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The ABCs of Storage Management

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With the volume of data being produced and stored within organizations growing at a rapid rate, managing that data and the hardware that stores it can be a major headache.

Storage Resource Management (SRM) is one of the solutions being pushed by the storage industry to help ease those storage management headaches. However, according to Gartner, the SRM market will mature only when organizations are able to clearly define their end-to-end requirements.

There have been some industry predictions that by 2006, SAN management functions will be embedded as part of storage element managers and SRM tools. In other words, SAN management tools will all but disappear.

Brendan Kinkade, vice president of marketing for Nexsan Technologies, says it is highly likely that in the not too distant future, SAN management will be adopted and implemented through the delivering application or will become embedded as part of the OS.

"SAN management tools won't disappear any more than SRM solutions will disappear," says John Lallier, vice president of technology for FalconStor Software. "The two areas will overlap until they're eventually merged in the user's mind as a single management solution."

Other industry experts say that hardware vendors will continue to improve their element managers and incorporate many of the features and functionality of existing SAN management solutions. Customers, they say, will continue to look for solutions that can take an application perspective of management regardless of whether the underlying hardware is DAS, NAS or SAN.

 
“...These stand-alone SAN management products will eventually disappear over the long term.”

"SRM tools will begin to blend with system performance, network management and backup reporting solutions so the users can get an overall view of the health and status of the application and the infrastructure that services it," says Ken Barth, CEO of Tek-Tools.

Ram Iver, software manager for Maxxan Systems, says that in the next couple of years, SAN management technology will continue to evolve and be used as the primary tool to manage not only SAN resources but also storage services. "These stand-alone SAN management products will eventually disappear over the long term [4 to 6 years] when their functionality is expected to get absorbed into other network management solutions," he says.

Iver also believes that SANs are in their infancy compared to other forms of networking technology such as LANs, MANs and WANs, and that SANs are evolving from non-intelligent connectivity fabrics to integrating increasing number of storage services. "As a result of this," he says, "during the next two years, SAN management software will still offer the best way to centralize such services delivered from the network."

In addition to network and resource management, these tools will offer management of storage services such as virtualization, replication, mirroring, snapshots, security, compression, traffic analysis, and other services, says Ravi Chalaka, vice president of marketing for Maxxan. "Trying to integrate such services during the evolutionary stage of delivering them from the fabrics will be difficult, especially without industry standards that are broad," he says.

Page 2: SMI-S: The First Step Toward Standardization

 

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SMI-S: The First Step Toward Standardization

Some industry experts believe that the first step toward standardization is the Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S). However, the adoption of SMI-S, just as with other such standards, has been slow in acceptance. Some vendors who have not adopted SMI-S contend that the standard does not address their value-added features. According to Chalaka, the SMI-S specification calls for an implementation that is somewhere between the least common denominator and the full union.

"Vendors who have functionality that is not specified by SMI-S will continue to provide their own device-management solutions," says Iver. The importance of SMI-S can be viewed from a monitoring perspective, he says — providing customers with a single monitoring solution is a huge step towards consolidation.

Iver says this is what has happened in the data communications world. "Most managed Ethernet switches can be monitored by nearly any SNMP-aware management product, provided the switches implement specific MIBs," he says. This is where he expects the storage industry to be by the 2006 timeframe.

 
“...When vendors recognize that implementing SMI-S does not mean removing their value-add, then the adoption will increase significantly.”

"When vendors recognize that implementing SMI-S does not mean removing their value-add, then the adoption will increase significantly," says Chalaka. "SMI-S will then be the catalyst to drive such an environment of allowing the customer to use their favorite SAN management tools without worrying about the interoperability."

Iver says this integration of the device-management and the SEM/SRM spaces will render SAN Management products obsolete.

Are Users Ready for Automated Storage Management?

The real issue may be whether users are ready to automate storage management. Some industry experts believe that as storage management enters its evolutionary stage for the next two years, some level of automation will become more important.

"Automation remains a tricky subject, with users holding the technology at arm's length," says Barth. "In situations where automation policies could cause issues with end users' data, then in my opinion, users are not ready to automate storage management."

Barth says his customers are "risk averse," particularly in areas such as file deletion, movement, and volume resizing on the fly. "Users are asking us to reduce the steps necessary to move, delete, etc., as well as incorporate more and more exception-based reporting and thresholding, which could be considered quasi-automation, but they are adamant that they want to be able to push the final button before execution," he says.

At the same time, says Barth, users are ready to automate certain steps that can be clearly identified as time- or labor-saving and that incur little risk from an end user perspective, and where the time and complexity needed to deploy the automation and policies do not outweigh the savings. For example, he says, consolidating and automating the necessary steps to provision new storage.

Lallier believes that users are ready to automate storage management — they're simply waiting for the right tools. "Users want to be able to apply broad policies to their expanding storage infrastructure, but retain the ability to go in and fine-tune certain parts of it," he says.

Kinkade agrees, and says the reason automation has not been more quickly adopted is due, in large part, to the complexity and disproportionate cost modeling of the currently available solutions. "Adoption should accelerate as costs become more easily justified and the solutions become easier to implement," he says.

Chalaka says that users are ready for policy-based management and provisioning of resources to reduce the cost of management. However, he adds, grandiose plans for full automation offered for proprietary storage solutions are unlikely to be adopted because of lack of support for heterogeneous environments.

Gartner says that the catalyst for growth in automated storage management is the development of dedicated storage management teams that are fully responsible for storage capacity at the host and array levels. Gartner believes that storage management teams are on the upswing, but adds that they often lack host-level responsibilities, the impetus for SRM purchases.

Although some experts believe that SAN management functionality will remain critical to successful storage management, those same experts say the market may be split between embedded functionality in increasingly sophisticated management tools and used for availability discovery and zoning of SAN infrastructures by SRM tools.

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