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Storage management tools get more flexible

After a decade of proprietary storage management tools, vendors are finally giving users more choices and freeing them up to buy only what they need.

Vendors claim they are getting smarter about integrating storage management tools that let users buy only the modules and features they need. Can it really be true?

The IT management software frameworks of the last decade shared the vision of a single interface to manage all IT operations, but that has yet to come to fruition for the average storage user. The goal of Hewlett-Packard Co.'s (HP) OpenView and IBM's Tivoli product line -- to unite resource management, provisioning and performance monitoring for the entire IT environment in one tool -- began when storage was still a secondary consideration to the server and the network. These products were also proprietary, requiring users who wanted "end-to-end IT management" to rip other vendors' storage products out of their environment.

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So when companies like BakBone Software Inc., CA Inc., EMC Corp. and HP begin touting their new integrated storage management tools, it may sound suspiciously like previous pitches for frameworks that were more about vendor lock-in than easier centralized management. But so far, according to users and the vendors themselves, these newer products have key differences -- namely, flexibility and a new focus on storage management.

Products include: BakBone's work-in-progress Integrated Data Protection platform, which has seen the addition of backup reporting, disk-space utilization reporting, forecasting and a data manager option that allows for the automated migration of data between tiers to its NetVault backup product; CA's planned single console for snapshot, replication, backup, continuous data protection (CDP) and failover within its BrightStor ARCserve platform; EMC's promised integration of the fruits of its many acquisitions into several new "single-pane-of-glass" tools; and HP's Storage Essentials.

This time, vendors said they're pulling together different software products from existing lines. These tools can be used separately and in different combinations with each other, giving users more choices and freeing them up to buy only what they need.

According to George Symons, chief technology officer (CTO) of EMC's information software group, these vendors still have big dreams, but they're approaching them in a way that's 180 degrees different from previous framework incarnations. "Instead of trying to impose one framework over the user's environment and fit things in later," Symons said, "we're identifying where we can use common management interfaces with existing tools and trying to integrate them individually in a multistep process."

EMC has promised not to integrate more than a handful of point products into one tool. BakBone, which focuses solely on backup and recovery, offers users the option to use a centralized management GUI or to "drill down" into individual product interfaces and pick and choose the modules they'll deploy.

"Instead of a 'boil the ocean' approach, now we're getting smarter as vendors -- just seeing some selective areas in which products work well together and [are] already complementary," said Anders Lofgren, senior vice president, product management for the storage management business unit at CA.

While most vendors currently integrating software packages said they're retreating from bringing all of IT under one management umbrella, HP said it hasn't given up on that idea just yet. But it has taken a more flexible approach by championing the Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S), with the goal of providing storage provisioning features through the same interface across heterogeneous products. HP has also renewed its focus on storage-specific management capabilities by creating the Storage Essentials product line out of last year's acquisition of SMI-S-based management software startup AppIQ Inc.

"All user environments are growing. Over time, they'll have a need for the different parts of their IT environment to be compatible with one another," said Tom Rose, software marketing portfolio lead at HP's StorageWorks Division. The difference now, he said, is that users can buy storage management from HP as a standalone tool and, within that, buy only the modules and features they need.

All of which adds up to relief, according to Jeff Machols, systems integration manager, technology services for benefits company CitiStreet, a subsidiary of Citigroup and State Street Corp. Machols said his company still uses parts of HP OpenView, but he shied away from the single-tool approach for storage management almost immediately after purchasing the software several years ago, finding it too cumbersome.

"You needed an army of about 20 people to manage a full incarnation of OpenView," Machols said. Meanwhile, the Storage Essentials infrastructure he's currently running is managed by six people, with just one central administrator, he added.

"We have power users who do provisioning and zoning [of our HP storage], technical users who monitor and management users who pull high-level reports and assess trends," Machols said. "That's it."

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