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Storage World discussions paint dark picture for SRM

As vendor panelists haggle over definitions and buzzwords, conference attendees say they'll stick to writing their own scripts.

BOSTON -- During two sessions at the Storage World Conference on Wednesday afternoon devoted to storage resource management (SRM) products, discussion continued on panels of vendors about SRM -- how to define it and how to define other terms within it, such as information lifecycle management (ILM). Out in the audience, though, the continued harangue about SRM was falling mostly on deaf ears.

"I am the storage department [at my company]," said Joseph Mostowy, senior systems engineer, information technology systems and services for Management Science Associates Inc., a Tarentum, Pa.-based outsourced data processing firm. And it's not a small department -- Mostowy estimated his mixed Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) and EMC Corp. environment at around 200 terabytes (TB), and since users are requesting storage for short-term projects, he estimated 120 TB of that have been reallocated and reconfigured in the last year alone.

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Yet, Mostowy said, he has no interest in a third-party capacity planning, change management, data migration or other SRM tool. He's content to use a custom database he put together and his own in-house scripts, as well as spreadsheets for presenting performance data to management, billing and chargeback.

Why do all that work? "Because it works," Mostowy said. "And it doesn't cost anything."

Mostowy admitted he has an extensive programming background, but also said his environment precludes him from looking into a third-party tool. "Nobody can handle everything," he said. "[Third-party SRM tools] aren't dynamic enough to handle the amount of change in my environment."

Mark Schwoerer, manager, business applications infrastructure for TDS Telecommunications Corp., doesn't see that level of change, but he also said, following the Storage World session, that he is content to rely on homegrown scripts.

"The tools we see have a nice front end, but they aren't much more sophisticated than what we already do," especially in a heterogeneous environment, he said.

Which isn't to say his infrastructure is perfect, according to Schwoerer. Underutilization is a problem, he said, but he doesn't think SRM is the answer. The problem, he said, springs in the first place from both applications and end users that over allocate storage. Planning and monitoring doesn't change that, he said. Instead, Schwoerer said he's looking into the thin provisioning features in some midrange arrays, like 3PARdata Inc.'s InServ and Compellent's Storage Center SAN.

"It's not a matter of not knowing what we have," he said. "It's a matter of what we can do about [over allocation]."

Even if users see the value of an SRM tool, the thresholds to implementation are sometimes just too high, according to Gary McCready, system manager for IT service provider JRI America Inc., who spoke to in a separate interview prior to the conference. "If you're already managing things with homegrown scripts and spreadsheets, and vendors are suggesting things with a large minimum cost, typically $30,000 or more, and a large time commitment, at least weeks of consulting, it's tough to justify."

Users can also sometimes encounter a chicken and egg phenomenon when trying to pitch an SRM tool as well, McCready said. If management feels IT doesn't have a handle on its storage environment, presenting hard facts about the benefit of using an SRM tool can backfire.

"It's a vicious cycle," McCready said. "You really almost need the tool to justify the tool itself."

"While SRM tools have found their way into the hands of some users, for the most part it is still a 'nice-to-have' technology and tough for many environments to justify the cost or complexity," said Greg Schulz, founder and analyst with the StorageIO Group. "In some cases the tools are too tough to use, install and interoperate, or too expensive."

Even some of the vendors represented on session panels made it clear they are not unaware of the gap between what they're selling and what users are buying. "I think the industry in general has a huge trust scale to move up to prove to you guys that we can adequately manage your data," panelist Kevin Coughlin, director of product management for Symantec Corp.'s CommandCentral storage SRM products, told attendees at a session.

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