SRM gets smarter

Storage resource management (SRM) software is becoming more than a tool to manage storage devices or report on file system or database utilization. SRM vendors are reshaping their products to become the eyes and ears of the enterprise to obtain critical, real-time information.

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SRM tools are taking on new tasks, refining their data and device reporting capabilities and becoming much more closely linked to mission-critical business applications.

GONE ARE THE DAYS WHEN STORAGE RESOURCE management (SRM) products from hardware vendors managed only their devices. Storage stalwarts such as EMC Corp., Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co., IBM Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. have acquired SRM software companies and upgraded their native subsystem software to better report and manage heterogeneous storage, propelling these companies into a leadership position for SRM tools.

Several factors have contributed to this trend. More storage devices can be managed through a Web interface, and maturing storage standards now allow storage vendors to manage their competitors' devices. But even though SRM tools have taken huge steps in working in a mixed storage environment, it's too early to declare total victory. Discovering and managing different host bus adapter (HBA) and storage array firmware levels, troubleshooting performance problems and mapping out SAN topologies aren't trivial issues.

Reacting to hardware vendors' growing control of the SRM market, several large SRM software vendors are repositioning their tools to be more tightly linked to business apps. Computer Associates (CA) International Inc.'s BrightStor r11.5 includes a new business analytics component, Storage Command Center, which takes raw technical information and presents it in a more readable format as a business dashboard. This allows executives to recognize how key storage assets are performing and supporting vital business processes. Symantec Corp./Veritas Software's CommandCentral 4.2 includes new metering functionality obtained as part of Veritas' acquisition of Ejasent; the feature ties together storage management, CPU utilization reporting and chargeback within a single interface.

In addition, smaller SRM software vendors are taking steps to solidify the niches in which they play. Tampa, FL-based Northern Parklife's Northern Storage Suite remains focused solely on the Windows environment and has no plans to support operating systems or storage devices other than CIFS-compliant NAS. Softek Storage Solutions Corp. has refocused its efforts around the data migration market; its Transparent Data Migration Facility (TDMF) allows a server to migrate data between internal storage volumes, while its Replicator product migrates data from one server to another using TCP/IP.

SRM Products
Click here for a comprehensive list of SRM Products (PDF).
Inside SRM
Most major SRM products include the following:
  • Support for the Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S) standard
  • Reporting on different databases, file systems and NAS filers
  • Integration with backup and e-mail software
  • Heterogeneous storage device discovery, reporting and management
  • An end-to-end view of the data from the application to the disk
  • Historical storage usage and trending reports at the operating system level
Hardware vendors generally bundle and license SRM software with their storage systems. For instance, EMC's base software licensing for its Clariion models includes call-home capabilities (CLARalert), a Web-based GUI, a license for its SYMAPI software, logical unit number (LUN) security, a Microsoft Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS) provider, and array monitoring and alerting capabilities. Other features like local and remote replication, performance management, switch zoning, and server and database agents are components of EMC's VisualSRM family that may be purchased separately.

The acquisition of independent SRM companies by hardware vendors underscores the larger trend toward hardware vendors becoming system vendors. Acquiring SRM vendors solves two problems for hardware vendors: It gives them access to technology that might have taken them months or years to develop, and it allows them to take an expanded role in existing customer accounts.

SRM licensing issues
To discover and manage more storage devices, users typically have to purchase additional software licenses. SRM licensing is confusing, and no two SRM vendors do it exactly the same way. Common licensing criteria include the total number of Fibre Channel (FC) switch ports, tape ports, the number and size of disk arrays, server databases, managed capacity or some combination thereof. Given the complexity and the number of factors that may be used, SRM licensing costs can easily climb to more than $1 million.

There are two keys to controlling SRM licensing costs. First, identify what components in your environment will be growing and include that in the total price of the tool. For instance, hardware vendors tend to tie licensing to managed capacity, while software vendors are more apt to base licensing on the number of server and database instances. Users are best served financially by choosing a licensing model that's tied to the part of their environment that's growing the slowest. Because storage continues to grow for most companies, licensing costs based on the number of server and database instances tend to be the most cost-efficient approach. You can also help rein in licensing costs by establishing up front what you want to do with the tool. A tool that reports only on device discovery is less expensive than a tool that manages those devices, file systems and database applications.

Device discovery
SRM vendors use three primary approaches--standards, vendor storage device APIs and server agents--to improve SRM tools' delivery of heterogeneous storage device discovery and management.

THE STATE OF SMI-S
The Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S) is often viewed as the technology foundation that will solve many storage management problems. But no storage resource management (SRM) vendor uses SMI-S exclusively, and most find it problematic at best. Ash Ashutosh, co-founder and former executive vice president and CTO at AppIQ, and now current CTO of storage management software at Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co., says SMI-S came out of the gate with unrealistic expectations. "People expected it to solve interoperability problems between devices and that was never the objective of SMI-S," he says. "Rather, it was to provide a unified way of managing storage and in that vein SMI-S has been successful."

However, Ashutosh says there isn't a very rigorous testing procedure for hardware products that claim to support SMI-S. Without more stringent testing methods, vendors' interpretations of the standards diverge widely, although Ashutosh notes this is a loophole the Storage Networking Industry Association is trying to close. He hopes vendors will participate in HP's OpenIQ program, which lets hardware vendors quickly provide a front-end, SMI-S-compliant interface to their storage device for management software.
In theory, the simplest way to discover and manage devices in a heterogeneous storage environment is to use storage standards such as SMI-S, Web-Based Enterprise Management (WBEM) and Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI). To communicate with storage devices, SRM tools send SMI-S commands over IP to the management ports on storage devices. Connecting storage devices to a corporate LAN should allow an SRM product to discover them using SMI-S.

