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Vendors retool SRM apps

The definition of what constitutes storage resource management (SRM) depends on who you ask and what they're selling. A recent study by the Enterprise Strategy Group queried respondents on the SRM features they use most often, their most desired features and if they would purchase an SRM product without a particular feature.

Storage resource management tools come in a variety of flavors and offer features that take steps toward automating your storage environment, while reporting on the efficiency of the installed storage systems.

It's no secret storage resource management (SRM) is a large category of disparate products covering most everything from very specialized storage tools to groupings of tools that manage and report on the many different parts of the storage environment. Seven years ago, SRM was focused mainly on provisioning and allocating storage. Many of the products at the time were derived from the numerous storage service providers turned software providers. The tools were somewhat primitive and didn't live up to their hype. But despite the rocky start, SRM companies and their offerings continue to grow.

The definition of what constitutes SRM depends on who you ask and what they're selling. The number of SRM providers has fluctuated over time as innovative startups appear, grow into independent companies, and are then acquired or fold up shop (see "Current SRM vendors," left).

Large storage vendors and ISVs tend to have larger scale, more mature platforms. Smaller ISVs and startups typically deliver deeper functionality within a narrower feature set or focus on a specific problem (e.g., capacity utilization, business continuity/ disaster recovery, etc.).

To understand the role of SRM in managing an organization's storage requirements, consider the instruments used to monitor and control a car. A wide and clear windshield is needed to see the way ahead. Easy to use and clearly marked instrumentation continuously monitors and analyzes trends, and recommends adjustments. SRM software functions in much the same way. It monitors the health and utilization of storage resources by providing managers with detailed insight relating to the real-time load being placed on storage resources by servers, switches, backup applications, archives and other systems. Due to an increasing demand for higher service levels for business applications, there's a growing need for application-aware SRM products that extend the spheres of visibility and analysis to include all of the software assets that make use of an organization's storage resources. Given the importance of SRM solutions, how many companies are actually deploying these solutions?

SRM solutions in production environments
According to a recent Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) research report, "SRM on the Brink," 37% of midsized and enterprise companies have deployed SRM apps and an additional 40% of those surveyed are planning to implement these types of tools. As that 40% begins to make purchasing decisions and deploy production systems, SRM will quickly become a mainstream, must-have reporting and analysis capability for all types of data centers seeking to contain storage-related costs and improve end-to-end application and business process performance.

It's interesting to note that of those organizations with active SRM solutions, 55% have been using SRM tools in production environments for three years or more. Twenty-six percent report active use for between one and two years, while 16% report active use of less than one year.

Larger organizations are more likely to use SRM tools. Almost half (49%) of surveyed enterprises have deployed SRM software in production environments, and an additional 37% are planning to because they have larger and more complex environments. By comparison, only 21% of midsized organizations have production implementations up and running. As the scale of midsized organizations' storage environments increases, and a new generation of more cost-effective and easier-to-deploy SRM tools and services become available, midsized firms will likely become more interested in SRM. This assessment is supported by reports that 46% of midsized organizations plan to deploy SRM software in their production environments in the future. This will be especially true as virtualization services become more prevalent in this market.

The scope of SRM tools
SRM tools leverage proprietary and standards-based configuration and event information provided by storage device element managers and built-in native monitoring tools. Historically, many SRM tools focused on a specific function, such as topology mapping or storage consumption analysis.

Recently, multiple functions are being combined to create more powerful products. As a result, the list of SRM features has continued to grow over the last five years. Today, SRM covers SAN management reporting, NAS management reporting, device and application performance monitoring and analysis, change management, topology mapping, business continuity and disaster recovery monitoring, process automation, backup reporting, fault correlation and capacity planning. More advanced features that will soon be widely available include analytic tools and policy-based automation of routine storage admin tasks. Many of these tools also feed information into organization-wide service management processes and configuration management databases.

Click here for a chart of
SRM features used most often (PDF).

