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Limits of automation
The latest automation products can do the job, at least in certain situations. "You can automatically provision storage under some circumstances," says Stephen Foskett, practice manager for strategy services at GlassHouse Technologies. But there are definite constraints. "You are limited by the types of equipment and the different vendors," he adds. Despite vows by storage hardware vendors to support standards, the heterogeneous nature of enterprise storage hinders automation efforts.
Specifically, different operating systems, storage arrays and host hardware can frustrate even the best automation software. "You probably can not automate every step of the storage process because the hardware or the operating system may do things in a special way," says the Evaluator Group's Martin. At some point, someone will still have to dive deep using a hardware- or operating system-specific tool to perform some low-level task like tuning the cache, adds Ash Ashutosh, executive vice president and chief technology officer at AppIQ Inc., an automation vendor.
The storage automation vendors insist they can handle the multivendor environment today. "You can do application-to-spindle automation, but not with SMI-S," says Mark Bradley, senior technology strategist for the BrightStor management suite from Computer Associates (CA). Instead, CA turns to the simple network management protocol (SNMP) and the published APIs from the various vendors to automate low-level tasks. It may initiate a task, but even then the automation tool can't control how the proprietary array actually does it, he adds. In the end, all the hardware vendors keep some functionality proprietary to their arrays.
Although EMC Corp. has helped drive the SMI-S standard, even it concedes that the immature standard can't yet enable extensive multivendor automation of complex storage operations. For example, its Control Center can do zoning on Hitachi Data Systems, HP and IBM Corp. storage platforms as well as its own, but it can only perform LUN masking with some HP arrays, according to Barry Ader, EMC's director of software product marketing.
Where companies have automatically provisioned a complex heterogeneous storage environment, they have had to do much preparation. A major New York investment house uses CreekPath Systems to automatically provision both storage area network (SAN) and network-attached storage (NAS) capacity across disk arrays from EMC, IBM, HDS and others.
The key, according to the senior vice president in charge of the storage, is solid resource discovery and well-defined workflow. "Discovery is an absolute prerequisite," he insists. The company has also standardized on the latest versions of all the various low-level firmware, another essential preliminary step.
The workflow component is critical to engendering trust in the automation; it will prevent the system from doing something unusual without approval. What the tools can't do yet, Ader adds, are higher levels of automation, such as information lifecycle management. For that, the automation software needs to distinguish storage tiers and service level commitments.
This was first published in September 2004