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SRM tools: Choosing the right storage resource management tool for storage provisioning

What you'll learn: Storage resource management tools can help you manage all of your physical and logical storage resources, devices, disks

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and files. Here's what you should know before you invest in SRM tools.

Storage provisioning -- tracking how much data storage you have available and then trying to apportion it to various users and groups -- is a fundamental activity for getting the most out of a storage-area network (SAN). SRM tools can play an important role in accomplishing that goal, but choosing the right one can be tough. For starters, the definition of storage resource management (SRM) is too much of a catch-all to be much help. Depending on where you find your definition, you'll see SRM is essentially the management of all physical and logical storage resources, devices, disks and files.

But for data storage managers, SRM tools offer the important ability to have detailed capacity reporting. That includes change management and chargeback. This focus is crucial today, said Enterprise Strategy Group senior analyst Bob Laliberte, as data storage environments become increasingly more dynamic and "cloud-like."

The biggest recent gain in the sphere of SRM tools has been the ability to optimize even beyond thin provisioning, Laliberte said.

Thin provisioning allows different users to be allocated the same physical storage on the assumption they won't all need it at the same time. "Like a bank, if everyone comes in and cashes their checks all at the same time, you have a problem," Laliberte said. That is where SRM tools can help. What you want to do, he noted, is see beyond the raw capacity to what has been allocated, mounted and used.

SRM tools can also show you what the application thinks you have and what you truly have, so that as the physical infrastructure fills up you can add more capacity before a shortage develops. It's true that thin provisioning tools can provide much of this capability, but SRM tools can provide a holistic view, especially in an environment with multiple vendors, according to Laliberte.

What you should know before you invest in SRM tools

So where should a data storage manager start when considering SRM tools? John Webster, senior partner at the Evaluator Group, issued this warning: Be sure to make a distinction between device management tools and higher-level SRM tools that serve as "managers of managers." Device managers for specific arrays -- often provided by vendors -- can be helpful for provisioning, but they don't offer the broader view that most heterogeneous environments demand. "A higher-level SRM tool can potentially look across those arrays and take measurements and provide statistics on how capacity is being used and by whom," Webster said, "along with clarifying bandwidth issues and impact on devices such as host bus adapters."

Webster said data storage managers have to understand where they land on the capacity-usage curve, as well as what impact carving out a piece of physical storage and bringing it online will have on the entire network.

Irwin Teodoro, director of systems integration at systems integration firm Laurus Technologies, spent several years at storage vendors such as EMC Corp. He's also developed a degree of caution toward SRM tools. For starters, they can be pricey. Moreover, "they are so complicated" they sometimes aren't worth the investment, Teodoro said.

"I would compare SRM applications to the iPhone, which has so many apps available but most people really just need to make phone calls and get their messages," he said. "We encourage our customers to look at the tools they already have before deciding to invest in SRM; often, they find they already have the functionality they really need." In fact, he added, unless your environment is very heterogeneous you may not need SRM at all.

If you do decide to invest in SRM, Teodoro said, it's important to look for tools that handle historical data easily from multiple sources and "interfaces that are intuitive."

Looking ahead, Webster sees higher levels of automation as inevitable, what one of his clients terms a "storage ATM" approach. "I think there's movement toward that in the industry because it would relieve storage administrators from this repetitive provisioning process," he added.

Administrators would like to automate that process even to the point where a database administrator can have a portal and, based on answers to a set of questions, be able to activate additional storage on their own. "There are vendors now talking about delivering that kind of capability," he said.

SRM tools landscape

Here's a sampling of the wide range of SRM tools currently on the market:

BIO: Alan Earls is a Boston-area freelance writer focused on business and technology, particularly data storage.

This was first published in June 2010

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