Stop the Storage Software Madness!
Backup reporting, change management, capacity utilization, provisioning, performance monitoring, automation, migration. These terms roll off the tongue of storage software salesmen with such smoothness. Yet are all of them really necessary? And what about the idea that storage resource management (SRM) could handle all such tasks?
Instead of SRM fulfilling its promise, it seems the term has morphed into a seemingly endless procession of new software bells and whistles. So what's the real story here?
"These different tools all address slightly different problems and serve different admin users," said Laura DuBois, research director for storage software at International Data Corp. (IDC).
She explained, for example, that backup reporting addresses managing backups to disk and tape and serves backup admins, architects and engineers (vendors include WysDM Software, Bocada and Aptare). Utilization and provisioning tools, on the other hand, are for storage admins and storage engineers (NetApp, DataCore, 3PAR and HDS, to name a few). This wasn't the province of SRM when the term was first coined.
"In its original sense, SRM was really about reporting on file level detail how many MP3s I have on the network, or some such," said DuBois. "So it deals with the file level/server view, while the other tools tend to deal more with the infrastructure layer."
Mike Karp, an analyst at Enterprise Management Associates, thinks the term SRM has changed over the years. In reality, it is not a product at all, but rather a category of products. Everything mentioned above can quite legitimately be aggregated under the term. But there is confusion in the market because of vendor slants and preferences.
"Because no two vendors define the term exactly the same way or perhaps more properly, because their products have a different set of strengths which causes them to define the term in their own particular way data centers wind up buying a mix of products trying to take advantage of the best of what each of the products offers," said Karp.
Let's take a look, then, at what a couple of the principal vendors are saying about SRM, what they think it is, and where SRM is ultimately heading.
Over the years, CA has been a staunch supporter of the SRM cause. CA sees this as a healthy market, one ripe with opportunity.
"The SRM market is in a good position, with excellent growth in the enterprise segment," said Marco Coulter, vice president of SRM development at CA. "Another growth indicator is the bevy of small startups targeting SRM products at specific niche markets."
He believes that part of the reason that SRM has gotten a reputation for complexity is due to the proliferation of point products. CA prefers an all-purpose approach that can also be implemented modularly.
"If you start with a point solution for archiving, and then add a capacity planning tool and an operations monitor, you may discover that the products don't work well together," said Coulter. "That's when you'll wish you bought a general SRM solution."
He concedes that not all customers use SRM the same way, although most will use a good percentage of its capabilities. Some, for instance, may want to implement SRM to solve a specific problem, such as backup reporting, but then end up solving other storage management problems with it. The reason for this, he said, is that regardless of the original reason for implementing SRM, most companies will find it beneficial to use it for cost reduction and better planning.
The Standards Roadblock
So why hasn't SRM delivered on its promise of end-to-end storage management? Coulter points to ongoing storage management standards as the road ahead. But until standards emerge that count capacity in the same way regardless of hardware, it will be challenging for enterprise SRM products to provide the most complete view across the entire storage environment arrays, filers, databases, mail systems, file systems and backup products.
Simplification of the storage environment, he said, requires advances in device management software, rather than storage management software alone. Devices need to be self-diagnosing for availability and performance.
"You shouldn't have to use additional tools for provisioning and performance diagnosis," said Coulter. "Device management software needs to mature and replace this bottom layer of current storage management tools, and simplification is the order of the day. People want fewer choices that are simpler to manage."
His take is that since SRM is the highest layer of storage management, it will evolve away from device management into business alignment and policy management. Accordingly, CA's SRM product gathers details from all levels everything from spindles through applications to business processes. It uses the ITIL-based configuration management database (CMDB) to more closely define business relationships and report on business value. As a result, features such as portfolio reporting enable the business to make and validate storage decisions based on costs and business impact. The end goal is storage governance that is, fact-based decision-making and oversight of storage.
"As SRM evolves into storage governance, it will need to share information with core IT governance tools such as CMDB, asset and portfolio management," said Coulter. "Additionally, storage governance requires SRM to receive policy guidelines from these management tools, so its thresholds and monitoring can support oversight."
Unlike CA, EMC prefers not to be tied down to the SRM moniker. It makes the same pitch about business processes, but it appears to be forwarding the concept of storage management as a whole that encompasses backup, capacity, chargeback change, provisioning and performance management.
In addition, EMC appears to be heading in the direction of working beyond storage to understand the interdependencies that exist between application, network, server and storage technologies. Each of these had developed its own domain and resource management tools.
"Resource management tools that have the ability to both meet the demands of the technology specialists while providing insight into the cross domain impact of problems or changes will aid the transition to IT service management frameworks like ITIL," said Kevin Gray, product marketing manager for the Resource Management Software Group at EMC.
He upholds EMC SMARTS Storage Insight for Availability as an example of a resource management tool that traverses management and technology boundaries. It performs root cause failure analysis across application, network, server, and storage domains, identifying the business impact of those failures.
He also touts EMC's IT Process Center as an example of a tool that combines resource management with process automation to improve operational efficiency. In essence, it captures and automates IT processes to ensure that the right procedures are performed by the right people in the right order.
"IT Process Centre combines EMC's knowledge of effective delivery of storage provisioning services with customer's internal processes to create a single application that that is used to manage the request and delivery of storage services," said Gray. "Extensive management reporting enables IT managers to view outstanding tasks, balance workloads and intervene when SLAs are at risk."
Buy what you Need
The common thread in what EMC and CA are saying and doing is the linking of storage management and SRM functionality into ITIL and business process management. That does appear to be the ultimate direction for this sector of storage software. But because of a lack of standardization, neither platform is likely to meet all needs on all occasions. Hence, the continuing presence of a wealth of vendors to fit various niches.
Best advice? Do your homework and find the right tool or toolset to do what you really need. Take a look at what CA, Symantec or EMC or any number of innovative startups are proposing to see if it makes sense for your organization and find the best fit.
"SRM in fact does do the job to a large degree," said Karp. "But because you can't go out and buy 'an SRM,' it does this by using a mix of products."