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Making sense of data storage management options

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If i had a nickel for every storage management software product, I could buy lunch. That's because the last time I counted, there were 114 software products from 30 vendors--all claiming to help you manage your storage. And this doesn't count products in development, waiting to be rescued from bankrupt vendors or products I overlooked.

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Storage management life cycle

A key requirement of business continuity is that there's sufficient distance between data storage locations so that a disaster that wipes out one site is unlikely to wipe out another site.

To make this situation worse, these products are often described using the same confusing terms, and claim the same benefits. Storage resource management (SRM) products usually analyze the contents of host storage (the number, type and attributes of files), but not always. Each suite has its own set of functions, but many don't even offer SRM functionality.

There are some big gaps in the market, too. While more than a dozen packages offer accounting, device management and SAN management functionality, fewer than five offer SAN design, process management or asset management. None offer configuration management specifically targeted toward storage environments.

And even where similar functionality is claimed in multiple packages, their level of success may be different. Many products offer sterling functionality in one area, but lack in others. It's too bad that storage management software is usually assessed individually, instead of being compared to other packages. In many cases, software packages are purchased arbitrarily--based on a sales rep's suggestions, media coverage or advertising. Buying in this manner leads to hit or miss coverage of business needs.

It's time to look at storage management software from a different perspective. Will Spencer, of Network Systems Architects Inc., in Stoughton, MA, believes the storage management software segment "is in an early stage of maturity. Vendors do not yet have a firm understanding of customer requirements. It's important for the customer to focus on specific needs within their enterprise and to match vendor products with those requirements."

First, map out the specific storage management tasks you perform, and determine which of these even require software assistance or automation. Next, prioritize your list of required software because many tasks may be poorly covered by the current product crop. Then, match the required functionality to the products currently available and try them out to see if they really provide the specific functions you need. Finally, select a few software packages that provide maximum coverage.

Everyone's task list doesn't have to be unique, but there are often similarities. When I compared the GlassHouse life cycle to one developed independently by Anil Kumar of Bose Corp. of Framingham, MA, I found many similarities. We both used the same basic framework (plan, implement, manage) and we both also included four types of storage management tasks:

  • Engineering tasks: making things work
  • Operations: watching things work
  • Management: control
  • Analysis: validation
Some tasks are performed sequentially on demand, such as provisioning storage, while others happen periodically, such as daily monitoring. GlassHouse has defined a storage management life cycle to organize our list of storage management tasks. As seen in "The storage management life cycle", there are four phases to our life cycle. Beneath these phases, there are a total of 67 discrete storage management tasks. See "The GlassHouse provisioning phase," which shows the 16 tasks in the provisioning phase.

The GlassHouse provisioning phase
GlassHouse's Provisioning Phase includes 16 discrete tasks relating to the provisioning of storage.

This was first published in October 2003

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