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Choosing the right provisioning solution

What to beware of when considering a provisioning solution, and questions to ask your vendors.

2002 was yet another year of new buzzwords in the storage market. You know, those terms and acronyms created by storage vendors in an effort to attract customer dollars. These terms joined a bunch of others from previous years, such as virtualization. And while the words do seek to explain complex concepts, a lot of customers I've spoken with are just plain confused by all this jargon.

Let's start with some basics. At the end of the day, there are really three storage management market segments: Policy-based management, data management and device management. The problem is that, in general, no two tools are alike in scope and mission. And a significant number of vendors today provide tools across all three segments either separately or as a result of blending a group of functions together. Over the next several columns, I'll try to cut through the noise with clarity on this rapidly evolving market.

Today, I want to focus on the buzz-worthy storage provisioning/automation software, which promises to ease the pain in provisioning storage systems for applications and cutting back on the hours spent dealing with a lot of the manual tasks associated with storage management. Provisioning takes the prize today for largest anticipated benefit. But beware: What's advertised isn't necessarily what is delivered.

Provisioning falls into several categories. Point products are standalone tools that promise to provide provisioning across the host network and arrays. Integrated provisioning and policy management weaves provisioning together with virtualization, storage network management and management consoles. Still others have integrated provisioning tools as part of the baseline device management. Then you have the bigger storage management vendors (you know who they are) starting to offer provisioning as a foundation for larger management strategies. The last category is really nirvana: Storage automation. This advanced automation software will provision and automate third-party software tools, making it easier to set up new service levels for the storage network as well as backup policies.

Hence some questions you should consider when speaking with vendors about their provisioning offerings:

1. How will the products assist with not only provisioning third-party storage arrays, but also automating other third-party management tools? (What's the big picture?)

2. What's being provisioned and automated? (Believe it or not, there's no rhyme or reason to this today.) Walk through the provisioning process to determine what is included in the automation, such as assigning LUNs, setting up data paths, mapping into the file system and other management tools.

3. How do the storage vendors' tools link to quality of service requirements for your applications?

4. What will the storage vendor do to show demonstrated financial value? (In other words, how does this save you time and money?)

In my next column, we'll look at storage resource management (SRM) tools.

What are your feelings on storage provisioning tools? Write me with your pain and frustration on this issue at jgruener@yankeegroup.com.

About the author: Jamie Gruener is the primary analyst focused on the server and storage markets for the Yankee Group, an industry analyst firm in Boston, Mass. Jamie's coverage area includes storage management, storage best practices, storage systems, storage networking and server technologies.

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