Primary vendors' SRM tools may not be best choice for IT shops

IT shops seeking help with storage resource management may find that the SRM tools of their primary storage vendors are not the best or lowest-cost option.

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IT shops seeking help with storage resource management (SRM) often first consider the SRM tools offered by their primary storage vendors, but more suitable and less expensive options may exist, especially if their SRM needs are limited.

Third-party SRM tools reliable and affordable

When Farooq Huda, storage architect at Sabre Holdings Corp., started looking at storage resource management tools a few years ago, he was strictly interested in capacity management. At the time, the Southlake, Texas-based technology company, which builds and maintains travel reservation systems, had about 30 TB of storage, primarily on NetApp Inc. network-attached storage (NAS) filers with a small amount of block-based storage on EMC Corp. Clariion disk arrays.

Huda tried out EMC ControlCenter, which comes with the Clariion storage, but he said he had a tough time getting the type of reports he wanted. He also considered SRM products from NetApp and other vendors, but ultimately found Symantec Corp.'s SRM products the most appealing. However, the price was close to $100,000.

Huda then tried the Tek-Tools Inc. Storage Profiler (now owned by SolarWinds Inc.), which was at least 50% cheaper than Symantec's SRM products and provided the basic functionality that Sabre needed. The storage team was able to quickly reclaim 10 TB to 15 TB of space, and that effort easily paid for the tool, Huda said.

Irvine, Calif.-based Kawasaki Motors Corp. USA also chose a third-party SRM tool. The IT staff had experience with CA Inc.'s storage tools in its mainframe environment and eliminated any training concerns by going with the familiar look and feel of CA Storage Resource Manager to report on and monitor storage usage with its EMC and IBM disk arrays.

Over the past eight years, James Grande, a data center supervisor at Kawasaki, has watched CA add functionality to the software, such as a Web dashboard, VMware support and end-to-end monitoring from the host bus adapter (HBA) to the LUN. Grande had to install CA agents on close to 90 servers, but he said it was fairly easy to push updates and patches once the agents were installed.

"If you're a big shop with hundreds and hundreds of servers, I could see where pushing an agent out could be a huge issue," he said.

One of the other knocks against older comprehensive tools is their price, but Grande said, "I can just tell you, it depends how hard you can pound on your CA rep and how much they want to get business, especially in this economy."

Agentless SRM tool provides essential storage management functions

Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) Corp. is the predominant storage vendor for a large federal government agency that also has a mix of EMC, NetApp and Oracle Corp./Sun Microsystems Inc. equipment storing its roughly 3.5 PB of data. The agency has used a variety of targeted software tools from each of those vendors.

But, Greg Phillips, a privately contracted principal systems architect for the agency, has found NetApp SANscreen, an agentless SRM tool, to be most effective in the highly heterogeneous environment at a broad spectrum of storage management functions, including reporting, configuration management and storage area network (SAN) modeling.

"SANscreen is more service-centric," Phillips said, noting that the tool facilitates Quality of Service and service-level agreements (SLAs) for storage. Storage resource management tools that grew out of device management tend to remain more device-centric, he said.

Cost, however, was not the big attraction. Licensing fees for SANscreen, which is the main tool Phillips employed for managing all of the agency's storage, were "about the same" as they would have been for SRM tools from EMC or HDS, with discounts factored in, he said.

Primary storage vendor's SRM software can be priced right

But, price is often one of the most critical factors, and in some cases, it can make the SRM software offerings from an IT shop's primary storage vendor the logical choice. IBM is both the primary server and storage vendor for the state of Mississippi, and it offered up a substantial price reduction when the state went out to bid for an SRM tool, according to Kemper Porter, systems manager in the data services division of the Mississippi Department of IT Services.

"The pricing made it more attractive for us, and in addition to that, it was time to do it," Porter said. "I'm hoping that I can do more with less by having this SRM tool."

Porter expects the recently purchased IBM Tivoli Storage Productivity Center (TPC) will provide an end-to-end view, from the servers to the storage, so the IT department won't have to look in three or four places to troubleshoot a problem.

"We just got to a size where we didn't think we could risk not having [SRM tools] anymore," said Porter. "It gets to a point where you have so many arrays on so many different manufacturers' subsystems and you have so many endpoints that are targets, you just can't do it the old way anymore."

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