The Automation of Storage
Can storage automation address the larger problem of managing storage without boundaries?
Driven by the growth of e-commerce, globalization, and users' expectations of zero latency, the need to intelligently manage access to and the storage of data is becoming mission-critical to businesses across the globe.
Managing storage has always been about managing risk, and the latest piece of that puzzle is automation. The earliest form of automated storage management appeared when scripts were applied to storage problems. This same approach is seen today as vendors get their "toes wet" in storage automation by delivering automation solutions developed around a specific storage task, such as provisioning. As we've seen with scripts, though, this approach is limiting in that it can often only be used for one specific task.
Karen Dutch, InterSan's vice president of marketing, says current SAN management tools provide only passive "map and monitor" device-centric capabilities. "That's precisely why Gartner coined the term Storage Area Management (SAM). SAM is a next-generation management category focused on taking a top-down or applications-based approach to managing storage, as opposed to the bottoms-up (device-centric) approach, which includes provisioning," says Dutch.
Script-based Approach: Advantages and Disadvantages
Dutch goes on to say that initial automation implementations were wizard based or script based. "While the wizard-based approach does simplify the task a bit, it doesn't make it foolproof, and it doesn't enable a non-expert to perform the task." Dutch says that wizards are like a cook book in that they only walk an expert through the steps. Full automation based on customizable policies, however, masks all of the nasty, complex steps in the process and ensures that the right steps are performed transparently in the right order and at the right time, she says.
"Policy is very important for intelligent automation, as it allows each company to define and codify the operational procedures that are then used to customize the automation. So the difference is -- wizards give you a cookbook, while automation gives you a prepared Julia Child's gourmet dinner. The evolution is scripts > wizards > policy-driven automation," concludes Dutch.
"Scripts are certainly one way to implement automation and are often the best method for handling events that are unique to a particular customer's infrastructure," says Wayne Lam, vice president of FalconStor. "However, creating a customized infrastructure based on scripts has disadvantages as well -- requiring significant resources and skills to maintain the infrastructure as storage demands and technologies evolve."