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SRM tools: More agentless options, quicker ROI

SRM tools are increasingly becoming easier to implement and use; they may bring quick ROI as IT shops reclaim larger amounts of unused storage.

As storage resource management (SRM) tools become easier to implement and to use, the potential for a quick return on investment (ROI) increases, and IT shops gain the ability to reclaim larger amounts of unused storage.

Additional benefits of SRM tools include a better understanding of their storage environments and an enhanced ability to plan for newer technologies such as thin provisioning and a negotiation advantage with vendors, according to Valdis Filks, a research director for storage technologies and strategies at Gartner Inc.

In this SearchStorage.com Q&A, Filks discusses the ways in which SRM tools and software have improved during the last two years and explains what those changes will mean for end users.

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SearchStorage.com: How have SRM tools changed and improved during the last year or two?

Filks: Most of the vendors have endeavored to simplify the installation and implementation. They are becoming more agentless. That means they don't have to have such large footprints or lengthy installation projects to implement them in large environments. Some of the smaller vendors are totally agentless, and the larger ones are moving in that area, if not so totally.

What else has happened: There's been some interesting companies like, for example, a startup called Storage Fusion, which offers SRM as a service. That's pretty interesting. You can pay for them for not a great deal of money, and they will run some reports in your data center. They will get sent back to their cloud data center, and then they run the processing, create the reports Then you log online and do what ifs and ask it things. So, that's a pretty low-cost way to get into the SRM business if companies aren't sure how well they're doing from a storage management perspective.

A couple other things that are interesting with the movement toward unified computing are the various fabric computing offerings and things like that. Some of the storage resource management tools from the larger vendors are gravitating or orientating to join up with system management tools. The SRM tools will still be sold separately from these vendors, but there is a slight move from that segment of the market into wider unified computing provisioning tools, because these unified computing systems need to be able to provision the storage, monitor the storage, and all the SRM type of functions and features which you require.

SearchStorage.com: For which management tasks is an SRM tool most helpful?

Filks: The management tasks where you would see the most benefit would really be the standard, classic value proposition from SRM. This is reclaiming, or what I call reconciling, the storage with the servers, with the applications. Most companies say that their storage and data growths are very large, but they actually don't know because they have homegrown scripts, which they have to manually run. And if anybody asks a "what if" question, they may have to rewrite the script. Or, if the guy who writes the script is on holiday, they can't ask the question. But, most vendors can implement these, and there is a pretty quick ROI. Once you implement some of these low-footprint tools that are agentless, you can probably reclaim a sufficient amount of storage to justify the cost of the SRM tool.

But, there are lots of other side effects. It's like going to war, or the war on data. Before you go to war, you have to know the lay of the land and the map. You have to know where your problems are, what's growing, what's decreasing and what's not changing. Most people can't determine these things, especially when the environments get very large. An SRM tool will tell you that. And once you know that, then you can plan for new technologies like thin provisioning. You can say, "Where should I use thin provisioning? Which apps are oversubscribed? Which apps never change?" You could get a list of your top 10 or top 100 apps for performance perspective, and then you could actually scientifically justify maybe buying SSDs.

These SRM tools also give you a negotiation advantage with vendors because quite often the vendor will come in and say, "Well, we can see you're running out of storage. Buy more from me." Some companies buy third-party SRM tools and not necessarily the SRM tool from their predominant storage vendor because they just want a third opinion. So, they get a neutral SRM tool in just to check to see if the disk vendor or the tape vendor is giving them the right information.

SRM tools are the decision support systems. Most of the time, they can quickly justify the expenditure and give you an ROI within 12 months. But, there are a lot of other advantages. It's just like having some sort of system where you can ask what's going on and really deterministically find out what's happening in your own storage environment rather than just guessing.

SearchStorage.com: What are the greatest challenges associated with implementing SRM software today compared with deploying them in the past?

Filks: The challenges are about the same because most people believe the SRM market is the same. But, as I mentioned before, they are a lot simpler to implement. Lots of the tools are modular. You do not have to implement all of the options, and I don't recommend implementing all of the options from Day 1. People should really choose what they want very quickly and do the easy things, like reclamation. Do the easy things: Discover how much storage you have, where all your LUNs or volumes are, are they all being used and how much they're being used.

[With] agentless solutions, there is a big debate. It's not only within the storage market. What's better, agents or agentless solutions? It may be easier to manage if you have fewer agents. Some of the larger tools may require professional services to implement and [for] training. But, the GUIs and the topological displays of many of the tools now are very simple to use, much more intuitive and faster. Report creation is pretty easy to do. The problem before was basically lengthy implementations and installation projects. And they never met the expectations or requirements from the initial project.

SRM tools enable you to be proactive rather than reactive, and that will just free up time to go and do clever things like data deduplication, thin provisioning, implement automated tiering with SSDs and things like that. So, decide upfront what you want to do, and don't try and do everything. That's really the bottom line.

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