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Forecasting capacity with an eye on performance

Explosive data growth and increasingly complex storage environments make it easy to see the appeal of an automated capacity-planning application. But according to some vendors and analysts, the tools currently available for open systems don't have enough depth to add real value, at least not yet.

"A lot of tools are focused just on space usage," says Greg Schulz, senior analyst and founder of The StorageIO Group, Stillwater, MN. To accurately assess your storage needs, you also need to know how much I/O activity applications are generating, he says.

And if you don't know how well your volumes are handling activity right now, you might get a skewed picture of your storage needs going forward, says Ted Kicey, product manager for Mainview Storage Resource Manager (SRM) at Houston-based BMC Software.

"If I'm running out of space on volumes or in a storage pool, looking at what was there yesterday doesn't help," says Kicey. "I really need to be able to look at real-time data." Mainview SRM is mainframe software that helps optimize performance in addition to planning for capacity.

The mainframe world has had plenty of time to consider the need to balance optimal traffic with optimal volume usage, but current open-systems utilities are relatively new. Software like MonoSphere's Storage Horizon 2.2, TeraCloud's TeraCloud Storage Framework (TSF) 2.1--both announced last spring--and NTP Software's Storage M&A tend to focus on helping managers collect data, analyze and forecast future capacity demands, but without much view to performance. Nevertheless, these products do fill a large gap as storage networks expand and volume usage increases at a phenomenal rate.

"We're seeing 100% storage growth in most of the large Fortune 2000 [companies]," says Patrick Hynds, senior technologist at NTP Software. "And we're seeing that year over year."

Capacity-planning vendors acknowledge the value of activity monitoring. TeraCloud users can write routines to respond to high-activity situations on z/OS. For other platforms, TeraCloud offers a standalone shareware utility called io_profile, which future versions of TSF will include as a plug-in, says the company. MonoSphere is also considering adding performance monitoring to future versions of Storage Horizon.

In any case, even the most feature-rich capacity-planning application won't be much help in IT shops that are short on manpower. Only 30% of storage managers are doing any form of planning at all, according to a recent survey of Storage readers (see "Snapshot: Do you use capacity-planning tools?" Storage, August, 2006). Storage managers cite understaffing and its consequent time constraints as major reasons they've been slow to adopt new tools.

"We have two storage administrators for 50TB of data," says Loren Haun, senior systems programmer at The Regence Group, a BlueCross BlueShield affiliate in Portland, OR, adding that this makes it tough to develop new methodologies. "No matter how much better automated [a software tool is], there's a learning curve to it and time involved," he says.

As a result, storage managers are sticking with what they know, culling data with storage resource management (SRM) or OS tools, and then performing their own analysis using spreadsheets. Of the roughly one-third of readers who do capacity planning, 30% supplement an SRM tool with their own spreadsheets, while another 14% use spreadsheets only.

This may change in the very near future. The pressure to accurately forecast capacity demand--as well as its costs--may spur more shops to seriously re-evaluate their practices.

"You can't manage terabytes with Excel," notes Hynds.

--Trina MacDonald

Article 23 of 36

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