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Management suites come up short

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Vendor presentations--witnessed in the comfort of the executive board room--enthusiastically tout storage management suites (SMS) that seamlessly integrate across Windows, Unix and Novell operating systems, no matter whether on a storage area network (SAN), in network-attached storage (NAS) or even direct-attached storage (DAS). Sales reps promise staggering ROIs. Feature checklists are long, and include real-time reporting on storage utilization as well as the visualization and virtualization of the storage infrastructure. Welcome to storage heaven.

Trying to make a mission-critical decision about an SMS based on a PowerPoint presentation is, of course, ridiculous. Before you subject yourself to slideware, take a good look at what processes you have and will need to develop to manage storage. Decide what your priorities are for automating those processes--not everything can be functionally or economically reduced to a click or a wizard.

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What CreekPath Systems offers
With all of the attention given to larger players and their big visions, it's easy to overlook a startup whose products meets some analyst's definitions of a storage management suite. Longmont, CO-based CreekPath Systems' products often fall under the category of storage resource management (SRM), but possess some features that overlap with storage management suites.

CreekPath Systems has acquired the APIs from the major storage and switch vendors and currently offers its CreekPath Suite platform which manages five open-systems storage functions: storage area network (SAN) management, storage resource management, storage performance management, storage service management--which does provisioning, automation and workflow--and data/storage security management.

In April, CreekPath released version 2.7 of its AIM suite of products, which included expanded support of direct-attached storage (DAS), network-attached storage (NAS) and SAN devices. It also added support for EMC Clariion, NetApp filers, and the HDS V Series as well as the OEM-branded LSI Logic storage, in addition to the legacy IBM, HDS, and EMC arrays it has supported for some time.

Now you're ready to evaluate products. Far from storage heaven, it's a messy assortment of overlapping products that don't always integrate well. You'll also need to consider the source. Storage management suites come from three types of vendors: software-only vendors, storage hardware vendors crossing over into the software space and vendors offering hardware and software solutions. Knowing that helps account for the openness in many of the products. Can they manage diverse hardware or do they require a great deal of other software from the same vendor?

The only thing worse than going through this process is continuing to rely on Excel spreadsheets and Perl scripts. As data continues to grow explosively, homegrown software will either have to become industrial strength or be replaced by commercial products if the storage environment is to remain at all manageable.

Veritas' solution
Marty Ward, Veritas' director of product marketing, doesn't believe that any one storage suite will hit the mark for all of the storage management problems enterprises face today. According to Ward, most enterprise storage environments will end up being customized, so rather than try to market a one-size-fits-all suite, Veritas offers a selection of products users may choose from. In so doing, users may solve specific storage problems as they arise and then deploy a central console for these individual software components to better manage them.

To accomplish this, Veritas earmarked its SANPoint Control product as its central management console for managing the SAN today, and as the foundation product for managing their other storage software products in the future. The control server console of SANPoint Control 3.5 runs on Windows and Sun platforms with agents available for most open-systems server operating systems.

Examples of products and/or features that administrators could ultimately end up running and managing from this console include Veritas Volume Manager, Veritas Storage Reporter, SAN network diagrams and performance reports, as well as the ability to kick off NetBackup or Backup Exec back up and restore jobs. These features and others form the foundation for what Veritas sees as giving organizations the ability to do data life cycle management.

Data life cycle management is a concept that has existed for years in one form or another, but is just starting to become more common in the open-systems storage space. Veritas' Ward sees this concept becoming particularly important in managing the growth of rich media content such a video, image capture and engineering documents. The need exists for this type of data to be stored and managed on readily available--though inexpensive storage media--such as on an ATA storage array.

With the incorporation of data life cycle management into Veritas' overall storage strategy and product offerings, Veritas can offer an advanced feature such as quality of storage services. This level of functionality gives the administrator the ability to unobtrusively move stale or reference data off to a cheaper media without disrupting the end user.

Where you may run into trouble with Veritas software is with the interdependencies it has created between its products. In order to gain all of the functionality offered by Veritas SANPoint Control, you need to purchase and deploy other components of its core suite of products such as its File System and Volume Manager software. This becomes a problem as the cost multiplies to deploy, maintain and administer all of this underlying software just to get the one feature you may want. With most organizations looking to cut costs on storage management, laying out the additional funds for Veritas' foundational suite of products just to get storage reporting capabilities makes buying other software layers a hard sell.

That hard sell may explain Veritas' recent acquisition of NTP Software's Storage Reporter product. While this product doesn't automate storage provisioning, it lets organizations do storage monitoring and reporting on systems without deploying Veritas' foundation suite. However, Veritas still appears to have a long way to go before it can provide easy, cost-effective solutions.

This was first published in June 2003

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