E-Services grow storage resource management tools--for better or worse


When it comes to e-business, everyone from venerable blue chips to bedroom businesses now contribute to the increasing demands placed on storage and servers. Welcome to the new e-infrastructure. This article discusses the rapid growth and advancement of specialized e-services to meet enterprise storage needs.

Storage needs are growing and growing and...

Storage growth has turned into a running faucet. The Enterprise Storage Group, of Milford, Mass., reports that one of the oldest banks in the U.S. took 10 years to reach 75 terabytes of stored data. In contrast, data storage needs for dynamic dot-coms, such as Critical Path Software Inc., can mushroom to 50 terabytes in three months. Forrester Research, of Cambridge, Mass., reports that a Global 2500 company added an average of 15 terabytes of online storage in 1999 and would add an average of 150 terabytes by 2003.

Storage and servers are being pushed to the limit trying to comply with guaranteed 99.999% availability requirements. In 1999, eBay failed four times in December and E*Trade had daily outages in January. Meanwhile, the 8,000 Web sites hosted by Galaxy Internet Services, of Newton, Mass., took a Friday off in April because of a server problem.

Carl Howe, a research director at Forrester Research, says that a two-hour outage could mean a loss of $16,560 in revenues to a site doing about $1 million a day. He says that a two-hour outage could cost sites, including Intel.com, upwards to $550,000 loss in revenues, as well as a drop in stock prices.

Mushrooming e-services and SRM

Not-in-our-data-center mentality underscores the nature of how most organizations want to handle their e-servers and e-storage. To this end, a never-ending plethora of e-services have emerged to care for and profit from hosting everything from placard Web sites to online trading floors. Forrester Research forecasts that the market for outsourced Web servers will grow from $152 million in 1998 to $5.3 billion by 2003.

Organizations can select from an alphabet-soup of e-services: Internet service providers, Web hosting services, managed service providers, Net sourcers, application service providers, and storage service providers. Using a Web hosting service, an organization can provide its own servers or rent a fleet of them. An organization can manage the servers itself or have the Web hosting service do it. Conversely, an organization can manage its servers using software rented from an application service provider.

According Forrester's Howe, most of these e-IT infrastructures fall short because they are prone to "sporadic server crashes for no apparent reason, and operators don't understand how to resolve problems."

How do e-services manage server availability, storage growth, and capacity optimization? Combined, these three areas comprise more than 50% of storage resource management (SRM) time, according to Strategic Research Corp., of Santa Barbara. John Webster, a storage analyst at Illuminata in Nashua, N.H., says, "These e-services have had to home-grow SRM tools or to patch together a polyglot of point solutions. The integrated SRM products they need aren't available."

Meanwhile, Michael Adams, a storage analyst at Giga Information Group, of Cambridge, Mass., raises two key questions: "What are these home-grown SRM products? How will they hold up?" After all, organizations sign contracts (including service level agreements) with e-services based on server availability and specific storage amounts, and expect to get accurate reports about these features.

Finding the right tools if you know where to look

Some organizations prefer to collocate or to rent floor space for their servers at a collocated Web hosting service or an Internet service provider. Likewise, organizations also prefer to administrate their own servers, storage, and applications. Usually, the collocated service provider maintains the physical hardware, as well as routers and communications lines. To this end, customers either have the SRM tools they need or they don't.

If Vienna, Va.-based Cable & Wireless USA's collocation customers want to know how quickly their drives are filling up, Tony Vittoria, a systems administrator at Cable & Wireless's Reston, Va., site, can quickly run a variety of reports using W. Quinn's DiskAdvisor, a product the in-house IT department uses. The reports allow customers to pinpoint the files causing the growth and also to select files that could be deleted. Vittoria says he runs the report free as a courtesy to customers. He says that some customers may not be aware of third-party products such as DiskAdvisor.

Unlike traditional Web hosting services, Rackspace, a startup in San Antonio, Texas, enables mostly small and midsize organizations to rent custom-built and configured Linux servers. Customers manage their servers and storage, at least for now. Richard Yoo, Rackspace's chief technology officer, says, "Since we don't have administrative access to the servers, we can't always guarantee uptime, especially if the customer does something to bring it down."

