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Part one: Simplifying the storage management process

This column describes storage management software that simplifies things: Configuration management and provisioning software.

I recently asked readers to comment about the growing complexity of managing storage networks and any suggestions they might have to simplify this process. Poster 'Simon the SAN Man' responded with some of his thoughts. This column covers both his thoughts and mine on ways to tackle and reduce storage management complexities.

My initial question -- posted in the --> --> --> --> .KanpaHFSzI6.3@.ee83ce3/469!viewtype=threadDate&skip=&expand=>Storage Management Tips & Tricks discussion forum -- was:

'Over the past few months the one common issue I've been struggling with is the growing complexity of managing the storage network.

What specific steps should be taken to simplify the storage management process? - Adding software? If so, what kind?
- Consolidating hardware vendors/platforms?
- Streamlining operations through merging or breaking out storage roles?
- How can I reduce my time to provision storage?

Ways to reduce complexity in managing storage networks. . .

The trend most apparent from my discussions with storage managers and feedback from end users is how many have explored adding software in order to minimize the amount of human intervention required to manage complex storage environments.'

In this column, I'll focus on the software piece involved in simplifying storage management.

From the Storage Management forum, 'Simon the SAN Man' agrees, stating: "…the storage area management tools are starting to get to a point where they really can save you time and money…"

This is a critical point. Up until just recently, storage groups did a great job of managing their initial SAN, given the intense focus in moving from the direct-attached storage (DAS) model to the SAN world. But, they are currently facing the "Now, what?" problem. In order to make it easy for their users to add storage, they now have to come up with a successful, existing storage network maintenance strategy.

This, in turn, has created both a configuration and management problem. Let's look at two types of software tools available for storage management to help this problem:

  1. Configuration management software
  2. Provisioning management software

Configuration management software

Configuration management software allows the user to configure storage, fabric and host elements. Mostly likely, your storage networking hardware came with some type of configuration management software. Simon likes Brocade's Fabric Manager "…for storage configuration control (managing firmware updates, auditing configuration details, etc)." In this case, we are talking switch/director hardware. But these configuration software tools are also available for host busy adapters (HBAs), hosts and storage subsystems.

Auditing (a part of configuration management) continues to be high on the list of storage managers' problems as they try to determine what they have on the floor and gain better control of it. This task can be accomplished with visualization software also available from hardware vendors and third parties.

Provisioning management software

Provisioning management software has a wide range of definitions, which include storage quota management and port provisioning. It can also offer a way to move toward configuration management when you are interested in configuring LUNs for a specific host. While most provisioning software is integrated into an overall platform, Simon also mentioned the provisioning process as a critical piece of software needed to simplify the storage management process. According to Simon, what is needed is "[software] designed specifically to do the end-to-end provisioning (choose the most appropriate LUN from the most appropriate array, configure the selective presentation, set up the zoning, and give access to the server, then monitor the availability)."

Provisioning management software continues to grow and evolve. The most recent provisioning trends include advanced automation and workflow -- but it doesn't end there. Content sensitive reclamation and archiving will soon be part of provisioning software.

In upcoming columns, I will discuss other aspects of the storage network management simplification process. These include consolidation, operations/roles, and reducing time to provision.

Do you have other thoughts for Jim on this topic? Post them now as an on-going discussion thread in our forums. Or, to ask Jim a more specific question related to storage management issues, go to his Storage Management expert answers page in our "Ask the Experts" area.

About the author: Jim Booth is the managing director of systems engineering at Creekpath Systems, an industry author and founder of the independent storage research group, Hard-Problem, Inc.. Jim also serves as one of's experts on storage management and storage administration-related issues. If you'd like to learn more about Jim's background, please click here.

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