The role of management software in an effective data storage strategy

One of the critical elements to storage management these days is a good software package. Here's what it can do for you.

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The role of management software in an effective data storage strategy
By Jim Fernandes, nStor Technologies, Inc.

IT professionals today face increasingly difficult challenges in managing rapidly growing enterprise-wide storage resources in heterogeneous networks. Companies in almost every industry, ranging from seismic imaging and digital content creation to ASPs and ISPs, are experiencing explosive growth in their requirements for information storage capacity. These environments often include large numbers of servers with attached storage and a growing population of servers sharing storage over a storage area network (SAN).

These complex requirements are driving the need for centralized storage management tools that simplify the administration of storage assets, reduce IT overhead costs, and improve overall efficiency and usage of storage resources. The key to effective storage management? A robust software solution. Software is a critical component of an enterprise data storage strategy, giving businesses the ability to better leverage their IT resources, including employee time.

Storage management software moves to the forefront
As the cost per megabyte continues to decrease, the focus is shifting away from hardware toward storage management software. This is not to downplay the importance of a reliable, high performance hardware solution - the true safekeeper of businesses' mission-critical data. But software is emerging as the differentiating factor and a highly competitive advantage. This is due to the fact that storage management software plays a vital role in administering distributed IT assets, maintaining high availability, and minimizing downtime. The effective management of resources from the data center across the network increases both productivity and revenue.

Two key factors to consider when purchasing storage management software are network security and heterogeneity (the blending of different operating systems and platforms). A typical network today has several servers running different types of operating systems, storage systems, and workstations, making storage monitoring in these environments a difficult task. Customers require a single, easy-to-use software application that simplifies the many tasks required to support a heterogeneous network. Although storage vendors promote interoperability and open standards in theory, software offerings are falling short when it comes to managing a storage pool consisting of mixed vendor environments. The demand for heterogeneity will only continue to increase as businesses realize the benefits of managing all their networked storage as if it came from a single source.

Complete network security is also one of the most important attributes to consider when implementing storage management software. Software must able to provide the tools necessary to promote a secure environment. This can be accomplished in several different ways. Some software offerings allow the administrator to assign every component in the storage system to a defined storage domain, or multiple domains if desired, each with a different password. This capability means that the system manager can grant limited access to storage management without needing to expose full privileged access to any operating system. In this way, IT policy makers, for example, can easily keep engineering, accounting and e-commerce information "partitioned" from each other to prevent inadvertent misuse or corruption of files.

Not all storage management users need to perform the same tasks. Some users simply need to be able to evaluate the current status. Others must deal with maintenance issues, and still other individuals reconfigure and deploy the storage. The utilization of user-defined domains creates a rich environment to support any system administration management structure desired. Operating system administrators can have the access they need to configure and manage the storage they use, while storage administrators can effectively deal with their storage, independent of the various computers that require access.

Storage management anytime, anywhere
The ability to keep a watch on storage resources at all times is critical. This makes automatic monitoring an important component of a storage management software suite. Storage must be monitored 24 hours, 7 days a week. Automatic monitoring programs check on the health of the storage, generating messages as needed, and provide the ability to adjust, configure and interact with the storage systems. Allowing all hosts in a storage environment to communicate with each other makes it possible to coordinate their activities. Automatic monitoring programs can also broadcast alerts to network administrators or outside service personnel through email messages to individuals, groups, or pagers. This type of functionality greatly simplifies complex storage architectures such as SANs and reduces the cost of administration.

Web-based administration is another important emerging feature in storage management software. New offerings provide system administrators with local or remote access via a standard web-based browser with a high degree of security, reliability and performance. Users can not only view and manage storage resources from anywhere in the world; but they can also choose to view the storage as individual units, or opt for a centralized view of all resources in the SAN.

The Future of storage nanagement software
No matter how you look at it, powerful and efficient management of storage resources is critical to maximizing business productivity and reducing administration costs. As IT managers continue to be faced with exploding amounts of data to store, secure, and make continuously available across the enterprise, the industry is assured of a continuing worldwide demand for effective storage management tools.

About the author: Jim Fernandes is a product manager of software and solutions for nStor Technologies , a leader in the data storage marketplace. He brings a 15-year background in the information technology industry to nStor, where he spearheads software development. He can be reached by email at jimf@nstor.com.

This was first published in June 2001

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