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HP and EMC zero in on storage automation

HP will soon have storage automation software via Opsware, while Cisco, EMC and Symantec have also recently laid the groundwork for improving storage management.

Opsware Inc., recently acquired by Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP), has announced a new module for its data center automation software that will automate compliance and workflow processes for storage systems. Meanwhile, analysts said, a trend toward automation for storage resource management (SRM) is brewing in the market as more big vendors make forays into automation products.

Opsware's Application Storage Automation System (ASAS) 1.0 module plugs into the company's System 7 framework, which also includes server and networking automation software. Other System 7 modules have already found a customer base among blue chip firms such JPMorgan Chase & Co., Wachovia Corp., Comcast Corp. and FedEx Corp., according to company officials. (No Opsware customers were available to speak with as of press time.) In July, HP announced its intention to purchase Opsware for $1.6 billion and said this week that it expects to complete the acquisition this month.

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HP has been busy making SRM hay with its Storage Essentials software products, based on its acquisition of AppIQ in 2005. Meanwhile, Opsware's software is based on its own acquisition of CreekPath Systems Inc. last July, and this marks the first time Opsware has released a product based on that intellectual property. HP isn't talking about its plans for these products until the acquisition is closed, but longtime watchers of the storage market note that AppIQ and Creekpath, once rivals in the SRM space, will now be under one roof.

"It will take time for HP to work out how Opsware and Storage Essentials will fit together," said Bob Laliberte, analyst with the Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG). "Opsware certainly has a lot of customers in the data center automation space, but Storage Essentials can offer provisioning features for storage systems."

Storage Essentials and ASAS 1.0 have some overlap -- both claim to do monitoring and reporting, as well as providing topology views. The difference is that ASAS 1.0 can connect to other areas of the data center, such as servers, to provide a link between server and storage management. ASAS can also be integrated with an existing Opsware feature, Compliance Assurance, that provides application-level dashboards of the data center and sends alerts when devices and data protection schemes are set up in conflict with regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley and HIPAA.

"Storage Essentials is a storage admin's monitoring tool, while ours provides an overall, top-down view of the data center," said Jason Rosenthal, senior vice president of server automation products for Opsware. "We're looking to overcome the gaps between the server and storage admins with this product. Compliance is one good example of an area where you have to look at the whole infrastructure to make sure you've got it right."

But according to Laliberte, Opsware's approach may be the direction in which storage administrators' software tools are also headed. He cited other recent automation announcements from vendors with ties to the storage space, including Symantec Corp., Cisco Systems Inc. and EMC Corp. "A lot of companies have been making headlines in this space recently," he said. "There has been interesting timing on some of these announcements."

EMC, other big vendors get in on automation act

Another vendor that recently threw its hat into the automation ring is EMC, which this week unveiled a raft of products based on IP from its Smarts acquisition. The products include network monitoring, performance reporting and, like Opsware, a compliance analyzer. Where the automation software touches storage is with the new IT Process Centre software, the first module of which will automate workflow around storage provisioning.

Even with its ties to storage, EMC is staying away from provisioning with its first release of automation software, hooking IT Process Centre in to EMC Control Center (ECC), where provisioning will be the same manual process it's always been.

Still, EMC said, the human process of storage provisioning, coordinating between application administrators requesting storage and the storage administrators who control it, as well as the management hierarchies surrounding them, has been the most painful aspect of IT for its large users. "A lot of customers still like to control the technical process themselves," said Jon Siegal, senior manager of product marketing for EMC. "The majority of the time spent on provisioning is on relaying requests and the selection of the right storage system -- the human planning side."

The product also requires a services engagement to assess each user's business model before IT Process Centre generates a custom workflow application for automating human processes around storage capacity requests and provisioning. The software automatically discovers new devices added to the infrastructure, but for the software to accommodate a change in management hierarchy or policies at a company could require another $80,000 services engagement.

Right now, ECC is a prerequisite for IT Process Centre, and ECC in turn can only trigger events within EMC arrays, so its first release is really aimed at large EMC shops, Siegal said. EMC plans to expand its automation software to include third-party products, server and networking processes, and to add more automation to the process of deploying the storage module, but would not predict when that would happen.

Cisco, meanwhile, has been pushing its VFrame Data Center automation software, and recently added a capability that ties server virtualization in with storage. In August, Symantec said that version 5.0 of its CommandCentral SRM product will be integrated with another piece of software called Process Automation Manager, letting users keep "workbooks" of ordered tasks for repetitive procedures and automating those procedures according to policy.

Laliberte cautioned storage users to keep an eye on this trend, even if it's begun in another discipline of IT, noting, "This is all leading to the inevitable conclusion that these products are trying to break down the barriers between different groups in the data center -- that's a big step."

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