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Is the Provisioning of Storage the Next Step?
With that said, is the next phase of automation the provisioning of storage, especially in a SAN environment? Lam says that automated provisioning is being done today in more advanced storage infrastructures and will continue to become more common. Rather than explicitly provisioning storage, he says, customers want to define operations in terms of the capacity, performance, and reliability policies necessary to meet business objectives.
Additionally, Lam reports that customers want to be able to utilize automation within the storage management system to manage the underlying physical devices; however, he does not believe that customers see this as a separate phase. "They are looking for automated solutions to all of their most pressing storage problems with the result that the shift toward automation is accelerating across the full spectrum of storage management functions. In addition to provisioning initial or expansion storage and backup (arguably the first automated storage function), IT departments are implementing automation for critical functions such as archiving, replication, migration to appropriate hardware based on service requirements, etc.," he says.
Dutch seems to think that there are a number of very manually intensive and error-prone tasks involved in managing shared storage services. Provisioning storage to applications is one of these tasks. "Today, provisioning is a complex set of 28-45 steps that must be performed in the right order and at the right time by a storage expert using a variety of vendor tools and spreadsheets," says Dutch. "I've talked to dozens of storage administrators over the last year and have found it typically takes 55 minutes to provision a single volume to an application. True end-to-end policy-based automation (not wizards) of the provisioning process can reduce the time to 1 minute," she claims.
Managing Storage Now and Into the Future without Going Bankrupt
Enterprises and SMB automate their storage hardware to manage the raw capacity increases that are part and parcel of an IT operation. But there's another reason as well: obsolescence. With the aid of integrators and VARs, IT users have to plan their storage, now and for the future. The problem is that it's difficult to plan too far into the future. Changes come too rapidly. So, how can IT managers effectively manage storage now and into the future without going bankrupt from trying to keep up with all the changes?
According to Dutch, the answer is policy-based automation of manual management tasks. "Policy-based management automation masks the complexities of the various devices, allowing IT to seamlessly introduce and use new technology. Without it, it can take weeks and months for IT staff to become fully educated on new technology and successfully integrate it into the data center." She went on to say policy-based management automation also ensures that IT maximizes the use of its storage resources and provides accurate and current information on who and how the resources are used, which is vital for effective capacity planning and forecasting.
Lam believes that to successfully accommodate and leverage rapidly changing storage technologies, IT managers need software solutions that separate logical storage operations (provisioning, backing up, replicating, migrating, etc.) from managing the underlying infrastructure. "For example, database administrators [DBAs] have traditionally implemented advanced storage subsystems for mission-critical applications," he says.
"With the advent of SANs and storage management software, the DBA can be provisioned from appropriate subsystems without being involved in managing the required volumes and hardware," Lam continued. Lam feels that as new storage technologies are adopted, the database can be migrated or extended to leverage the new technologies. And, at the same time, the old storage can be used to provide redundancy (for high availability or disaster recovery) or be re-allocated for other applications.