Managing storage has never been more complex, nor has it ever been more critical to daily operations and business strategy. Everything that once resided in file cabinets, desk drawers, and bankers' boxes must now be instantly accessible from anywhere, at any time.
At the same time, storage resources are continually becoming more diverse, especially with Storage Area Networks (SAN) and Network Attached Storage (NAS) supplanting direct attached storage in many environments. On top of this, the proliferation of device types makes it necessary to back up laptops and PDAs in addition to the usual array of network devices.
While each storage vendor has its own set of tools for managing its devices, a newer trend lies in taking a page from the network and systems management arena by bringing management of a diverse set of devices into a single management console.
Network Management Model
IT challenges such as bandwidth, uptime, and utilization led to the emergence of network and systems management (NSM) tools like IBM's Tivoli, BMC Software's PATROL, and Hewlett-Packard's OpenView. Each of these tools provides a single console to view all aspects of the network, regardless of vendor or platform. That's the concept, anyway; in practice, administrators often wind up having to assemble several management tools to gather all the information and control they need.
"Typically, you have a multiple OS environment that demands many element managers, hardware/OS tools, and automation tools for production control and scheduling," says Paul Lehman, Senior Vice President for Network Services, Affiliated Computer Systems, Inc. "Managers need to write down the biggest thing that can impact their operation the most and see who is best at that."
Still, while these management consoles do not yet offer a complete solution to all management problems, they do provide a high-level view and make it considerably easier to manage a network.
"One of the biggest factors for the [NSM] leaders is integration between the products — seamless management rather than having to pull up a number of consoles," says Stephen Elliot, Senior Analyst at IDC (Framingham, MA). "This decreases the number of screens an admin needs to look at."
One Stop Storage Management
That same approach is now being applied to storage with the arrival of Storage Management Portals (SMPs). SMPs are designed to consolidate all storage management functions into a single console, regardless of architecture, manufacturer, or operating system. These portals provide an end-to-end view of the storage environment and all its elements.
Functions monitored by SMPs include backup, restoration, dynamic provisioning, replication, and utilization. While they do not necessarily perform all the actions themselves, they do integrate with the specific software tools that monitor and manage the individual pieces of equipment or processes. Computer Associates' BrightStor Portal and IntelliStorage's Enterprise Storage Portal (ESP) are a couple of good examples that go a long way towards storage simplification.
But a single view might have a downside; in fact, some believe it could even turn out to be a liability, particularly in large or fragmented IT organizations. Consider this: the IT Director doesn't want to be alerted on a single file that fails to backup properly, but does want to be notified when backup SLAs are not being met. Similarly, the storage administrator at the Berlin office doesn't need to know when a file server in Boston has an overloaded disk.
In other words, too much information can be as bad as too little. So if the SMP attempts to consolidate the entire storage environment into a single view, it could actually be worse than having to access each piece of storage management software individually.
Role-based Views in SMPs
For this reason, Computer Associates has revamped its BrightStor product line to offer role-based views of the storage information to provide administrators with only the information they need. Those at high-levels of the hierarchy can immediately access the data they need without being bogged down in the day-to-day details of storage administration.
At the same time, those doing the heavy lifting can configure the portal to provide them with the ability to track most of the tasks they are immediately responsible for on one screen. Additionally, CIOs, help desk personnel, financial officers, and corporate executives can create their own role-based views of the organization's storage resources.
"It's no longer good enough for management software to provide a single view," says IDC's Elliot. "You need to have multiple views into the information and to define it in terms of the business perspective."
Room for Improvement
It is important to note that the SMP area is far from mature, and care needs to be taken in selecting a product that really meets one's needs. Criteria to consider when evaluating a product include whether it can manage your firm's existing hardware, whether it offers an open architecture for supporting future third-party products, whether it can access the proprietary features that storage vendors have built into their products, and whether it supports mobile (i.e. laptops) as well as fixed assets.
Existing SMPs are unlikely to have all the features listed above, so you need to closely evaluate what the vendor does currently offer and whether using a storage portal will significantly simplify the management of your existing and future storage infrastructure. If not, it might be wise to wait a little while and allow the industry to mature and the products to sufficiently develop.
This feature originally appeared on Enterprise IT Planet.