Storage configuration needs go beyond SRM tools

The only configuration tools for many IT organizations of all sizes remain the element managers that are built into their arrays and switches.

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This is the third of a five-part series on enterprise data storage management tools. In the second part, we looked at enterprise data storage capacity management tools.

The latest storage configuration tools often prove most useful for an enterprise with a mix of different storage systems or a large installation of virtual servers, especially now that the virtual machines can be shifted from one physical server to another with greater ease.

Storage resource management (SRM) tools increasingly provide an end-to-end view from the virtual machines and servers to the arrays. They also include a central console for the initial provisioning and ongoing configuration of storage systems. A number of tools can automate steps in the storage allocation process and alert users of configuration changes that violate best practices or an IT organization's policies.

Prominent SRM tools from storage system vendors include EMC Corp.'s Ionix ControlCenter, Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Storage Essentials, Hitachi Data Systems' Storage Command Suite, IBM's Tivoli Storage Productivity Center (TPC) and NetApp Inc.'s SANscreen. Other SMR tools include CA Inc.'s Storage Resource Manager and Symantec Corp.'s Veritas CommandCentral Storage.

The storage resource management applications generally send commands to the element managers, communicate with the CLI or application programming interfaces (APIs), and/or use the Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S). Not every SRM tool can handle the initial provisioning of heterogeneous storage. EMC's ControlCenter and NetApp's SANscreen, for instance, monitor and report on heterogeneous systems, but they concentrate on their own storage products when it comes to provisioning, with the exception of EMC's support for setting up Hitachi arrays.

Such broad-function SRM tools aren't necessarily the preferred choice for initial provisioning, even for the vendor's own storage. Ryan Perkowski, manager of storage operations at a large financial institution he did not wish to identify, likened allocating storage with his company's EMC ControlCenter software to driving in a nail with a sledgehammer.

"You don't need that much power," he said. "It does checks and cross-checks, and it puts a lock on your storage frame while it's doing this and that. I can have three of my guys writing scripts, and each of their execution times will be only a minute each."

Perkowski said provisioning can take 15 to 30 minutes "just waiting for the ControlCenter framework to actually catch up to you." He thinks the tool, however, could be vital for smaller companies that need a point-and-click interface to "take the thought process out of your hands."

Still, the only configuration tools for a good many IT organizations of all sizes remain the element managers that are built into their arrays and switches. Improved graphical user interfaces (GUIs) and wizards have made device managers such as EMC Corp.'s Navisphere and Hewlett-Packard Co.'s EVA Command View easier to use over the years, a trend that has been especially helpful for companies that lack storage specialists.

Organizations with skilled staff often use the command-line interface (CLI) and homegrown scripts. Tim Malfara, the storage architect at GSI Commerce Inc., said that approach gives him a more fine-grained level of control.

"A GUI makes it easy for you to do certain things. Batching is not one of them," Malfara said. "If you use a command line, and you have a lot of changes that you need to make, you can batch them into one large change. It's more efficient for us."

As more specialized configuration-focused tools emerge, they tend to fall in line with the general trend toward policy-based and agent-free technology that's designed to be easier to use and maintain. Some take snapshots to compare a previously saved stable configuration to a problematic one. Others have moved toward near real-time monitoring and alerts.

EMC, for instance, in June launched Storage Configuration Advisor. Storage Configuration Advisor is an agentless discovery appliance that focuses on near real-time change tracking, configuration management and path validation. The product can alert users of potential violations of policies and best practices and remove the need to individually check the device configuration of tens, hundreds or even thousands of element managers.

Symantec last December released its agent-free Veritas CommandCentral Storage Change Manager that can detect in near real-time if policies that customers apply to storage configuration are broken.

EMC also disclosed plans for a Configuration Analytics Manager that will combine input from Storage Configuration Advisor and server and network configuration managers for a more complete picture of the infrastructure.

The fourth part of this series looks at performance monitoring.

This was first published in October 2009

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