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Remote Storage Monitoring Services Come of Age

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As storage environments become more spread out, more organizations are becoming willing to invest in remote monitoring services to manage those environments.

While early still, this is no small shift, since in the past, users were reluctant to recognize the value of remote monitoring and management (RMM) services for storage, and have been resistant to the idea of storage services in general.

But with storage environments becoming more complex, and the need for new services such as remote replication and disaster recovery growing, industry officials say users are warming up to the idea of outsourcing their remote storage management operations.

"As data management grows increasingly complex, organizations will, out of necessity, look for ways of easing the burden of management," says Stephen Harding, director of marketing at Tek-Tools. "RMM and other storage services are logical industry developments to address this need and will grow increasingly more crucial."

Mehran Hadipour, vice president of marketing at Kashya, says RMM service providers have security and cost advantages over earlier generations of storage service providers.

Storage technologies such as intelligent Fibre Channel switches and fabric-based applications allow a data replication infrastructure that uses shared IP networks to replicate data from multiple customers safely and efficiently to a single data center over a common infrastructure, Hadipour says.

"The service provider can manage all of the components centrally, which produces the economy of scale and reduces the cost for the shared offering to a level that mid-size companies can now afford replication-based solutions through a shared service," says Hadipour.

Growing awareness of disaster recovery needs is also driving the trend in favor of RMM service providers, whose ranks include Cisco, MSI Managed Storage, Storage ASP and StorageWatch. The Securities and Exchange Commission, for example, recommends that local and replicated sites be at least 300 miles apart.

"There is a definite strategic push that many companies have for a distributed data infrastructure to allow better protection against regional failures and disasters," says Hadipour. "RMM will have the potential to drive staff consolidations by providing centralized management while maintaining the distributed data infrastructure."

Survey Shows RMM Interest Growing

In 2004, Gartner conducted a survey titled "Storage Services User Wants and Needs," which found that more than 38 percent of those surveyed indicated some level of interest in RMM.

RMM service providers tout their ability to increase availability, improve efficiency and reduce deployment risks through infrastructure monitoring and change management processes and methodology, all while saving customers the cost of adding new hires.

"With storage growing so fast, and the need for data protection pushing storage across sites, RMM is not a luxury, it is a necessity," says Hadipour.

Hadipour says that with new technologies that deliver networked-based storage functionality, new value-added functions can migrate to the SAN, bringing a new level of scalability and functionality to heterogeneous storage management. Some networked data replication platforms can bridge SANs across a wide area network while keeping management centralized, minimizing the complexity of data management.

The Functional Categories of RMM

The services provided by RMM fall into three functional categories: monitoring, automated operations, and active administration of storage devices and processes. How can these functionalities help end users better manage their storage?

According to John Lallier, vice president of technology at FalconStor, monitoring and active administration let enterprises centralize the oversight of a large number of distributed storage systems in a single operations center.

"But without automated operations, this would simply be concentrating the people required to manage these systems," says Lallier. Automated operations rely on intelligent systems using policy-based management to reduce the number of people required to monitor and manage a large number of systems, making it practical to turn these types of operations over to service providers.

"Administration is often the most technically complex task when heterogeneous storage is involved," says Hadipour. "Monitoring, on the other hand, is more of a 'know' commodity and can be integrated with server and network management solutions."

Harding says that at its most basic, RMM helps with efficiency and convenience. "As networking, resource management, and storage continue to grow exponentially, IT departments are stretched thin," he says. "RMM offers a cost-effective solution to stretched resources."

RMM also facilitates troubleshooting and problem-solving by pinpointing problems and speeding resolution through automation and active management to prevent and reduce outages, Harding says. The monitoring component of RMM translates into easy reporting that is useful in making business and infrastructure decisions, he says.

Page 2: RMM Still Has A Ways To Go

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RMM Still Has A Ways To Go

According to Harding, while early efforts have been encouraging, remote management services haven't entirely arrived just yet. Networking and its management have typically been viewed as hands-on in-house activities, and device and resource management have followed suit. "As networking and storage have become essential business processes, improving efficiency and convenience have developed as key concerns, and the response has been RMM services," he says.

Harding believes that as a subset of storage management, RMM still needs to further develop tools and processes and continue to make the business case for the value of RMM. This won't be hard to do, he says, predicting that RMM will become increasingly critical for effective storage management as issues such as active management, ILM, data classification, and regulatory compliance requirements get addressed.

The primary objectives of managed services are to provide enterprises with improved availability, higher use, and better management of their storage infrastructures. However, according to Gartner, the demand thus far for remote monitoring and management services hasn't been as strong as it could be. So why don't enterprises consider storage RMM services as important as network monitoring and management services?

Lallier says RMM may not be desirable to many large enterprises that tend to be conservative and reluctant to turn over such a critical part of their operations. "The best candidates for early adoption may be the medium to small enterprises that don't have existing expertise in managing the large storage systems that they are now investing in," he says. He also believes that once the model has been proven with early adopters, larger enterprises will be more comfortable adopting these services.

Hadipour says that one of the key challenges for RMM acceptance is that it has been largely tied into hardware platforms. "Storage infrastructure is complex on the element level, and much of the value of management is tied to element management, as opposed to the higher-level constructs of enterprise management," he said.

Enterprises thinking about investing in RMM services are concerned about the "soft" benefits of these services. Lallier says that with any service provider, the benefit is to reduce or eliminate the need to train and maintain your own staff and instead rely on the expertise of others. "The point is to have the enterprise concentrate on its core business and to offload anything that requires expertise in non-related areas," he said.

Hadipour says that RMM services can be the enabler toward consolidation and standardization for enterprises, which would have TCO benefits in the long run.

End User Considerations

Hadipour says that looking at RMM is like buying furniture for a house that you havent bought yet. "You need to have a clear idea of your plans and strategy before you select a RMM approach and tools," he says.

Storage trends favor further adoption of RMM, Hadipour says. "The more standardization and heterogeneous SANs that are deployed, the more likely it is that RMM storage services will be successful," he says.

Lallier says turning over a critical function to an outside provider is never an easy decision to make. To Lallier, the critical factor for the enterprise is to identify a service provider that meets their criteria for success, responsiveness and security for their type of environment. The service provider must understand that each organization is unique in its processes, infrastructure and needs. And organizations must make sure that they are only acquiring the services they need.

"RMM is not in the same class as food services or maintenance facilities, but for companies that do not concentrate on technology as their core business, it's no different than going to an outside provider for accounting or telemarketing services," he said.

Harding believes that RMM will continue to develop and mature, both technologically and from a business standpoint. "As storage management remains a crucial part of business operations, and as it grows increasingly complex and complicated, RMM is destined to take on greater importance to a business' functioning and to its bottom line," he concluded.

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