Can you really trust automation?

The holy grail of SAN management is automation -- but some users don't trust automation and it's not always

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clear whether automation products really measure up.

"From an automation perspective we really aren't that far along," says Gartner analyst Raymond Paquet. "We can barely hack our way through backups," he adds.

He says there's no lack of user acceptance. Instead, Paquet says the fault lies both with the immaturity of the products that vendors are offering and with the fact that most user storage environments aren't that mature.

"You must have an environment that can support automation," says Paquet. "If your environment isn't structured and simplified it will be difficult to automate, he says. "To put it simply, as complexity rises the automation opportunity diminishes."

The second dilemma, he says, is what to automate? "The reality is that you will want to automate some components of a management process or some task within that process but most users don't have things documented well enough to take that step," warns Paquet.

Paquet cites the example of storage provisioning. "Before you can automate you must document the assignment of LUNs, zone masking, creation of volumes and many other tasks," he says. Then, and only then, can you assign specific steps to an automated process. "That is the core of the problem, too many people hope they can just buy automation but without the proper development of manual tasks they don't really know what they are doing," he says.

Having said that, however, Paquet does anticipate that there will be more and better vendor offerings "coming from all over the map."

For his part, John Webster at the Data Mobility Group says he hears large users groups talking "nervously" about automation.

"Whatever automation is, it needs to be more fully articulated," Webster says. It is not always clear what people mean by automation, how much control they are willing to cede and how users will be able to recover from any mistakes that happen through automation. "What is the fall back position?"

Webster says the "users in the trenches with the ultimate responsibility for explaining where the data went are skeptical of automation in general."

"They really want to see what it is and understand it fully before they will be ready to nod up and down," he says.

Like Paquet, Webster says a critical question is how much control people can exert over automation. "If you make a mistake, how do you recover?"

"I don't see any of the vendors really addressing that -- maybe they need to start off being less powerful and simpler rather than trying to do everything at once," he adds.

For more information:

Advice: Time to buy automation products?

Tip: Let automation solve your storage headaches

Tip: Choosing the right provisioning solution

About the author: Alan Earls is a freelance writer in Franklin, MA.

This was first published in April 2004

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