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Storage resource management software trends: Affordability, ease of use and extended support

Carol Sliwa

Within the past 18 months, three big trends were at work in the storage resource management (SRM) market. Learn whether they provide your IT shop with enough reason to give existing storage resource

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management software tools another look.

Storage resource management software offerings grow as prices fall

One of the first storage resource management software decisions an IT shop faces is whether to go with comprehensive tools or suites from the major vendors or a less extensive third-party product from a smaller vendor. Or you could try one of the newer hosted SRM service offerings.

Options from prominent storage vendors include EMC Corp. Ionix ControlCenter, Hewlett-Packard Co. HP Storage Essentials, Hitachi Data Systems Corp. Hitachi Storage Command Suite, IBM Tivoli Storage Productivity Center (TPC) and NetApp SANscreen storage suite. Major third-party products include CA Storage Resource Manager and Symantec Corp. Veritas CommandCentral Storage.

Anybody going after low cost is going to give something up, but what they get is still better than the best that you had several years ago.

 

Robert Passmore
Research vice presidentGartner Inc.

But there are plenty of third-party tools, including Akorri Network Inc. BalancePoint, Aptare Inc. StorageConsole, Arxscan Inc. Arxview, Quest Software Inc. Storage Horizon, SolarWinds Inc. StorageProfiler (acquired this year from Tek-Tools Inc.) and Storage Fusion Ltd. Storage Resource Analysis. Virtual Instruments Corp. concentrates on performance analysis. NTP Software and Northern Parklife AB focus on Microsoft Corp. Windows servers and the storage they use.

"If the top of your priority list is reporting functions, you can save yourself a lot of money because there are solutions out there that are very good that don't cost a lot," said John Webster, a senior partner at Broomfield, Colo.-based Evaluator Group Inc.

EMC vaulted to the top of the SRM software market by bundling Ionix ControlCenter with its storage arrays at a substantial discount or nominal fee. Vendors such as HP, IBM and NetApp have started to follow suit, according to Valdis Filks, a research director for storage technologies and strategies at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc.

"From the main system vendors, you should probably expect about a 50% discount on the big deals. On the small deals, you won't get as much," Filks said. He noted that the smaller vendors "don't have to discount as much because their price points start lower."

Filks said tools from large vendors can cost two or three times as much as those from smaller companies. Although the smaller vendors' tools don't offer provisioning and device management, they generally provide ample reporting, as well as capacity planning, forecasting and performance analysis, he said.

"Anybody going after low cost is going to give something up, but what they get is still better than the best that you had several years ago," said Robert Passmore, a research vice president at Gartner.

Yet another option, SRM services, lets organizations eliminate the capital expense of buying software in favor of a potentially lower monthly operational fee. The services may hold particular appeal for small- and medium-sized IT shops that have no interest in implementing and maintaining storage resource management software. Service-based SRM providers include GlassHouse Technologies Inc. and Unisys Corp. which both make use of Storage Fusion's technology and export data to a Web portal for analysis.

Agentless storage resource management tools on the rise

Major SRM tools have historically required the installation of software agents on servers to collect information. But the deployment and maintenance of agents can become onerous for an IT shop with hundreds or thousands of servers or servers in multiple locations.

In a large organization, the storage team often needs to get permission from the server team to install the agents, and it risks friction if the agents consume too much server processing power. Patches or updates to software or operating systems present the potential for compatibility issues.

"Sometimes an agent can stop working, so you have to have a tool that monitors to make sure the agent's working," Gartner's Filks warned. "If it's not working, you may miss a week's data."

The good news for IT shops averse to agents is that nearly every SRM tool vendor has a roadmap to phase them out or reduce their use. Akorri, Aptare, Arxscan, NetApp and Storage Fusion tools already provide agentless SRM. SolarWinds StorageProfiler is nearly agent-free. Others that are partially agentless include tools from CA, EMC, HDS, HP, IBM and Symantec.

Some storage resource management software products give customers the option to use agents or not. Others have consolidated or improved their agents, making them easier to maintain and less taxing on server resources.

Symantec's Veritas CommandCentral Storage CommandCentral one of the more heavily agent-based tools, now offers agent-free capacity utilization and chargeback reporting. For in-depth, end-to-end visibility and capacity analysis, Symantec has a new lightweight unified agent that pledges low CPU, memory and disk footprint.

Likewise, EMC's Ionix ControlCenter makes use of some host agents but also offers a level of agent-free operation. The vendor's newer Storage Configuration Advisor (SCA) is completely agentless.

Agentless tools such as SCA typically use the Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S) "and Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) to gather information from arrays and SAN switches. For servers, they run inquiry commands using Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) with Windows hosts, Secure Shell (SSH) with Unix hosts, and the VMware API with VMware ESX Servers and virtual machines.

"But there are going to be some things, especially when you get into application-level knowledge, that may always require agents to abstract that information," cautioned Bob Laliberte, a senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group in Milford, Mass.

Going agentless isn't the only way vendors have eased the deployment and use of SRM tools. Many give users the option of deploying smaller footprint modules or entry-level starter packs. They've also improved the graphical user interfaces (GUIs), dashboards and menus.

"Even the most difficult ones may be easier. But there's a big difference between one of the worst ones and one of the easiest ones," Gartner's Filks said. "Some of the older tools may still be a bit more complex. The bigger the tool, the more complex it is."

How to manage server virtualization with SRM tools

SRM tools now support server virtualization. That technology may have been spotty 18 months ago, but it has become standard in tools from both large and small vendors. This increased support allows customers to monitor and manage the storage associated with individual virtual machines (VMs). Support has lagged for Microsoft Hyper-V Server and Citrix Systems Inc. Citrix XenServer, but that's in the works among many vendors.

The long-term goal, explained Laura DuBois, a program vice president for storage software and solutions at International Data Corp. in Framingham, Mass., is to be able to provision a VM and its storage from a virtual infrastructure tool, then perform functions such as snapshots and restores from the same tool, "all in the context of the VMDK [file] and not from the context of the LUN -- in particular if a VMDK spans LUNs.

"It's starting to happen now," DuBois added, "but it's still very early in terms of true seamless integration."

For now, Gartner's Filks recommends customers buy an SRM tool before undertaking a server virtualization project to help determine the number of virtual hosts that can run on the same server and array, as well as storage performance needs.

"Most people check to see how much RAM and network bandwidth they need when they're doing [server] consolidation, but they don't check how much storage [they need]," Filks said. "If you're not watching it, you can end up using too much storage for your virtual servers. You may save money on the servers, but you spend more on the storage."

SRM tools have expanded support in other areas, too. Filks estimated that 80% of the tools added support for major applications such as Oracle Corp. databases and Microsoft's SQL Server and Exchange Server. In some instances, the tools can pinpoint especially busy files that are causing performance problems, enabling users to shift them to higher-performing storage, he said.


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