When polled on all features used in an SRM solution, users cited capacity utilization and reporting most often (see "SRM features used most often," above). Given the pressure to optimize the data center and to reduce power and cooling requirements, this isn't a surprise. IT managers have challenged their staffs to not only drive up server utilization (through virtualization), but to increase their storage utilization rates. Why? Because this feature has the biggest impact on an enterprise's bottom line; increased storage utilization means not only deferring capital expenditures, but fewer storage arrays taking up expensive raised floor space with related power and cooling requirements. By deferring a storage purchase, the enterprise can also take advantage of year-over-year reductions in disk prices.

While this feature sounds simple, it's important to understand the capabilities of each vendor. Critical to understanding actual utilization is the ability to define not only the allocated storage in the array, but the ratio of allocation to actual usage. You need visibility into the storage from both the array and the host. This coverage is quickly growing to include the ability to track snapshots and replicated data. When additional storage is provisioned for an application, it's important to understand all of the implications of that growth.

In addition to expanding features, SRM tool vendors are delivering these features while leveraging agentless technology. Host-based agents are hard to manage, consume server resources and introduce risk. Maintaining agents in an app environment that's growing in size and complexity can be a never-ending job. Some of the newer, more innovative startup products like Aptare Inc.'s StorageConsole Capacity Manager, MonoSphere Inc.'s Storage Horizons and Tek-Tools Inc.'s Profiler for VMware, take advantage of this agentless technology. Some of the more mature products leverage agents to provide information, but are making progress in reducing the number of agents required. Firms like EMC Corp. and Symantec Corp. have recently reduced the number of agents required and all are actively trying to eliminate them where possible.

Infrastructure reporting
When users were asked which features they use on a regular basis, capacity utilization again came in first, while reporting, configuration management and backup reporting all tied for second. Reporting on relevant data so the company can make informed business decisions is obviously important. The keys to effective reporting are transparency and flexibility. You want to spend your time leveraging the information, not figuring out how to set up reporting software.

Innovative practices in this area allow for Web 2.0-like information sharing and database access so customers can construct customized reports using tools they're familiar with. For example Aptare's application can be accessed on an iPhone. EMC simplified the number of its prepackaged reports to just a few and then opened up access to its database for use with Crystal Reports and other third-party tools. Symantec launched Veritas CommandCentral Enterprise Reporter, which provides a global view of the enterprise storage environment, allowing users to link metrics from multiple data centers and consolidate reporting for the entire enterprise using simple, easy-to-use, drag-and-drop GUIs. This is an important addition to any company with multiple, geographically dispersed data centers.

The role of configuration management is expanding as well. Understanding the entire data center environment--and, more importantly, the relationships among all related devices--is becoming far more important as data centers grow in size and complexity. This is amplified by adding virtualization services to the mix. Being able to accurately understand how all of the pieces are connected or interrelated plays an integral role in troubleshooting outages and performance degradation. Going forward, discovering devices and reporting on their configuration will play an important role in automating manual processes. Onaro Inc.'s products are the best known in this space and will now deliver solutions as a part of Network Appliance (NetApp) Inc. Other notable players in this space include EMC's ControlCenter SAN Advisor, IBM Corp.'s Tivoli TotalStorage Productivity Center (TPC) and Symantec's Veritas Configuration Manager.

Backup reporting vendors have also expanded their offerings to include SRM capabilities. Those companies that have been forced to deal with regulations and compliance issues understand the importance of verifying that relevant data has been adequately backed up and is available for recovery. Aptare, Bocada Inc., Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co. and Tek-Tools all offer integrated backup reporting. In addition to supporting backup operations, some vendors are focused on providing support for replicated environments. In the event of an application outage--or worse, if an entire data center needs to fail over--ensuring that the secondary site will be able to resume operations is paramount. Some of the larger storage vendors focus their offerings only on replication, while smaller vendors are trying to provide a wider range of applicability. Companies like Continuity Software Inc., NetApp's Onaro and Symantec are focused on heterogeneous environments, while IBM concentrates on IBM-specific products.

Click here for a chart of
the most desired SRM features (PDF).

