NEW YORK -- Between topic sessions at the Storage Decisions conference, a wide variety of subjects were up for discussion among storage professionals, but from the very beginning of the show, one subject resurfaced again and again: the idea of a single, truly heterogeneous storage resource management (SRM) tool that really works.
Why do storage administrators salivate at the idea? First, there's that old bugaboo -- data growth. Exploding amounts of data under management make any kind of automation a blessing.
Then there's the issue of a declining skill set. According to Alan Grantham, a storage architect with a large Fortune 500 company, "a lack of good storage candidates across the industry has made management tools a requirement to fill the gap."
Most importantly, "we want reporting on all management, mapping and configuration, and for provisioning to use our naming standards," Grantham said.
Secondly, it would have to manage products from every different vendor with the same capabilities. "Our end users don't care whether it's Hitachi [Data Systems Inc.], EMC [Corp.] or HP [Hewlett-Packard Co.], they care about availability and the end result of that availability to them," Grantham said. "Products aren't always oriented to our specific service needs."
Most commonly, users are working with several management tools at once, most of them supplied by vendors along with their hardware. The most common tool in use was Enterprise Control Center (ECC) from EMC, a product users said has its share of problems.
According to George Harris, storage architect for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, "we've had it since version 4.0 and still have trouble getting it to function. I've had staff on site tuning ECC for one year. It's okay, but for long-term planning it's not a good tool. If I try to get it to talk to other vendors' equipment, I lose advanced features."
Harris recalled a specific instance when the reporting feature of ECC "went haywire," telling his administrators there were 50 terabytes (TB) when there were really only 18 TB. "The EMC rep said there must be 50 [TB] there, then," Harris recalled. "I said, you'd better count your boxes."
Harris said ECC can flood the system with more than 800 alerts and they have to be analyzed line by line. He said it doesn't identify the same disk shared by two servers as one entity.
"There's always going to be a problem," he said.
"There's no silver bullet," said user Alan Bodnar, who asked that his company not be named. Bodnar said he also uses ECC. "You're always going to have to massage some data in Excel."
Bodnar's suggestion to other users looking to consolidate management would be to use vendor-specific management tools for the "most common denominator," and then use an element manager or virtualization on the remaining "oddballs."
Harris also agreed that virtualization could simplify back-end movement.
Can virtualization help?According to a presentation by Arun Taneja, founder and analyst with the Taneja Group, virtualization has gotten hot more recently as its market has matured and environments have begun using a more and more diverse group of products from many vendors.
Virtualization can provide a consistent interface for all applications, Taneja said, as well as performing nondisruptive logical unit number creation, consolidating data migration and enabling tiering of storage systems.
But, as Bodnar said, there still isn't a silver bullet. Users deploying a virtualization product from one vendor may encounter the same difficulties virtualizing other vendors' products that they currently struggle with in SRM tools.
Moreover, according to Grantham, "Virtualization products can't talk to the current SRM tools in the ways which are meaningful to us.
"It's going to take product maturity and time, but no one wants to hear that. Vendors aren't interested in selling you a product next year, they're interested in selling you a product now," he said.
What about AppIQ?AppIQ Inc., the company recently purchased by HP, has been the strongest force for truly independent SRM in the industry.
Not so fast. "I personally like AppIQ, but name some big companies that have actually installed them in their pure form," Grantham said. "Most big companies already have a vested relationship with a major disk vendor."
However, Grantham also said HP's recent acquisition of AppIQ could boost its sales and make it a true standalone SRM tool for heterogeneous environments.
"I think it has the best chance of happening, but we'll see," he said. "[A successful heterogeneous SRM tool] is going to take a large vendor offering it as a standalone product, and accepting that they won't necessarily be able to sell their storage with it."
Bodnar said he remains less optimistic. "I don't think it'll ever happen. No one will ever get down to element management."
He also pointed out that product end of life and model changes add another element of management complexity.
"There are always vendors supporting legacy products on a certain line. No one's ever going to have it down 100%," he said. "How is AppIQ supposed to have a catchall product when HP changes their own management tool every year? They're always going to be at least a year behind."