However, some older storage arrays, such as EMC's Symmetrix, are managed through an FC interface rather than a TCP/IP interface, so these devices require a different technique to be discovered and managed. In addition, each vendor has a unique interpretation of SMI-S as well as different releases of SMI-S code on the market. Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) began implementing SMI-S standards on its arrays three years ago; however, older HDS arrays such as the 7700 may not support SMI-S (see "The state of SMI-S," at right).

With SMI-S storage standards still maturing, SRM vendors rely on APIs provided by storage device vendors to discover and manage those devices. But this approach presents its own set of problems. For example, Softek's Storage Manager can discover arrays from EMC and HDS, but its implementation calls for users to install APIs for each of these vendor's arrays on a server--preferably on servers other than Softek's management server.

But the concerns don't end there. The server hosting EMC's APIs will need FC connectivity to all of the Symmetrix arrays it needs to discover and manage. And not every version of EMC's APIs supports all of its arrays. Users who wish to use EMC's SYMAPI to discover Clariion arrays over TCP/IP will need to use Version 6.x of SYMAPI. But if you upgrade to 6.x and you're also using EMC ControlCenter on that server to host the SYMAPI software, you'll need to upgrade your version of ControlCenter to at least Version 5.2.

One alternative to using the native APIs provided by storage vendors is to wait until storage vendors adopt interfaces like HP's OpenIQ middleware, which provides a common set of APIs. This technique gives storage vendors the option to purchase a middleware package and use it as a type of software wrapper around their storage array to make it standards-compliant. However, the likelihood of any middleware approach working is dubious until it's endorsed as a standard and implemented by major storage hardware vendors.

The final way SRM products discover and manage storage environments is through the deployment of server agents. These agents can deliver four principal pieces of information: the physical hardware on the server such as FC HBAs, LUNs discovered by each HBA and server and the volume groups they're in, filelevel information and database information. Not every vendor's agent installs the same way or delivers the same functionality. Agents from CA, Northern Parklife and Softek take only a few minutes to install and deliver file-level information. Conversely, EMC's ControlCenter agent can provide everything from HBA information to the layout of database table spaces on attached Symmetrix arrays, but it can take 30 minutes or longer to install and configure on each server, depending on how many options are installed.

Infrastructure views
One of the first items organizations want an SRM tool to provide is visibility into their storage infrastructure. SRM products can be categorized as offering four types of storage infrastructure views:

  • End-to-end
  • Global
  • Market niche
  • Business analytics
End-to-end visibility serves primarily systems, storage and database administrators who need to see activity from the application level to the disk spindle on the storage array. While a number of tools deliver this functionality, some are better suited for specific environments. For heterogeneous storage networks, HP's Storage Essentials 5.0 (formerly AppIQ's StorageAuthority) or Longmont, CO-based Creek-Path Systems' CreekPath Suite can gather, correlate and present deep technical information such as firmware levels, volume-to-disk mappings, tablespace layouts, and port and disk performance information. In single-vendor storage environments, HDS' HiCommand and EMC's ControlCenter would be better suited to provide similar data for environments where their hardware is prevalent.

Global visibility into an environment tells managers, capacity planners and storage admins how much capacity they have, where it's at and who/what is using it. Products such as Sun's Global Storage Manager (GSM) gather pertinent information from all components (such as storage arrays, FC switches, tape libraries and servers) and roll up summary information from the individual components to a central site. These products deploy agents that generally require less time to configure and install than products that provide an end-to-end view. That's because the agents are gathering less information, collecting it less frequently and providing only reporting rather than management capabilities for storage devices and servers in the environment.

SRM products from companies like Northern Parklife keep their software focused on specific niches within the larger SRM sphere. For instance, Northern Parklife's Northern Storage Suite includes modules for quota management, chargeback and Web portals. The eb portal component displays individual Web pages tailored for each user that show them information such as how much storage is being used, their 10 largest and oldest files, and suggestions for what files they may want to delete or archive.

The final view is business analytics, which provides organizations with an understanding of how their storage infrastructure can impact the applications using it. For instance, CA's BrightStor SRM and Sun's GSM can generate reports indicating which servers have only a single HBA or what databases reside on external disk. But they can also identify which applications would be impacted if a server's HBA should fail or indicate if a database is residing on 250GB 7,200 rpm SATA drives.

Data location and classification
SRM products provide new ways of identifying where data resides in the infrastructure and what type of data it is. Several SRM products now include more in-depth reporting on backup software, e-mail packages and NAS file servers. While most SRM applications already handle basic tasks like reporting on e-mail database sizes, and the ages and sizes of files on NAS, closer integration with these applications will be required in the future. With regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley, HIPAA and OSHA requiring organizations to quickly identify and locate specific files and e-mails in the enterprise, SRM tools may begin to take on some additional search features that are presently found in specialized indexing tools that produce rich sets of meta data. Vendors are also positioning themselves to provide classification of data stored in e-mail and NAS repositories, although these functions are still in their formative stages.

SRM software is becoming much more than a tool to manage storage devices, or report on file system or database utilization. SRM vendors are reshaping their products to become the very eyes and ears of the enterprise to obtain mission-critical information in realtime. New features that provide business analytics will help storage administrators to make better decisions regarding capacity utilization and the type of disk that best suits an application's data.

This was first published in January 2006

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