Future needs
The ESG survey also asked users what features they felt must be included in an SRM product, and whether they would buy a product if it didn't include such and such a feature (see "Most desired SRM features," above).

Among the top five responses was support for storage virtualization (third) and support for server virtualization (fifth). Given the popularity and high adoption rate of technologies like VMware, IBM System Storage SAN Volume Controller (SVC) and thin provisioning, it only makes sense that virtualization support will be a requirement for SRM solutions. In addition, it highlights that for all the benefits a new technology introduces, problems are also created. In this case, the problem lies with management. Do I trust the alerts in the thin-provisioning software? How do I know where the app resides, and is the path optimized?

Server virtualization requires SRM software because even virtualized environments need to be supported by networked storage. According to ESG research, 86% of respondents deploying server virtualization are leveraging networked storage. This is because to take advantage of all the data mobility and protection capabilities made possible by virtualization, there needs to be an infrastructure supporting it. Today, users employ a mix of Fibre Channel SANs, NAS and iSCSI SANs to accomplish this.

SRM companies only began providing support for virtualization services last year and the response has been great. EMC ControlCenter SAN Manager was the first software package to provide end-to-end support for VMware, and it sold more than 1,000 licenses in its first six months. Tek-Tools added a VMware module to its Profiler suite. Symantec CommandCentral Storage 5.0 announced support for not only VMware, but for IBM's SVC and Hitachi Data System arrays. IBM's Tivoli products provide support for SVC as well. Smaller companies have also come out with support for VMware. Akorri Inc. and NetApp's Onaro were awarded "Best of" awards at VMworld for supporting virtual environments. If your current vendor doesn't support virtualization services, ask about their roadmap; they should be in the process of addressing it.

Expect support for virtual environments to continue to grow not only in terms of functionality, but in vendor support as new products gain market share. While VMware is the current market leader in the server virtualization space, Citrix Inc.'s XenServer, Microsoft Corp.'s Veridian and Virtual Iron Software Inc.'s Virtual Iron are all players. On the storage side, IBM's SVC is a leader in the storage virtualization space; however, there are many other independent providers and thin-provisioning offerings that need to be supported.

SRM roadmaps
What does the future role of SRM look like? Over the past 20 years, software has played an increasingly important role in everything we do. The main goal is to leverage software to make it easier to perform a task by automating and optimizing the process. The same is true for data centers, especially as they become more complex and dynamic environments.

One trend worth tracking is the effort put into extending data center automation to storage. The result will be end-to-end visibility and control of the data center. Larger companies selling SRM tools have been making acquisitions and developing technology to create a portfolio of offerings capable of managing the entire data center. Notably, HP recently rolled Storage Essentials into the HP software group being driven by the Opsware team. EMC has been working diligently to deliver an end-to-end package with its Smarts and nLayers acquisitions, as well as by developing products, like IT Process Centre, internally. Net-App has invested several years developing its Storage Management and Applications Integration team and has augmented its internal efforts with a string of software acquisitions, most recently, Onaro.

The large vendors have been developing tools at the application layer through to backup, but they're still largely separate software packages. Even if more features were combined into a super-sized SRM package, there's some question of whether enterprise organizations could absorb them. Most are still highly siloed and require executive sponsorship for one domain to get visibility into a different area. Cultural changes will need to occur before a holistic solution can be deployed.

Standards--or rather a lack of mature standards--continue to impede progress in storage domains. Without them, heterogeneous solutions are very difficult to develop and support. Storage vendors focus their efforts on their own products first and then provide less-developed support for others. Independent firms like Symantec, Tek-Tools and startups put a lot of effort into delivering true heterogeneous solutions. Traditionally, the smaller independent companies usually start by supporting market leaders and then extending support as time and opportunity allow.

Eventually, there will be a data center OS that will fulfill the role of monitoring and managing the entire data center, automating all of its processes. It will take some time before that occurs, but that's not a reason to wait. SRM solutions offered today still deliver real value. Choose the one that will provide the most value for your environment today.

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