ITIL in Storage: Resistance is Futile

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The IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) is all the rage these days. Whether it’s a data center in rural Denmark, downtown Columbus, Ohio, or one belonging to a federal agency in Washington, D.C., you see the same thing — announcements on the notice board about the latest ITIL meetings and process refinements.

While ITIL is seemingly all-pervasive in IT in general, it hasn’t achieved nearly the same level of penetration in storage circles.

“You don’t hear much about ITIL in storage, yet they are an excellent mix,” said Andrew Reichman, an analyst at Forrester Research. “Storage represents the crown jewels of the enterprise, yet it is plagued by inconsistencies and is not well documented.”

He said the ire directed at vendors for their apparent failures may not be entirely justified. These vendors may have produced an excellent piece of equipment, yet they are still plagued by trouble. The reason, he believes, lies in a failure to organize things correctly due to the lack of consistent processes — and that’s what ITIL delivers.

“Storage administrators are not able to configure their environments consistently,” said Reichman. “ITIL nudges everyone onto the same page and documents it for consistency.”

ITIL 101

ITIL is a widely accepted approach to IT service management. It is a common misconception that ITIL is a standard. It is not. Organizations don’t become “ITIL Certified.” Instead, it is a framework of best practices and guidelines. What it provides is a systematic approach to the management of IT service provisioning.

ITIL can be divided into two main aspects:

  • Service Support for day-to-day operations. This includes service desk, incident management, problem management, configuration management, change management and release management.
  • Service Delivery provides a strategic look at future events so the organization is prepared for potential changes. This encompasses service level management, financial management, capacity management, continuity management and availability management.

While this is all very nice, what does it really have to do with storage? ITIL is all about the delivery of business services in an efficient manner. It’s impossible to achieve that without affecting storage.

“ITIL provides us with the guidance and structure to manage the data in a structured process, allowing us to manage exceptions in the environment,” says Robert Stroud, CA’s IT Service Management and IT Governance Evangelist. “These requirements are identified in service levels and underpinning contracts that link into the overall structure of the business services delivered.”

Putting that in more practical terms, he explained that business continuity requirements, for example, can be related more closely to storage elements such as the backup timetable, archiving timeframes and replication. By doing so, the services provided can be measured better, automated and monitored according to specific service levels.

Ronald Potter, a best practices manager at TeamQuest Corp., a capacity/performance management software vendor based in Clear Lake, Iowa, also sees value in the marriage of ITIL and storage. But he says that the problem with storage management today is that it tends to be a standalone process.

“The difficulty ITIL proponents have is the fact that most storage management vendors are marketing their products as storage management silos with touch points to ITIL structure,” said Potter. “However, the overarching principles of ITIL would tend to dictate that storage management would be integrated into the Service Delivery and Service Support processes.”

Standalone processes, he said, are susceptible to duplication of effort and reduced service quality due to miscommunication or lack of communication. Take the case of ITIL-based capacity management. The capacity folks are responsible for obtaining business requirements, translating them into technology requirements and estimating what will be required in the future across the enterprise. A standalone storage management process, though, would tend to duplicate a number of the steps that the capacity planners perform. Therefore, it would be efficient and less risky if those storage management duties were part of the overall capacity management process.

“Most storage managers are consumed with the day-to-day tasks that are keeping the trains running,” said Potter. “ITIL would change that by driving a more efficient use of resources.”

Forrester’s Reichman concurs. He feels that ITIL-based capacity management would go a long way to lift storage out of one of its time-honored failings — low utilization rates. Similarly, he thinks ITIL’s service level management discipline would add value.

“Every manager thinks their systems are mission critical,” said Reichman. “ITIL would define the criteria that dictate what data is placed in which tier within the storage hierarchy and how well that data is protected.”

Vendors On Board

While CA doesn’t specifically sell an “ITIL” product as such, it is integrating this framework into all elements of its software. The goal is to make it easy to link CA storage, security and management software into the ITIL camp and make it easier for organizations to embrace it. In fact, CA has a whole unit that deals directly with ITIL-related matters. It even conducts seminars inside companies to show them the value of ITIL.

Jeanette Cook, service level manager at Idaho National Laboratories (INL) in Idaho Falls, