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Users slow to embrace storage automation

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Policy and process
Even when the SMI-S standard matures, automation of complex storage tasks like provisioning isn't going to be simple. "You need a well-defined provisioning process before you can automate it. You need to have a series of structured tasks," says Jamie Gruener, senior analyst, Yankee Group, Boston.

Most organizations, however, don't have a consistent, structured provisioning process because their environments are complex and diverse. Even when they think they do, they likely haven't defined their storage processes to a sufficiently detailed level to automate them through policies. Automation vendors often provide templates and prebuilt workflows, Gruener adds, but those tools don't guarantee success.

An IT outsourcing firm for banks hopes to automate provisioning, but it has more work to do before it can apply automated tools. "The tools are not ready to use out of the box. We still have to document how we want to provision each LUN," says the storage administrator. This isn't a simple task; it entails knowing the storage environment, the network links and paths and knowing how the applications want to use storage. It also involves bringing people from different departments together.

Once you get past larger obstacles such as heterogeneous storage and the lack of process and policy, you can still get tripped up by numerous deployment and ease-of-use issues. The top management

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of the major global grocery retailer has high hopes for storage automation in the future, but for now just the effort to automate resource discovery--an automated provisioning prerequisite--is difficult.

Slow adoption
Vendors clearly are frustrated that despite the advances they've made with storage automation, their products are not being purchased in large numbers. To drive adoption, most offer free trials in the hope that once managers see automation in action, they'll be convinced.

"We want people to download a free copy, try it and get comfortable with it," says CA's Bradley. Similarly, AppIQ offers a two-week free trial.

Interestingly, cost doesn't appear to be the problem. None of the users contacted for this article voiced serious concerns about the cost of the products, maybe because the vendors readily negotiated. Besides, even basic SRM, the prerequisite for more advanced provisioning, can deliver a fast payback. At Peel Regional Police in Ontario, which handles the policing responsibilities for Toronto's international airport, the staff would spend 60% of their time on storage. With automation, one person handles the SRM tasks, requiring just 25% of his time.

Most storage administrators say automated provisioning isn't a high priority on their to-do lists. Much more basic storage problems--such as backups and restores--are the focus of their attention. But as interoperability standards become more widely adopted, storage administrators say automation makes sense. They are quick to add, however, the road to automated storage is a long one, better walked than run.

This was first published in September 2004

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