Storage management consoles promise to give you a bird's eye view of the logical and physical topology of your storage networks and arrays. But, the varying features of each of these global operations managers, "dashboards" or storage area management tools make product selection a challenging task. Storage vendors may also tell you, "yeah, we can do that..." when in fact they should be saying, "well, not exactly..."
At the end of the day, management consoles will become the next generation of storage resource management (SRM) tools that weave multiple functions into a single pane of glass -- provisioning, capacity planning and high-level element management. Management consoles are likely to be extremely important to building and managing storage service levels by allowing administrators to map application relationships to storage infrastructure and develop thresholds on an application-by-application basis.
So what's important in selecting a management console? Consider the following feature segments closely when grilling vendors about what they can provide. Some of this is elementary, and some of it isn't. Areas of evaluation should include basic functionality (discovery, visualization, analysis and monitoring), heterogeneous support (both standards and individual vendors) and multi-dimensional integration with provisioning, SRM and other tools. Over the next 18 months, the lines of battle between what customers want and what vendors deliver will center on how much of this functionality comes either as an uber-product or multiple product modules that plug together. Let's talk about these individual feature groupings.
Management consoles today generally discover, visualize, analyze and monitor. Vendors that are providing performance management, provisioning and configuration management (down to the array firmware) have a functionality edge on competitors. Key questions you should consider here include:
1. What is being discovered: HBAs, hosts, storage switches, arrays or tape libraries?
2. What visual tools are provided to help map the environment: Physical topology, logical views of disks/volumes, application mapping to storage environment and "what if" scenarios?
3. What can be analyzed/monitored? Does this product include event or alarm management, and what happens when an alarm is sounded?
4. Are reports available on different storage resources? Do these reports cover capacity utilization, switch performance, unconfigured arrays, volumes and LUNs?
5. How can this tool guarantee an application service level?
Any vendor that is providing a storage management console must have a plan to support CIM-enabled interfaces, the foundation of the new interoperability standards being developed by the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA). Today, they also need to have developed their own ways to capture device-level information from storage array and switch vendors.
Integration with other advanced management features
A number of management consoles already enable you to provision storage and conduct integrated capacity planning. Over the next year, a number of top-tier vendors will also join the race in providing integrated management consoles. It should be an interesting ride.
About the author: Jamie Gruener is the primary analyst focused on the server and storage markets for the Yankee Group, an industry analyst firm in Boston, Mass. Jamie's coverage area includes storage management, storage best practices, storage systems, storage networking and server technologies.