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Strategic Storage: Five storage management musts

Driven by big-picture projects such as tiered storage and compliance, storage management strategies are moving from a narrow focus to an enterprise-wide view.

One thing's for sure about enterprise storage these days -- it's not getting any simpler. Storage managers must deal with constant data growth, as well as burgeoning corporate interest in keeping closer track of just what data lies where. On top of that, complex and wide-ranging storage strategies such as tiered storage, shared services, virtualization and consolidation can require some serious analysis of a company's entire storage framework.

In order for these projects to succeed, storage managers must first be able to get a handle on their existing infrastructure. "To take storage management to the next level, it has to be about more than knowing the whereabouts of files -- it has to be about knowing your infrastructure," says Stephen Foskett, director of storage strategy for GlassHouse Technologies in Framingham, Mass.

 One of the big reasons that backup is often so screwed up is that there's no [standard operating procedure] on provisioning.
Stephen Foskett
Director of storage strategyGlassHouse Technologies
Additionally, smart storage strategies can help storage managers keep their heads above water in a world where storage growth regularly outstrips budgetary increases.

"The ultimate metric is the amount of storage one person can handle, so the primary goal for many is to use one piece of software to manage the entire storage infrastructure," says Randy Kerns, senior partner at Evaluator Group, a storage research firm in Greenwood Village, Colo. "People are looking at storage strategies just to be able to survive and accommodate growth."

Although many companies are beginning to think about creating a company-wide storage strategy, it's pretty early in the acceptance cycle, Foskett says. "Storage management is pretty 'seat of the pants' right now, and many tasks are done on an ad-hoc basis at most organizations," he says.

Part of this is due to the fact that products and services are still evolving from vendor-specific products to technology that will work across numerous software and hardware platforms, and storage managers who want to administer storage from the catbird seat may need to wait for the technology to catch up. With that in mind, here are some of the strategies, management processes and technologies that look to be important to storage management in 2005.

Strategic assessment
To be successful, storage managers face a two-pronged assessment of their infrastructure. First, they need to take a look at their company's business and technology goals, and build a strategy to match. "It starts with an assessment of all the new influences that storage managers have had to deal with in the past two years, such as corporate governance and compliance issues," says Pete Gerr, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group in Milford, Mass. Storage managers can then analyze the processes and tasks endemic to running storage, and rate their skills at these tasks.

Foskett likes to divide storage management into four main areas: planning, provisioning, maintenance and customer care. He then works with clients to look at the subtasks of each area and does a gap analysis of the current state of affairs versus the company's ultimate goal for each area. With provisioning, he might ask whether there are policies that dictate a standard operating procedure (SOP) for how storage is added. "You want a documented procedure for activating storage," Foskett says. "One of the big reasons that backup is often so screwed up is that there's no SOP on provisioning."

Roan Winchester, lead system engineer for security and disaster recovery at Catholic Healthcare Partners in Youngstown, Ohio, is in the midst of formulating standard backup and disaster recovery policies and procedures while centralizing storage to data centers. "We want procedures on how to back up applications, and what the standards are for each," he says. "We want this to go across the entire storage infrastructure, to create standards on what is to be stored where."

Companies also need to take inventory of their physical storage, as well as the applications and data sets within those systems. "I still see organizations that have hundreds of terabytes of capacity in their data center but don't know what kind of data it is," Gerr says. "You need to be able to prioritize the data according to business value."

This inventory can then be used as a basis for formulating policies and procedures, as well as service-level agreements.

Standardize on a given few technologies
It stands to reason -- the fewer technologies there are, the less training is required of storage personnel, and the easier it is to manage storage as an entity. "One person can know perhaps two or three different types of equipment really intimately," Foskett says. "Standardizing makes it easier to manage in terms of skill sets -- you need fewer people and that saves money."

Foskett advises storage managers to eschew the disk that generally automatically comes with server purchases. "One of the problems with storage management is the whole 'comes with' thing," he says. "Server vendors tend not to be committed to a particular storage array, and you can end up with a data center made up of things that don't conform at all to your standards. And then you end up with unmanageable arrays."

That's why John Cornish, the SAN manager at Employers Mutual Casualty Insurance in Des Moines, Iowa, orders his servers bare of all but the most necessary hard drives -- it helps him ensure that his storage stays centralized and easy to manage.

The integration of SRM technology
Storage managers are looking for management tools that work across platforms, and can serve as a control of sorts for the solution-specific tools that come native with many technologies. "Storage managers want to have some view into multiple systems, and they can only get there with a third-party storage resource management (SRM) tool that does that," Gerr says.

He points out that some companies have come out with SRM tools capable of managing from an infrastructure rather than device level. "Packages like CreekPath or AppIQ offer a bottom-up view of the storage infrastructure and are attuned to helping storage administrators get a handle on their environments," he says.

Cornish used an AppIQ tool to help his company analyze its storage infrastructure in preparation to a move to tiered storage. He generates reports on which host array held which data, as well as age, type and when particular data was last accessed.

"There's no way I could have gotten that information that easily or accurately without that tool," Cornish says, "especially when they asked for it a day before a meeting."

According to Kerns, SRM tools are also finally beginning to integrate with storage network management technologies, allowing managers a broader look across storage, and allowing them to set up automated management policies.

"For example, they can request that certain volumes be automatically provisioned -- we're moving from a passive element to an active management scheme," Kerns says.

The result: Storage managers might want to take another look at their SRM strategies. "If you haven't created an SRM strategy, start there," Gerr says.

Backup reporting tools will be big
Gerr specifically encourages organizations to take a very deep look at backup and recovery procedures as part of an overall storage strategy. He says that backup reporting tools such as those from Bocada and SysDM, are particularly effective in helping storage managers make sure that their backups are done successfully, and to help improve the success rate overall.

Winchester uses Bocada's BackUp Reporter to help him manage his backup procedures at Catholic Partners, for example. "It's a really nice starting point," he says. "It gives me a window into how I'm doing with backup and recovery -- I can see things like errors and trends of growth, and whether I'm backing up what's needed."

Moreover, the tool also has a report that lets him map his backup quality to preset service level agreements, which will help him tie backup into the company's overall storage strategy.

Keep an eye on SMI-S
Finally, analysts advise managers to consider the Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S) standard when making purchases. This SNIA-based initiative is aimed at developing a standard set of protocols so that all storage management products and suites will interoperate with all storage systems.

"It'll be a middleware layer that sits between the applications that create the data and the storage infrastructure itself," Gerr says. "It's the first step toward the Holy Grail of managing to ensure that everything works together."

Although SMI-S is not yet fully developed, Kerns advises managers to check new technology for SMI-S compliance before pulling the trigger on the purchase. Cornish says that AppIQ's SMI-S compliance was a big factor for them. "Being able to see the same view for every vendor product is huge for us," he says, "and AppIQ was one of the ones taking a lead in the SNIA compliance standards."

About the author: Carol Hildebrand is a freelance writer in Wellesley, Mass., and a regular contributor to

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