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Pick the right SRM tool

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Device centric
The device-centric approach starts with the premise that the SRM tool will communicate with the interface on an external storage array. SRM vendors adopting this device-centric approach generally are the same ones who already sell external storage arrays such as EMC, Hitachi Data Systems (HDS), and IBM. These vendors' SRM agents communicate with their own storage arrays, providing higher levels of storage management functionality. This functionality ranges from basic storage reporting and visualization of the storage enterprise to more advanced functions such as asynchronous and synchronous volume mirrors, volume snapshots and performance monitoring and tuning.

Pros. While these options and functionality may also be available from the software-centric class of vendors, the device-centric approach differentiates itself in one important manner: It offloads the processing and management of these transactions from the individual servers to the storage arrays. There are two reasons why this solution works best for some environments. First, if software licensing is tied to server CPU speed, it prevents the software from chewing up CPU cycles. Second, if this functionality is needed, it may be achieved without the expense, management and ongoing maintenance of deploying software agents on all of the servers.

Cons. Gaining this functionality almost always requires the deployment of one SRM vendor's

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storage arrays to utilize their SRM tools. If this standardization on one vendor's hardware platform occurs, it essentially locks your company into this vendor's product line to continue to get this desired functionality.

To address this, most of the vendors in the device-centric camp are seeking to extend some - if not all - of these high-end features to their second-tier storage arrays. EMC is putting some of its high-end Symmetrix software features onto their Clariion arrays, and HDS is doing much the same between their 9960 and 9200 storage arrays. While these efforts may help to lower the cost to deploy high-end features such as mirroring and snapshots, they still don't offer the management of diverse hardware storage arrays some organizations need.

Software centric
In the software-centric approach, the software manages the storage regardless of which vendor provides the storage. The larger, more established vendors that have taken this approach include BMC Software, Computer Associates, (CA) and Veritas, with most startups also falling into this category.

Under this model, software agents are placed on the individual servers that communicate with a central storage management server. These agents communicate with the management server, monitoring and reporting back on the storage environment of the server on which they reside. Ultimately, the goal of this model is to enable the servers on which they reside to manage their respective server's storage resources based upon policies established and distributed to them by the central server.

Wheeling and dealing: get the best SRM price
With so many storage resource management (SRM) products on the market and mergers and acquisitions constantly occurring, customers now have a strong negotiating advantage when purchasing SRM products. Frankly, anyone paying list prices for any of these products is paying too much.

Pitting one vendor against another is an age-old tactic to get a better price, but remember that a better deal from a competitor doesn't necessarily translate as a better solution, or the right product for your environment. It's essential to have a clear understanding of what your storage environment looks like and what you want it to look like before making a purchasing decision.

Making a careless or poorly researched SRM purchase could be costly. All the vendors offering these solutions are making their SRM tools highly proprietary and difficult to migrate off of. In addition, the SRM market is in flux: There are far too many products, and at this point there are no clear winners - small startups are trying to survive while larger, better-known companies are trying to improve market share. The bottom line? It's a buyer's market.

Not surprisingly, each of these vendors' software products reflects this software-centric design philosophy. CA's BrightStor, BMC's Patrol, and Veritas' SANPoint Control as well as many of the smaller SRM newcomers each use a central server to gather and report information from the software agents they deploy on the individual servers.

Pros. The upside to this approach is that a significant amount of storage information is collected, information such as storage allocation, utilization and even performance metrics. This can be invaluable information when trying to determine what tier of storage one wants to place the underlying data onto. This approach also isn't dependent upon the underlying hardware to gain many of the desired benefits.

Cons. SRM tools are rapidly evolving from passive to active. Currently, some SRM tools are passive - they only monitor and report on the storage for the servers on which they reside. But the next generation of SRM tools moves to actively managing the entire storage infrastructure based upon policies set in the SRM tool. This next step in SRM puts some of these vendors at a disadvantage compared to the device-centric model, especially in a SAN environment.

Without the ability to communicate with the underlying storage array, one wonders how existing manual tasks such as LUN security on the storage arrays and switch zoning on the different vendor's switches would be automated when moving storage between servers, especially if the SRM tool isn't currently communicating with these devices.

A number of software and hardware vendors have asked this question as well. They appear to be taking steps in a number of areas, resulting in changes in their next generation of products. These product design changes blend together the aforementioned device- and software-centric views.

This blending of these views reflects a crossroads in the life cycle of SRM products. At least that's what Charles Witt, a systems engineer with ProvisionSoft, Andover, MA, believes. Witt sees customers as not being satisfied with just monitoring and reporting on storage, and being unable to translate that information into action. As vendors make this transition in product design, they are emphasizing one of three general design paths to reach their ultimate SRM objective.

Network centric
One of three paths some vendors are following, this approach resembles the device-centric philosophy. One larger company that appears to have chosen this trajectory is Fujitsu Softek, based upon its recent acquisition of DataCore Software's virtualization source code. The network-centric approach is different from the device-centric approach in that the SRM agents interact with a new software layer created in the storage network. This software layer in turn manages all of the underlying storage arrays regards of the underlying storage vendor.

Pros. This approach prevents vendor lock-in and creates a common software layer between the servers and the storage arrays that the SRM tool communicates with. Fujitsu Softek believes this new network-based software layer begins to create a storage environment similar to what already exists in the mainframe world. In the mainframe environment, storage exists in two distinct classes: System Managed Storage (SMS) and non-SMS volumes.

This was first published in January 2003

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