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Hospital: Storage capacity planning 'very difficult'

In this Q&A, a healthcare user offers some insights into the black art of storage capacity planning and what's still needed from tools that purport to solve this problem.

Storage change management software maker Onaro Inc. recently held the first of what will become an annual customer panel in Boston for users to discuss their concerns.

A key response from nearly all attendees was that capacity planning "remains a dark art." Spreadsheets and guesswork are the cornerstones even with storage resource management (SRM) tools deployed, they said.

No press were allowed at the event, but tracked down one of the users who was present for these discussions, Michael Passe, storage manager for CareGroup Healthcare System, a consortium of hospitals in eastern Massachusetts. He gave us some insight into the discussions that took place there. Let's start with the 'capacity planning remains a dark art' bit. What does that mean? Why do you think that is?

Michael Passe: Getting all the information you really need to do capacity planning remains very, very difficult. Host-based agents for information gathering are still prone to human error, such as forgetting to install them. Advanced configurations, like server clusters, are still counted multiple times by many monitoring tools. And if you have a heterogeneous environment, forget it.

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What users really want to know is, 'where do I put my next dollar'? It's still a guess as to what you're going to need next.

SearchStorage: What about the effectiveness of SRM tools?

Passe: SRM is good as a concept but it still doesn't really work. Heterogeneous products like AppIQ [Inc.] have a really broad scope, but they don't get deep enough into the array. A product like EMC [Corp.]'s ControlCenter gets really deep into an EMC array, but it's stuck there -- it doesn't have all the features for other people's products. It doesn't have that broad scope. Clariion and Symmetrix arrays are still easier to manage through their own interfaces.

SearchStorage: Is that what leads to users not using the single-pane-of-glass tools when they're available, as the group discussed?

Passe: There's a lot of marketing hype out there, but in a complex environment the reality is it may not work for you. The less vanilla your configuration, the less effective a single-pane-of-glass approach is likely to be. I even got EMC to fess up to me that since my configurations are somewhat complex, their SRM tools have some trouble with that. I have 50 million other things to do -- it would be nice if the tools delivered on their promise and went that last mile. But I don't have time to wrestle with them.

SearchStorage: What tools have you used?

Passe: I've tried services from StorageTek and IBM's Global Services. I also tried Storability, and I thought their version 4.0 was going to deliver more features, but I got tired of waiting for it. They just couldn't get the code out the door fast enough. I've used a reporting product from EMC called StorageScope, which does ad hoc reports -- it's difficult to get what you want out of it.

SearchStorage: EMC announced in April that its Smarts network fault-correlation software now supports Fibre Channel [FC] networks. How does that compare to Onaro?

Passe: I think EMC's product is going to fall in the same realm, in combination with [storage area network] SAN Advisor, but today I don't think they are where Onaro is -- I see them trying to grow their business into that space, but at the same time, Onaro is growing their business too.

Onaro is becoming a more mature software. It still takes a day or so to set up but it's becoming more shrinkwrapped -- and it doesn't require a lot of long-term maintenance. Right now EMC's product is more like Symantec [Corp.]'s correlation software -- it does great root-cause analysis, but it doesn't do future modeling, which is something Onaro does pretty uniquely today.

SearchStorage: Have you tried the AppIQ products?

Passe: No. The integration isn't quite deep enough for me.

SearchStorage: What led you to Onaro's tool?

Passe: It's not really an SRM tool -- it's complementary to SRM tools, but it does some basic SRM functions if you don't own anything already. Onaro just helps you understand your configuration. In a complex environment, you need to understand if you're doing the right thing with provisioning and maintaining redundancy, and the bigger you get, it's no longer possible to keep track on paper or in my head where everything is and what we have in our environment, let alone if it's set up correctly.

Following the meeting, Onaro issued a press release outlining some of the conclusions reached about the state of the storage industry in the course of the discussion, which included:

  • Improving change management and integrating more closely with infrastructure management is a key priority for many organizations.
  • Maintaining and deploying conventional SRM solutions continues to be a challenge due to the maintenance and deployment of agents. Most attendees "have scaled back expectations of the benefits of SRM."
  • Single panel provisioning is not being used by storage administrators even when available. Most administrators prefer custom scripts and command line interfaces.
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