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If you believe the hype, this is the year storage management tools will burst onto the scene. According to Gartner Dataquest, storage management software revenue grew from $5.3 billion in 2000 to $8.5 billion in 2002 and will continue its ascent to $16.7 billion in 2005.

Companies would certainly welcome true enterprise storage management platforms with open arms. Today's landscape of proprietary element management tools provide little help to cope with storage growth and data protection. If the storage industry can deliver open, scaleable software platforms that manage heterogeneous storage, enable higher utilization rates and automate processes, CIOs will have cause for celebration.

Before you break out the champagne, it's important to look at the lessons learned in the past. Remember the large enterprise management frameworks such as Computer Associates Unicenter, Hewlett-Packard OpenView, and Tivoli TME ? Similar to today's storage management platforms, these software solutions were supposed to unify management tasks into a common command and control center. The vision was compelling: a single management platform to monitor and manage distributed systems and networks across the enterprise. Large companies couldn't resist. They purchased software and engaged in multiyear implementations to bridge their enterprise management environment. It was expensive and difficult, but the payoff would be worth the effort.

You can probably anticipate how this story ended. According to the Meta Group, approximately 70% of the big framework implementations ended in failure. Many companies abandoned these projects and went back to more subdued and contained management environments, although most projects failed because of IT shortcomings, not product weaknesses. IT never took the time to make the organizational and process changes to ensure success.

Building a storage management project plan

This brings us back to storage management. To give your company the best chance of success, you need a comprehensive storage management software project plan before implementing big storage management suites. How? A consultant friend of mine suggests adopting a four-phased model that helps prepare you through organizational and operational process changes (see "Building a storage management project plan," this page). This plan encompasses the complete range of project lifecycle stages: assess, design, test, implement and operate.

Phase 1
An effective storage management project goes beyond managing boxes and storage utilization. Start with a thorough understanding of business and service requirements as they relate to storage. What kind of data protection do different business applications need? What about remote mirroring for disaster protection? How can storage help deliver better system performance? How can the storage architecture provide better access to data? When these requirements are defined, IT will have a better idea what the storage management software must deliver.

Once the business is covered, the project shifts to IT operations. This involves a comprehensive look at policies and processes. The key objective is to find and fix operational weaknesses prior to any new management software implementation.

As business and IT operations requirements become clear, it's time to put together RFIs and RFPs. Let some of your best engineering and operations people research available options. If installed accounts are sited within trade press articles, call the company listed for additional information on products and vendors. Check user groups as well.

Phase 2
Now onto the design and test. Note the overlap between the first and second phase and plan. The effectiveness of a storage management project ultimately depends on the skills and organization of your people. Figure out how the storage management group interfaces with other IT and business organizations during this phase. How will the storage management group collaborate with business groups to prioritize requirements? What about the organizational structure within the storage management group in terms of job responsibilities, lines of command and management?

Along with the organizational model comes the process architecture. This entails understanding how procedures are carried out and reported within the storage management group and across IT. As previously mentioned in my column, I'm a big fan of IT governance models. Look into standards such as the information technology infrastructure library (ITIL), information technology system management (ITSM) and control objectives for information and related technology (CobiT) for some ideas on IT governance before you go about reinventing the wheel.

Phase 2 also begins the technology nuts and bolts investigation. Assume that you'll need several storage and element management tools from various vendors. What type of integration will you need here? Data level? Application level? UI level? Will this be done through standards like the simple network management protocol (SNMP) or will you need to develop customer code?

Phase 3
Phase 3 bridges the design, test and implementation phases. All of the process and storage management design work done in Phase 2 should be fully developed by now. Granular process details should be agreed on and supported by full documentation. Project plans should be underway with tasks assigned and scheduled.

By Phase 3, you should be further down the tools integration road and into functional testing. Make sure to simulate for production-type levels and don't forget to check system and tools security. You should also be working with various vendors to bring in their products and see how they respond in your test environment. This is where you need to be picky. No surprise that storage management software vendors have been known to stretch the truth with regards to product and integration capabilities. Make sure that the vendors have some skin in the game with onsite technical resources to help you test their products.

As you test products and processes, are you achieving the results you expected? If you've done a good job through the first few phases, you should be, but there are always unexpected circumstances that need to be accounted for. By verifying your manageability testing, you will uncover and address these issues before systems go into production.

Phase 4
The final phase should be more than checking off boxes in the project plan. The previous work on process definition and testing should lead to a smooth transition here. As the storage management tools begin to report on storage health and performance, your people should know how to interpret and react to this information. Others within IT should be able to anticipate the storage management environment's impact on their areas, as well.

It's time to install equipment and set up a storage command center. Don't forget security: patch operating systems and applications and lock down physical security.

The storage team should receive product and process training so they are prepared for release to production.

Ultimately, the four-phased approach is far more important than the actual software tool. Vendors will cover all the basics, but preparing the company with the right organization model and supporting processes can make or break the entire effort. Make sure to budget and prepare for this work and seek professional service help if necessary. By doing so, your company can achieve ROI goals and enable storage management efforts that help drive the business.

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