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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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.
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.
|Buy, wait or assemble your own?|
Computer Associates' BrightStor Portal
Computer Associates (CA), Islandia, NY, is the other major independent software-only vendor. Last year, CA introduced BrightStor Portal, which brings a single point of management to all the BrightStor components.
BrightStor addresses two general areas: data management and availability solutions and storage management solutions. The data management and availability portion addresses the data management needs of organizations such as backup and restore and hierarchical storage management (HSM), while the storage management solutions group helps organizations manage the utilization and provisioning of their storage, as well as manage the plumbing of their storage infrastructure.
Under the data management and availability solutions category, CA lists four plug-ins as part of this solution: Backup and Restore, HSM and Archive, Data Replication and Media Management. For their storage management solutions category, they list two components: Storage Resource Management and Storage Network Management.
Marco Coulter, CA's BrightStor VP of storage strategy, says customers need to know about their current storage environment and its utilization. Surveys of company storage environments have found that only 25% to 40% of files online are needed to support business needs, the rest are just hanging around. To help customers differentiate between the needed files and the ones just taking up space, BrightStor Portal gives administrators real-time access and control of their storage network infrastructure, regardless of the vendor platform or operating system.
Yet CA envisions BrightStor Portal becoming more of a business tool enabling a business-process view. Coulter observes that right now, approximately 80% of conversations in regards to open-systems storage are about infrastructure, and only 20% are about the business. BrightStor Portal should help to reverse those percentages using BrightStor's underlying components. For instance, it would use BrightStor's SAN Manager to report on a technical problem (e.g., a switch port is down) and correlate that problem to how it affects the business (i.e., the server supporting an essential Oracle database application is now at risk).
The BrightStor Portal server software runs on a Windows 2000 server with agents supporting Windows, Unix, NetWare and the OS/390 operating system environments. Customers are already using BrightStor Portal with CA's other BrightStor storage products such as Enterprise Backup, ARCserve Backup and Storage Resource Manager, while also extending support to include non-core CA technologies from companies such as Veritas, Legato, and IBM/Tivoli.
The long-term roadmap for this product may include tying it into its CA Unicenter product. According to CA's Coulter, they are already integrated in the sense that both BrightStor Portal and Unicenter products are built on the CA Common Services platform. This commonality could provide a central console as well as a common set of APIs from which to manage both network and storage applications. So for organizations looking for a one-stop shop for all of their computer infrastructure management needs, CA may well be the ticket.
Yet at this juncture in the game, buyers need to be wary when considering CA. According to a recent report from the Strategic Research Corporation, Carpinteria, CA, BrightStor Portal is just the first in a series of releases all aimed at supporting CA's broader vision of enterprise storage automation. In other words, release 1.0 products should be viewed with some caution regarding their functionality and integration features.
|A sampling of vendor offerings|
Hardware vendors go soft
An interesting development in storage management has been the transition of vendors traditionally associated with hardware into software players. One of the more notable companies making this transition is EMC.
Spearheading this change in focus is EMC's ability to build on its existing storage array management software. EMC is taking its EMC ControlCenter (ECC) software that it uses to manage its Symmetrix storage arrays and is converting it to provide a more holistic storage management console.
In short, EMC wants to manage more than just its storage arrays. Tony Marzulli, EMC's VP of open software marketing, says EMC's most recent release of ECC 5.1 manages and provisions storage on other vendor's storage arrays. A feature called StorageScope load balances and understands how hard drives, memory and Fibre Channel (FC) ports on their storage arrays are being utilized. The SAN Manager component enables SAN administrators to visualize and manage their SAN infrastructure, graphically displaying LUN mappings, SAN zonings and the worldwide names of each node attached to that fabric.
Marzulli adds that the term "suite" implies integration and the ability for the different components of the suite to talk to each other. To achieve this, the ECC architecture uses an underlying Oracle database that's populated with information collected from the APIs of the devices on the storage network, as well as from the agents running on the servers. This gives storage administrators a central repository from which they can manage and report on their storage infrastructure.
But to accomplish this interoperability, EMC needs other vendors' APIs, which, in most cases, it currently doesn't possess. Instead, it must reverse engineer other vendor's storage arrays to capture this critical information needed to populate their Oracle database. Marzulli says the testing process EMC must go through is "mind boggling," because no storage standards formally exist and the ones on the drawing boards lag behind where the vendor community is currently at.
EMC has embarked on a costly and risky strategy to capture this critical information from other vendor's storage arrays. When Marzulli says the task is "mind boggling," do users need to question how reliable or predictable the outcomes of these tests will be for their installations?
And despite all the talk has EMC really committed to an open software strategy? The only storage arrays ECC currently offers full management capabilities for are its own Symmetrix and Clariion storage arrays. While EMC offers varying degrees of interoperability capabilities with certain other vendor's storage arrays such as HP's, Hitachi Data Systems' (HDS), and IBM's, customers still need to read the fine print to make sure ControlCenter will work with the storage arrays from other vendors in their environment. Several consultants familiar with EMC products say EMC is still stuck in a mindset of one guy doing everything. However, the recent addition of Astrum Software's Storage Resource Manager to its software suite should help EMC manage more of its competitor's storage arrays in a more vendor-neutral manner.
