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Enterprise data storage capacity management tools still found lacking

Enterprise data storage vendors are belatedly making progress with capacity management tools, but they can be limited in scope and don't always follow industry standards uniformly.

This is second of a five-part series on enterprise data storage management tools. In the first part, we looked at storage management tools for data backup.

Tracking and managing enterprise data storage capacity can be a tricky proposition. An administrator might allocate 90% of the available storage, but the servers may actually use only 30% of the disk space. Determining the true utilization requires tools that can delve into both ends of the spectrum.

Read our 5-part series on storage management tools
Improved enterprise storage management tools are needed, especially for data backup

Thin provisioning, virtualization aid data storage configuration

Enterprise data storage performance monitoring goes beyond storage arrays

Remote site monitoring often missing from disaster recovery plan

Historically, the major tools required server-side agents that were painful to install and maintain, especially if the storage administrators had to get executive buy-in or permission from the server team. Not surprisingly, the trend toward agent-free tools is welcome news to many users.

"Capacity is about more than just a single dimension of the infrastructure. What the enterprise needs today really is end to end, application to spindle, and visibility into their infrastructure that gives them a comprehensive view of capacity and performance," Taneja Group senior analyst Jeff Boles said. "These are tools that we needed in the infrastructure portfolio five, six, 10 years ago. So, it's pretty amazing that it's taken this long for these tools to grow up and become really accessible and useful."

In part, the fault lies with the storage vendors, Boles said, "because it's been very hard to work in the heterogeneous environments to get visibility into what was going on in the enterprise." Each vendor follows the Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S), put out by the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA), "a little bit different," he noted.

Boles said that another reason the landscape is so messy for comprehensive tools relates to the different meaning that capacity carries for the storage, server and network teams.

But progress is being made. Many tools now monitor from the application to the storage device. Those with a special concentration on capacity planning and storage utilization include Aptare Inc.'s StorageConsole Capacity Manager, Quest Software Inc.'s Storage Horizon and TeamQuest Corp.'s Performance Software suite.

Quest's software, for instance, not only reports on the storage allocated and used but warns customers of potential capacity problems and helps them determine when they need to buy new storage, how much they need to purchase and where to deploy it. The tool collects information from application servers, arrays and filers through either standard or vendor-supplied interfaces. Future plans call for performance monitoring to be incorporated into Storage Horizon.

Storage resource management software

Storage resource management (SRM) software from the major vendors generally monitors capacity and performance, and some monitor network utilization. These tools include EMC Corp.'s Ionix ControlCenter, Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co.'s Storage Essentials, IBM Corp.'s Tivoli Storage Productivity Center (TPC) and NetApp Inc.'s SANscreen. Products from vendors that don't also sell storage include CA Inc.'s Storage Resource Manager and Symantec Corp.'s Veritas CommandCentral Storage and Veritas Storage Foundation.

Some vendors offer additional modules to provide more detailed information in specific areas. NetApp's SANscreen, for instance, has five sub-options that customers can license: Capacity Manager, Application Insight, VM Insight, Service Insight and Service Assurance.

GSI Commerce Inc. uses the EMC Storage Scope ControlCenter add-on in tandem with its own internal reports and spreadsheets. That's a common approach to SRM.

"I think a majority of the users are still using spreadsheet tracking around capacity management," Boles said.

Administrators don't always favor the storage resource management tool of their company's main storage vendor. Ryan Perkowski, manager of storage operations at a large financial institution, has come to prefer NetApp's SANscreen over EMC's ControlCenter, even though he uses EMC storage and ControlCenter may be more up-to-the-minute accurate.

"It drives me up the wall when I pop into ControlCenter, and it's going to take me 15, 20 minutes to ask it how much disk is left," Perkowski said, also complaining that the tool overloads him with information and requires agents. "With SANscreen, I can pull that in a matter of seconds."

His agentless SANscreen tool is set to poll at 15-minute intervals, and it "dumbs down" the results, telling him, "point blank, you've got 4 TB of tier 1 and 2 TB of tier 2," he said. "You define tier 1 and tier 2 in almost common English," he added.

"It gives you a nice dashboard to show how much storage is left, who's chewing through what and which server's using which disk," he said. "I just find it has a much more friendly interface."

Perkowski said his greatest challenge is projecting storage capacity. He exports data from SANscreen into an Excel spreadsheet to graph usage trends. "How much storage I'll have left in a week is the answer upper management is looking for," Perkowski said.

Similarly, RiskMetrics Group Inc. storage architect Ed Delgado said he transfers capacity information from his Tek-Tools Inc.'s Profiler tool into Apple Inc.'s Numbers application to massage the data for management.

Vendors such as NTP Software and Northern Parklife sell capacity monitoring and management products that focus on network-attached storage (NAS), and SANpulse Technologies Inc. and Storage Fusion Ltd. have service-based offerings. Yet another capacity management option is storage virtualization, which creates an abstraction layer from which storage can be viewed as one large pool.

"The net-net of capacity is you need to understand what you have on an enterprise basis," Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Bob Laliberte said. "The ultimate goal is to do better planning -- to be able to collect information to do trending, to do just-in-time provisioning of storage."

The third part of this series looks at configuration management.

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