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Hot Spots: New Year's resolution: Get my storage organized

Storage resource management (SRM) software can be one of the most effective ways to optimize your storage environment. But when it comes to SRM, you'd better look before you leap.

Storage resource management software is one way to make sure you have a leaner, meaner storage system in 2008.

The start of each new year inevitably brings resolutions for improvement. Getting in shape and becoming more organized are ways we can become more efficient; for those of us working in the data center, efficiency translates into higher levels of service. But before you can manage more effectively and efficiently, you need greater visibility into your environment. You can't manage what you can't see.

One of the best ways to gain that visibility is to deploy storage resource management (SRM) software. This software has matured over the last five years, but there's still a lot of room for improvement. A recent Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) research report reveals that 37.3% of businesses have deployed SRM solutions (see "Current and planned production use of SRM software," below). An additional 40.3% have SRM purchases and installations on their New Year's resolution list.

In the case of SRM applications, the range of products can be daunting. How do you know which one is right for your environment? What should you look for in an SRM solution? Think about what you're trying to achieve. Is it simply getting your resources under control, or is this implementation part of an Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) or IT Service Management (ITSM) initiative that focuses on process automation and integration with configuration management databases (CMDBs)? Do you have a single-vendor environment or not?

Here are some of the features you should consider when evaluating SRM solutions. It's unlikely you'll find all of these capabilities in any one solution, so you'll have to prioritize your wish list.
  1. Capacity utilization. To many, storage allocation equals storage utilization. However, these two concepts are quite different. "Allocated" storage has been assigned, typically by the storage administrator, for potential use by application servers. "Utilization" is the measurement of how much data has actually been written to the disk. Just because storage is allocated doesn't mean it's being utilized. To get a complete view of the storage environment, a system that monitors and collects data from both a host and an array level is preferred. This lets you make an accurate assessment of the available raw storage, and allows you to determine how much has been allocated and utilized.

  2. Reporting. It doesn't do any good to collect the data if you aren't going to share it. More advanced reporting functions will leverage Web 2.0 functionality and not only share data, but allow for interaction. The ability to schedule the delivery of reports via email is beneficial. Tiered reporting for business units and executives is also a plus. Many packages provide an open database schema, so you can easily export data to an existing report-generation tool for custom reporting needs.

  3. Heterogeneous support. Make sure the product supports your environment. Decide how necessary heterogeneous support is for your environment. How important is support for industry standards like SMI-S? Does the product go beyond SMI-S to provide detailed information? What's the vendor's support roadmap?

  4. Visibility. Do you need a topological display of your environment? These views can be very useful in disaster recovery environments, where single points of failure can be identified. Maybe you need visibility into your storage from the app layer. Is your company replicating data to a second or third site? Would you like to know if all of your data has been synchronized? Is the software capable of tracking snapshots? This is useful from a storage allocation standpoint. Remember, it isn't just primary disk space that should be taken into consideration, but also space for snapshots and replicated environments.

  5. Virtualization support. How important is support for virtualized storage or server environments? Does the SRM solution provide support for one or both? Are you running virtualization services in your production environment? If the packages you're looking at don't support virtualization, when will they? How does that fit into your schedule?

  1. Integration with third-party products. The trend in the data center is to automate processes and provide a more unified view. How well does the SRM solution integrate with other third-party products? These products could include framework managers, CMDBs, systems managers or others.

  2. Agentless discovery (or the ability to leverage existing agents). Agents are a necessary evil in the data center because they can provide valuable information, but when they proliferate, they become a new management challenge. Some newer solutions incorporate agentless data collection and other more mature products are reducing the number of agents required and/or leveraging agents already in place.

  3. Automation. Thanks to continuous budget cuts, IT staffs are always forced to manage larger environments with fewer people. Automating time-consuming manual processes is one way to empower the IT group. Many tools help accelerate common tasks like storage provisioning, fault isolation and discovery. Depending on the rate of change in your organization, automating these processes can literally save weeks of time.

  4. Fault correlation. The ability to rapidly determine the cause of a fault greatly reduces downtime and can save millions of dollars. Some tools have the capability to automatically correlate faults and pinpoint their cause.

  5. Performance analysis. Pinpointing a fault is important, but the ability to track performance is even more important. By doing so, you can ensure applications are optimized and quickly identify problems, allowing you to take corrective action. When an application is down, everyone is aware of the costs, but what about the application that's 20% degraded for five months? How much does that cost the business?
Another key consideration when purchasing and deploying SRM software is the time to value. We define the time to value as the amount of time it takes to fully deploy SRM software in your environment and begin to get real information. SRM software should make your job easier, not give you something else to manage.

Ask yourself these questions:
  • How many resources do you need?

  • How quickly can you deploy this solution across the entire enterprise?

  • How many features can you deploy? Many times, your software purchase will cover an entire suite of tools and products, but you may only need a few.

  • How can you accelerate your time to value? One way to accomplish this is to utilize your software vendor's professional services (depending on their fees). They may not know your environment, but they'll have more experience deploying this software than anyone and have a greater familiarity with custom reports.
The bottom line is that SRM software can be one of the most effective ways to optimize your storage environment. Just utilizing its capacity management capabilities can save a large environment millions of dollars. Implementing many of the other features of SRM software can improve the levels of service to the business and accelerate ITSM initiatives. The benefits are very real. This isn't the year to procrastinate. Instead, it's time to evaluate SRM products and implement change.

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