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Comprehensive guide to data storage management

Today, data centers must manage storage volumes that escalate at annual rates frequently exceeding 60%. Administrators need a versatile and robust suite of tools to report utilization and availability, streamline storage allocation, move data between disks and platforms, and automate many of the mundane but essential practices that today's IT organizations rely on. While there's no universal management "solution" today, the products are evolving and practices are constantly improving.

It's relatively easy to add more disks or arrays to meet storage growth. Disks are also getting cheaper, so today's storage is often more cost effective than years past. But storage itself isn't the problem -- the challenge lies in managing storage volumes that escalate at annual rates frequently exceeding 60%. Administrators need a versatile and robust suite of tools to report utilization and availability, streamline storage allocation, move data between disks and platforms, and automate many of the mundane but essential practices that today's IT organizations rely on. While there's no universal management "solution" today, the products are evolving and practices are constantly improving.

Data management tools

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Administrators can leverage a rich suite of software tools to manage tasks like configuration, provisioning, migration and archiving. Additional tools monitor availability, measure performance and report timely data to decision makers.

Configuration tools are usually tailored to specific storage systems, usually supporting setup and operational characteristics. As one example, the Hitachi Resource Manager Utility Package can be used to configure storage systems from Hitachi Data Systems Inc. (HDS). The utility allows users to define, change and reassign logical unit numbers (LUN) without rebooting, handle virtual LUNs, manage cache and maintain security. Hewlett-Packard Co.'s (HP) StorageWorks LUN Configuration and Security Manager XP software is another notable product. The biggest areas of growth in configuration tools are improved heterogeneity to support an increasing range of systems and superior security to prevent unauthorized changes to critical configurations.

Provisioning tools are used to allocate storage resources to specific users or applications. More recently, provisioning tools are adding removal (deallocation) features. Today, there are many tools to choose from, including Storage Manager from Crosswalk Inc., WysDM for Fileservers from WysDM Software Inc., adaptive provisioning software from 3PARdata Inc. and automation software from Opsware Inc. Larger players in the industry are also important. These include HP's Storage Essentials Enterprise Edition software (using AppIQ technology), the Hitachi HiCommand Path Provisioning module (part of Hitachi HiCommand Storage Services Manager), Storage Provisioning Services in EMC Corp.'s ControlCenter software, Tivoli software from IBM and Veritas Provisioning Manager from Symantec Corp. As with configuration tools, provisioning tools are expanding their compatibility across multiple platforms -- a major element of that compatibility is the adoption of SMI-S standards. The tools are also getting easier, using better intelligence and wizards to automate more of the provisioning process.

Migration tools handle data movement from one storage platform to another, but it's important to select a product that will move data in a fashion that is best suited for your environment. For example, the Transparent Data Migration Facility (TDMF) from Softek Storage Solutions Corp. moves data between disk storage devices and a local server. The Veritas Volume Replicator from Symantec moves data between servers using TCP/IP. The Topio Data Protection suite (TDPS) will do both. All three tools move data in blocks.

Archiving tools also move data like migration tools. But since archives are typically intended for long-term data retention, archiving tools often focus on single-instance storage (e.g., data deduplication to reduce disk use) and security features that prevent unauthorized data alteration or deletion. There are numerous hardware products, including EMC's Centera, the SnapLock from Network Appliance Inc. (NetApp), IBM's DR500 and HP's Reference Information Storage System. Hardware products are usually categorized as content addressed storage (CAS) devices. Some archiving software is application specific, focusing on email, database or other applications. These products include EMC's Email Xtender, Message Manager from CA and archiving products from Zantaz Inc. Archival and search tools are increasingly used to meet compliance requirements.

Finally, administrators use monitoring, measurement and reporting tools to gain insights into the behaviors and usage of the storage infrastructure, helping to identify problem performance areas and plan for future storage expansions or upgrades. Notable products in this area include Symantec's Veritas CommandCentral Storage product, Vantage from CA, StorageScope from EMC, StorageEssentials SRM (storage resource management) from HP and Storage Manager from Softek. The key attributes of these tools are heterogeneity, and support for a diverse array of storage products within the user's environment; the product should be able to see and report on everything in order to be useful.

Data process tools

While tools can add tremendous value to a storage organization, they are useless without a suite of internal policies and procedures that address your specific business requirements. Processes are frequently broken up into change management, performance and capacity planning, and tiered storage, sometimes broadened to information lifecycle management (ILM).

A change management process defines the steps needed to add or change storage for a user or application. It may start with a change request and then wind through management authorization, budgeting and storage administration before finally being implemented. This may seem like unnecessary bureaucracy, but the goal is to prioritize and coordinate changes to get the most value from a storage investment. Companies that choose to tackle change management in-house often employ tools like SANscreen from Onaro Inc. or the Redcell Network Change Management Solution from Dorado Software Inc. Independent consultants, like Protiviti Inc. and NaviSite Inc., offer change management services for IT organizations that prefer to outsource change functions.

Storage organizations must also monitor performance and prepare for growth at the storage and network levels. This ensures that each application or user receives the resources necessary to meet service level agreements, but prevents excess spending on unnecessary storage or infrastructure upgrades. Capacity planning and performance management (CPM) tools are often used to streamline this management, including PerfMan from Information Systems Manager Inc., TeamQuest View from TeamQuest Corp. or nGenuis from NetScout Systems Inc. Dedicated appliances, like the Avalanche 2200 from Spirent Communications, can simulate real-world conditions that stress test a network infrastructure. While many tools are intended for enterprise-wide analysis, some CPM tools are optimized for demanding applications, like SQL Server or Oracle. Some examples of these include BEZProphet for Oracle, BEZPlus for IBM DB2 UDB and BEZPlus for NCR Teradata -- all from Bez Systems Inc.

Finally, ILM manages stored data from the time it is created until it is destroyed, saving storage costs by placing data on a corresponding storage tier and migrating data between tiers as the data's value changes over time. This is a difficult business process because data must be classified manually by individuals that understand its value to the organization. Then, rules for handling and disposal must be applied to each classification. Organizations frequently leverage tools for data classification, search, migration and retention. Typical tools include HP StorageWorks, ArC from Archivas Inc., or SnapLock from NetApp. There are also dedicated hardware platforms for data classification, such as the IS-1200 family of dedicated information servers from Kazeon Systems Inc.


Storage is now further complicated by a proliferation of regulations that govern data retention, integrity and security. Meeting the demands of these regulations is called compliance. Some of the most notable regulations include the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), but there are now more than 10,000 state and federal regulations that impact data storage. With so many rules affecting key industries like finance and healthcare, IT professionals often rely on tools to meet their own compliance efforts. Retention policies also deal with data deletion, and policy managers must increasingly handle secure deletion tasks to minimize unnecessary legal exposure.

Compliance typically relies on the use of storage platforms like EMC's Centera or Clariion. NetApp is also a notable player with SnapLock and LockVault software running on NetApp FAS and NearStore storage platforms. The Axion storage system from EMC Corp. handles legal discovery and support for regulatory compliance, as well as the e-discovery and information governance appliances from StoredIQ Corp. IBM offers the DR500, while HP provides the Reference Information Storage System (RISS). Email archiving and workflow automation software is also used to help meet compliance requirements. Encryption is playing a greater role in security -- especially for data at rest within the data center or to protect data sent off site. ***


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