Another traditional hardware vendor, Hitachi Data Systems (HDS), also updated its storage strategy with the announcement of their TrueNorth initiative. It plans to build on its legacy software and extend its capabilities to manage other vendor's storage arrays using the emerging common information model (CIM) standard. One area in which the company may seek to distinguish themselves from other traditional hardware-only vendors is to move more of the storage management intelligence into the storage network itself. Recent investments in DataCore by its parent company, Hitachi Ltd., seems to reinforce this strategic initiative.
Another company cooperating with HDS is Sun Microsystems, although Sun has its own storage initiative called StorEdge. While Sun offers storage hardware from HDS and volume management software from Veritas, Sun compliments these offerings with an SRM product, a storage utilization product and performance management software, all under the StorEdge label and targeted at shops running primarily Sun software.
HP's background typifies the set of vendors who provide both hardware and software solutions but, as opposed to most hardware vendors, HP's history lies primarily in the open-systems space.
According to Don Langeberg, HP's director of marketing for storage software, HP has taken a dual branding strategy for its storage software offerings that are founded on its ENSAextended architecture. HP's main storage management offering is its OpenView Storage Area Manager which has five main components: Storage Node Manager for device management; Storage Builder for capacity management; Storage Optimizer for performance management; Storage Accountant for metering and billing and Storage Allocator to control storage allocation.
HP also offers as part of its data management offerings OpenView Data Protector Suite for data backup and recovery along with its Continuous Access Storage Appliance (CASA), which enables network-based replication between heterogeneous storage devices.
The other half of HP's storage software strategy is the StorageWorks solutions that remains targeted at managing HP's legacy hardware and software solutions. It includes array-integrated solutions such as StorageWorks Command View, StorageWorks Business Copy and StorageWorks Continuous Access.
If all these products seem to overlap, they do. According to Nancy Marrone, a senior analyst with the Enterprise Storage Group, HP sells individual modules that when used together accomplish the same set of tasks as another vendor's single solution. In some cases, it may make more sense to buy one product instead of several HP modules. In light of the overlapping products, potential buyers of HP products should be asking: Which products will survive and which ones won't?
Mainframers embrace open systems
Two of the larger players in the enterprise mainframe storage space--Fujitsu and IBM--are starting to make their presence known in enterprise open-systems storage software. Fujitsu formed a new company under its general umbrella of companies called Fujitsu Softek. Fujitsu Softek's charter is to remain vendor neutral, both on the software and hardware side. Second, it can act like a big company and make the necessary acquisitions and decisions needed to play in the enterprise space, but it can also act like a startup because it doesn't carry the legacy baggage that established vendors bring to the table.
In March of this year, IBM released its TotalStorage software roadmap that will build on components that already exist in its storage arrays, but will go well beyond the functionality currently offered in its arrays.
In both cases, both companies willingness to cut ties to their legacy systems is striking, and their underlying approach to managing the emerging storage infrastructure of the future similar. Both Fujitsu Softek and IBM intend to move much of the storage intelligence and management capabilities over time into the storage network itself. Fujitsu Softek appears on track to use storage controller technology from DataCore Software as its network based virtualization engine. IBM is intent on using Linux-based Intel servers to accomplish a similar function.
Recently, Fujitsu Softek announced a significant upgrade to Storage Manager. Even more notable than the upgrade was the switch in focus to this product as the cornerstone of its emerging Storage Management suite. According to Gerard Svartz, Fujitsu Softek's product marketing manager, a year ago, the company's network-based virtualization product was the more strategic vision, but for whatever reason--lack of education, not wanting a Wintel server in the data path--customers weren't receptive to it.
So in response to its customer's lack of response, Storage Manager was moved to the forefront. The 2.1 release expands provisioning beyond network pools of storage offered by virtualization to include that of storage arrays offered by vendors. Fujitsu Softek released a new product in May called Storage Provisioner that works through a wizard-like interface, enabling users to provision storage seamlessly in SAN and non-SAN environments.
IBM's Tivoli Software and the IBM Systems Group are working on the different components of their total storage software solution. A third IBM division, the IBM Global Services (IGS) is responsible for integrating the pieces in each customer's environment. Randy Kerns, a member of the Evaluator Group in Greenwood Village, CO, sees the design responsibilities at IBM breaking out roughly as follows: Tivoli Software has responsibility for the portions of their solution that address application management, management framework, storage resource management and storage network management. The IBM Systems Group will deliver on virtualization and device management, while IGS will work on pulling together these pieces in user environments (see "Breakdown of IBM storage groups," this page).
Watch your step
Fujitsu Softek faces the daunting task of cobbling together a storage management suite from the pieces it obtained from Vixel (SANView) and DataCore (SANsymphony) with its own legacy Storage Manager software. While Fujitsu Softek's Svartz states the problem isn't actually doing the integration, but prioritizing what to integrate and when, it remains to be seen if and when Fujitsu Softek gets all of the pieces integrated and smoothly functioning as one.
IBM's task is no less daunting. It intends to come out with a new network-based virtualization engine running on Linux. An integral part of the package will be a file system that allows the open-systems file systems to work together. Users probably need to take a wait-and-see approach with IBM's plan to have two different groups responsible for developing a product that yet a third division will integrate into their environments.
The bottom line? Users need to roll their sleeves up, forget the PowerPoint slides, and conduct some serious research--and testing--before making a purchase. While all of these suites will achieve some level of integration at some point in the future, they aren't fully baked. So in the meantime, leave the illusions of integrated suites in the board room. Instead, pick the storage management software that you need now and that your staff can implement and use.