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Backup reporting expands to add capacity planning

Aptare adds capacity planning for primary data storage to its product line, joining Symantec in recent attempts to broaden the appeal of reporting software.

Backup reporting software startup Aptare Inc. is the latest vendor of data storage reporting and monitoring tools to try to sweeten the pot for users by expanding the scope of its product. It announced today that its StorageConsole software will now include capacity planning for primary storage in addition to backup reporting.

According to Rick Clark, president and CEO of Aptare, the company plans to make StorageConsole a framework for more than backup reporting going forward with replication management the next development item on the docket slated for early next year.

The module being announced today performs predictive analysis on primary storage similar to Aptare's existing software does with backup data. The software uses a combination of data gleaned from interrogating the storage array using a Unix utility called "DF minus K" to assess available space left on file systems and by querying Oracle and SQL applications to find out how much space the application is actually using on the file system. The software then compares that data and produces a capacity utilization number based on actual usage rather than allocation.

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Support for Exchange is coming, but like most of the reporting and monitoring tools on the market today it isn't able to see into virtual machines.

This leads to the fundamental Catch-22 of third-party reporting tools, according to Bob Laliberte, analyst with the Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG). It's not in major storage hardware vendors' best interests to provide fine-grained utilization data, but third-party players in this space tend to be much smaller, lesser known vendors.

That's not to say, however, that some companies haven't been willing to take the leap. Qualcomm Inc. said last year it expects to halve its storage growth in 2007 using a capacity planning tool from relative unknown Monosphere Inc.

But for every story like that, there's a story like that of CreekPath Systems, which saw its product discontinued after it was acquired by Opsware Inc. last July. Purchasing from a startup also means it may take longer for that company to add support for devices when it needs API access to do so. In Aptare's case, the first version of its capacity planning software will only support EMC Corp. and Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) arrays. Monosphere also has had to add support for different storage vendors in a painstaking and slow manner this year, having checked off EMC's Symmetrix and Clariion arrays, and Network Appliance Inc. (NetApp) filers off the list so far.

Support for VMware will be crucial to the success of Aptare's new venture, ESG's Laliberte said. Symantec already beat Aptare, and most other storage resource management (SRM) vendors, to the punch with the announcement two weeks ago that it has added visibility into virtual machines to its CommandCentral Storage SRM tool. Symantec also announced that it, too, is attempting to expand the scope of that product through planned integration with its Storage Foundation storage management software.

There is one feature of Aptare's product also common to the backup reporting piece that Laliberte said might interest users -- its ability to access reports through any Web interface, including handheld devices. The software comes preintegrated with the backup reporting tool and is activated by license key if the user wants to add the features. Reports can be exported for collaboration through shared dashboards based on Ajax. Also, reports are customizable, crossing primary storage capacity management and backup reporting.

Expanding to survive

According to Andrew Reichman, analyst at Forrester Research, the market for these tools has been fairly grim, but that may be a matter of packaging and pricing, as the need for better capacity management is "still the most significant pain point" in the industry.

"I've seen users with 1 petabyte (PB)of storage under management still using scripts and Excel, and having to scramble every month to get together and figure out who has what," he said, pointing out that the average utilization rate remains around 40% among enterprise storage shops. "It's insane. It's a joke. If you have 1 PB under management and you're only using 40%, how much money are you leaving on the table? And yet there remains a low willingness for users to open their checkbooks for this stuff."

As with Symantec's expansion of CommandCentral, Reichman said focused, gradual expansion of products to include more capabilities without attempting to "boil the ocean" could be the key. "Aptare's not talking about providing diagnostics or provisioning, and it's not a million-dollar tool like some of the big software frameworks out there."

Aptare's Clark admits this market is a daunting one. "We are dipping our toe into shark-infested waters" with SRM, he said.

And at least in Symantec's case, some users are finding that once they try data protection management (DPM), they like it. Panelists from the SAS Institute Inc., ServerWare Corp., Qualcomm and TD BankNorth Inc. agreed, at this year's Symantec Vision conference, that backup reporting was most useful when it came to presenting statistics not for themselves but for their management overseers. The users also admitted that the process can be rocky on first implementation when backup failures are inevitably revealed. A desire to avoid that exposure might be limiting the market for DPM products.

However, one attendee, a storage area network (SAN) manager for a large payroll processing company, who asked not to be identified because company policy prohibits him from speaking with the press, approached the microphone during the session to say that using Aptare's DPM software had resulted in a "complete rebirth of our relationship with Symantec," after the product revealed that problems in the environment that had been blamed on NetBackup were actually occurring elsewhere. "It led directly to a new six-figure deal with Symantec," he said.

The addition of primary storage capacity planning to Aptare's software puts it into competition with other startups, including Onaro Inc. and Monosphere. Aptare's direct competitors in DPM, WysDM Software Inc. and Bocada Inc. offer some capacity planning features. In the case of WysDM, the company offers a software option for capacity management on file servers. Bocada tracks capacity on arrays used for disk-based backup, as well as within tape libraries.

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