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Managing storage complexity

Expert Jim Booth provides his own brand of wisdom on how best to approach today's complex storage environments.

As storage environments grow they inherently become more complex. The trend of isolating specialized components continues throughout the enterprise. This causes a number of situations that increase the cost of doing business.

To manage the intricacy of today's storage environments, one must embrace the complexity to support the business, but create an atmosphere that is manageable and will scale with the business.

What's behind the complexity?

Why are today's storage environments so complex? Simple. These complex environments are needed to satisfy the business needs. Here are just a few examples of some business needs impacting storage:

  • Some applications simply require specialized storage configurations. In these cases, the application owners end up requesting specific storage subsystems. Even if you can convince the application owner to standardize on a single class of computing and storage, the cost of sole-sourcing this equipment can drive up the total outlay for the organization. (In other words, you might get a deal on the storage, but it may only support a limited number of operating systems, thus limiting your choices).
  • The database supporting the data warehouse also may run best on a large-cache, Fibre-attached array. Then, to leverage the high cost of this array, it will be networked to other hosts.
  • Or, the check imaging system needs a NAS subsystem to service the file handling. All of these systems must be backed up or mirrored over distance for disaster recovery.

All of the storage vendors have also helped to contribute to today's complex environments. Some companies have people dedicated to vendor management just for this reason. Add all the host platforms and operating systems, and soon you have a very complex state of affairs.

Current storage management strategies to combat complexity

I've seen three strategies for companies to combat complexity in their data centers:

  1. Go with a single vendor for each storage network element. It is not uncommon to hear "We are a Sun shop. And we use Brocade switches with EMC storage." For some companies, this works well but at a cost. They may be choosing the best hardware/software for their situation, but certainly are not leveraging vendors against each other to drive down the cost of each element
  2. .
  3. Standardize on a small group of hardware and software platforms. I've seen companies attempt to combat storage complexity this way. It can be an effective way to control complications within a large environment. As I predicted earlier this year, more people are moving to the 'storage utility' model with a few storage platforms (cached-array for high performance database applications, and NAS for high-volume file service). Although this increases complexity, you can now offer quality of service, tiers of performance and availability. The downside seems to be the independence of these utilities and the eventual creation of SAN islands.
  4. Embrace complexity and leverage this complexity for a competitive advantage. There is a fine balance between creating this complex environment and the need to wrap rigid, costly controls around systems. In this setting, the cost of hardware and software goes down (due mostly to competition), but storage management costs increase.

Suggestions for managing complexity

Managing the complexity of today's storage environment comes down to the three P's: People, Processes, and Programs (software).

Most companies have taken this problem upon themselves to solve. With numerous scripts consuming hundreds of man-hours, the people within an organization are the driving force behind storage management. Tedious tasks are scripted and automated to keep storage management's head above water and concentrate on infrastructure instead of menial tasks. If a storage management operation is done more that once you can bet that somebody has created a script for it.

Processes are a key ingredient to any organization. But in case of storage management, rarely are these processes aligned with business objectives (and if they are, it is from the top down). Storage management should drive from the bottom up. The storage utility model enforces these processes by offering levels of service to the business units.

Software will finally solve the storage management crisis with a single interface and policies to ensure safe automation. You can already see evidence of this by the number of companies entering the policy-based management fray.

My suggestion? Embrace the madness of a complex storage environment, but build storage policies that both provide complete control and also secure the business objectives of your company.

About the author: Jim Booth is the director of systems engineering at CreekPath Systems and a SearchStorage expert in several areas, including storage management, storage administration and backup/recovery issues. Need to ask Jim a question? Post it to the .dc2ZadBPjkB^2@.ee83ce3!viewtype=&skip=&expand=>Storage Management Tips & Tricks forum, which he also moderates.

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