On the other hand, Yoo says that when a server gets to about 150GB, some customers become concerned about disk crashes and losing data. He says, "We're trying to figure out where our customers want to draw the line with administrative control." Yoo says that Rackspace plans to move to brandname hardware offering better SRM capabilities.

Moving the data center to a Fort Knox

The big e's of the e-world have chosen to go with the big e of data centers: Exodus Communications Inc. Within less than three years, Exodus, based in Santa Clara, Calif., has become the largest provider of worldwide e-business data centers with the security of Fort Knox. Organizations such as eBay, Merrill Lynch, and Microsoft host their servers at one of the 30 worldwide Exodus data centers. Prabakar Sundarrajan, vice president of research and development at Exodus, says, "You might say Exodus plays host to most of the important business traffic going over the Internet." Exodus, however, has gone beyond Web hosting to offer managed networking services such as HeadsUp, which allows customers to get real-time critical server metrics remotely. Exodus acquired ServiceMetrics, a provider of end-to-end Web site performance measurement applications.

Not all of Exodus's customers feel comfortable managing their servers with tools from Exodus. First Notice Systems, of Boston, Mass., which acts as a call center for about 35 insurance companies, has some of its Windows NT servers at an Exodus data center in Waltham, Mass. A First Notice Systems' IT professional, who does not want his name mentioned, says he has been looking around for tools, mostly point solutions, that will contact his servers and let him know if they are up or down and if specific services are running.

Marrying the data center with the rest of the family

Net sourcers take the data center concept and Web hosting one step further. Organizations such as Intira and GlobalCenter offer a complete IT infrastructure, including data centers with server and storage hardware, switching equipment, and IT personnel and tools (even spare parts) to manage every aspect of the infrastructure. Organizations just have to load their application and run.

Based in Pleasanton, Calif., Intira, which has three U.S. data centers, built its business for Fortune 1000 organizations looking to place their e-business in a one-stop IT shop. Storage hardware is based on a Noah's ark of two or three of everything--EMC, HP, IBM, and Sun.

For servers and storage, John Steensen, chief technology officer at Intira, says Intira has built an extensive, real-time system (layered over Hewlett-Packard's OpenView) that monitors 400 data points so customers can be assured of server availability and adequate storage capacity. If a customer's storage exceeds a threshold, then Intira carries out the customer's escalation procedures for allocating more space through load balancing. He says, "We built because there weren't any management suites that went from the bottom of the network to the top." Intira offers its customers a single service level agreement (SLA) based on accessibility. Steensen says, "Our top SLA is 99.95."

In contrast to Intira, GlobalCenter, of Sunnyvale, Calif., has built its IT infrastructure through buying brandname network and storage management tools (from Veritas, for example), or partnering with third-party services. For example, GlobalCenter offers EMC storage from StorageNetworks, a storage service provider, of Waltham, Mass. Jason Schaeffer, Global Center's director of systems and infrastructure, says, "Because server capacity is set so very low, we haven't had to juggle storage capacity on any server."

He says, "Developing management suites doesn't make sense especially if it's not your core competency. By selecting the best-of-breed tools, we know we can provide customers with a certain service-agreement level for each component in our IT infrastructure." GlobalCenter's service level agreement for storage calls for 99.999 per uptime service, according to Schaeffer.

Looking at the road ahead

The requirements for managing server availability, and storage growth and capacity optimization won't go away as Web hosting services move to storage area networks, or Net sourcers lease EMC Symmetrix e-storage space from storage service providers, such as StorageNetworks. Adams of Giga says the e-services need integrated SRM tools that address the overall lifecycle of data management--from allocating storage capacity to tracking archive media to a vault. He says, "Until these types of SRM tools appear, the e-services will continue to build, to buy, or to rent, layering one SRM tool on top of the other." SRM could turn into an e-club sandwich.


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