easy to administer
  • Predictable
  • Requires large financial commitment

Worth it at any price?
The $64,000 question for storage managers: If the point of storage management software is to reduce resource requirements, do expensive products make sense? Even at a fully loaded cost of $100,000 per admin, $1 million can buy you 10 people. And, if each admin handles a couple of terabytes of storage or 10TB or 20TB, you can manage a pretty sizeable storage environment manually for the price of comprehensive storage automation. And that appears to be what many storage managers are thinking, yet that line of thought may not fully reflect reality.

"If we had a million dollars, we still couldn't hire enough storage administrators. We can't find them or get them here," says the manager of a manufacturing company based in the Midwest.

And the amount of storage each administrator can handle manually turns out to be pretty small in comparison to enterprise needs. Administrators at the manufacturing company firm currently manage 2TB to 5TB of storage. "We'd need to get at least 20TB to 25TB per administrator," the manager adds.

To make matters worse, storage admins can barely keep up with the basic management chores. "The manual approach will work when you have tens of devices to manage, maybe even a few hundred, but as soon as you have thousands, there is no way in hell you can do it manually," says Bill North, research director of storage software at International Data Corp. (IDC), Framingham, MA.

For large enterprises, "you can't hire your way out of the storage management problem. If nothing else, the learning curve will kill you. The technology is changing frequently."

The situation, then, would appear to demand enterprise storage management automation. The products now on the market offer a diverse range of capabilities from storage resource discovery and mapping to automated provisioning to capacity planning.

Enterprise Storage Group, Milford, MA, identifies five functional areas of enterprise storage management: storage network management, storage resource management, virtualization, data management (backup) and policy management.

"Most of the players combine some or all of these elements," says Nancy Marrone, a senior analyst at ESG. But there's a problem: "You still need a lot of products to manage end to end. No one has everything," she says.

Fujitsu Softek's Kennedy, differentiates between "cardboard box" software device-specific software that comes with a purchase. There's straightforward SRM software which lets you report on your infrastructure, but provides few proactive management capabilities and application-centric storage management software, complete with policy-based management capabilities and automation. Unfortunately, building application-centric storage management software is neither cheap nor easy.

"Policies and automation are at the crux of getting to a mature management layer, but what it takes to get to this level is a lot of work," Kennedy says. "But it's work that's got to be done, because it's the applications that drive the business."

Meanwhile, most organizations aren't ready to automate storage end to end. Rather, they typically start small and "focus where they are hurting most," Marrone says. A focused approach lets companies implement some storage automation and get a fast return on their investment. "If you can reduce the cost of managing storage from eight times the acquisition cost to three times the cost, that's a huge savings," Marrone points out.

A fast ROI is critical, given the high price of storage automation. At least in terms of published prices, storage management automation on an enterprise scale is expensive by any yardstick. Even if an enterprise pays just $125 to put a management agent on a device, the costs can mount when it has thousands of devices to manage.

"I've seen prices of $250 per device and, yes, it is painful," says IDC's North. However, the price, he adds, is still less painful than trying to find, hire, train and retain people to do tasks that software can do better and faster. At some point, the sheer complexity of managing a growing multivendor, networked enterprise storage environment will overwhelm any amount of manual effort.

For small organizations and those with simple, generally static storage environments, storage administrators are probably cheaper, at least in the short term. For organizations facing rampant storage growth and highly complex storage environments, no team of administrators, however large, can keep up with the management. Storage management automation offers the most practical long-term option today. But you'll need to find a pricing model that works for your organization, and then negotiate hard. Alexandra Barrett and Mark Schlack contributed to this story.

This was first published in April 2003

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