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VMware helps SRM make a comeback

Symantec's CommandCentral version 5.0 adds support for VMware, which experts say will breathe new life into a fading corner of the storage market.

Symantec Corp. has announced version 5.0 of its CommandCentral storage resource management (SRM) software that includes new support for virtual servers and storage virtualization devices. The trend toward server virtualization, analysts say, could bolster the appeal of SRM tools, which have largely faded from view since a period of hype last year.

Version 5 will "decompose" the front end of virtualization products, including VMware, Hitachi Data Systems' (HDS) USP and IBM's SAN Volume Controller (SVC), reporting on tiered-storage mapping, performance bottlenecks and capacity utilization on the hardware beneath, according to Kevin Coughlin, director of product management for CommandCentral.

Despite Symantec's announcement, it may seem like you haven't heard much about SRM tools lately, according to Andrew Reichman, analyst for Forrester Research Inc.

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"Nobody's making money on these products," he said, citing gaps in CommandCentral's support for popular products, including EMC Corp.'s TimeFinder, SRDF, Clariion SnapShot, SnapView and MirrorView, Network Appliance Inc.'s (NetApp) iSCSI storage and SnapMirror, and HDS's ShadowImage, prior to this version. "There's no money in putting a lot of bodies into developing this product -- no customers are banging down the door to buy it."

So why this update? "With Symantec's new Storage United strategy, they're trying to take a more long-term view of things," Reichman said. "Even if it doesn't translate into revenue now, having these SRM features means they can have a more comprehensive software suite, and that's why I think you're seeing reinvestment now." And the new support for VMware is not coincidence as Symantec mounts a new push behind this product; according to analysts. In fact, they said, VMware may yet save SRM's bacon.

"Previously, in order to gather statistics on a server, you could just look from the storage to the HBA," said Bob Laliberte, analyst with the Enterprise Strategy Group. "Tying SRM support into virtual machines is a way to give back that visibility now that that physical separation no longer exists."

According to one Symantec user, VMware has prompted him to move back to a host-based storage management strategy that may eventually include CommandCentral, as well.

"Because of VMware, I have fewer, more powerful hosts -- that means less agents to manage and more CPU cycles for host-based management tools," said the user, a SAN manager at a payroll processing company who asked that neither he nor his company be named because he is not authorized to speak with the press. Currently, the user said, his company is standardizing on Symantec's Storage Foundation for storage management.

"Right now we use EMC's Control Center for SRM," he said, but added that he's evaluating other products, leaning heavily toward CommandCentral. Symantec officials also revealed with this announcement that the next version, due out in the first quarter of 2008, will merge agents with Storage Foundation to become one tool, which the user said would make CommandCentral more appealing. "That's one of the challenges when it comes to management software, there are still just too many agents."

. According to Reichman, the planned merger of Storage Foundation and CommandCentral lays the groundwork for what he predicts is the long-term future of SRM -- as a feature of larger product packages.

"Companies seem to have a phobia about spending money on SRM alone," Reichman said. "But if it's a module in a larger product, it's easer for them to accept as an add-on."

Users and analysts also said that VMware's popularity has sparked an even broader trend in IT, of new convergence between server and storage management teams, which could also spark new interest in host-based storage management tools like CommandCentral.

According to Dan Trim, director of IT infrastructure at Health Alliance Plan of Michigan, the support for ShadowImage, which he uses for replication, and VMware will be his impetus to move to CommandCentral 5.0. On the VMware front, Trim said he just recently took over supervision of servers, which had previously been under a different manager in his company, and that being able to report on both virtual and physical hosts with one tool would cut down on management time spent "guesstimating" on virtual machines.

"There's definitely a convergence between storage and servers that's been going on for years here and seems like it's finally completed," Trim said.

More details on 5.0

Also new with this version is integration with a couple of other products in Symantec's portfolio, Process Automation Manager and the new Enterprise Reporter, which is based on Cognos 8 Business Intelligence software from Cognos Inc.

Process Automation Manager lets users keep "workbooks" of ordered tasks for repetitive procedures and automates those procedures according to policy. CommandCentral 5.0 will now feed information into Process Automation Manager that can in turn automate tasks, like storage provisioning and data migration, to correct problems uncovered by the SRM tool.

Enterprise Reporter, a storage-only product now, although servers are also expected to fall under its umbrella by the first quarter of next year, will provide a centralized view of storage in multiple data centers and centralized reporting on common statistics according to line of business, applications or geography. Previously, users were limited to reporting by individual data centers. Enterprise Reporter, like Process Automation Manager, will be fed its information by CommandCentral. It will become generally available in 60 days.

CommandCentral is also more scalable now, Symantec claims, saying version 5.0's upper limits of 3,000 hosts, 6 petabytes (PB) of storage or 12,000 switch ports under one management server are more than double the limits of the previous version.

Despite the broader product support in the new version, a gap that still remains for CommandCentral, users and analysts said, is the ability to do correlation and policy making at the application level. "They should be able to go further, out of the box, to show you best practices and benchmarking for applications, rather than just raw information," Reichman said.

Trim said he'd like to see CommandCentral begin to make inferences between the bits of data it collects and to do more forecasting and proactive alerting. "Our main application touches 18 other apps in our environment," he said. "We've had to manually draw up an application connectivity map to keep track of that."

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