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Top tips when evaluating a storage automation product

When choosing a storage automation product, evaluate the size and complexity of the environment, the degree to which the IT infrastructure is growing and outsourced functions.

There are no clear-cut criteria to determine if a company will benefit from storage automation. But you can use the following tips to evaluate whether a storage automation product is right for your organization.

  • Size and complexity of the environment. Large companies with more complex environments will benefit more from storage automation than small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). SMBs may be satisfied by workflow capabilities built into point management products that address a specific need.
  • Degree of change. The degree to which the IT infrastructure is growing and the frequency of changes to that environment are generally good indicators that standardizing and automating storage management processes will yield tangible benefits.
  • Outsourced functions. Storage management tasks outsourced due to their operational complexity are also candidates for automation.

To achieve near-term success, the storage automation effort should be limited to something that's realistically deployable and shows immediate payback within three to six months. In addition, today's storage automation products aren't ready to be deployed throughout the entire data center. Some automation products are strong in server or network automation but weak in storage, while others are strong in storage and weak in other areas. For example, automating all aspects of tiered migrations, including the identification of infrequently accessed data, is probably beyond the capabilities of available technology.

The cost of automation products varies, with standalone IT process automation products tending to be more expensive than storage management products. But workflow (process automation) is becoming a standard part of some storage management tools at no additional cost. Microsoft Corp. Windows Workflow Foundation is a .NET Framework 3.0 service that will make it easier for application vendors to deliver workflow capabilities within their products.

Implementation tips for storage automation products

1. Make sure you can easily integrate the product into your environment. Out-of-the-box workflows greatly accelerate deployment, but only if they're appropriate to your environment. Some organization and process change is inevitable, but the workflow needs to accommodate changes to work with your process. If the product enforces its process on you, building support for it within your organization will be much more difficult.

2. Limit the scope of implementation. Products that automate all processes (application, desktop, server, network, storage) sound attractive. To get a quick win and demonstrate the viability of the product, choose a process that has a reasonable chance of success.

3. Invest in deployment services. Storage automation products are relatively easy to install and use; the complexity is in the customization of the specific workflow. Professional deployment and training services will dramatically decrease implementation times for the majority of storage automation products.

This material originally appeared in Storage magazine.

Richard Bourdeau is a SearchStorage.com contributor.

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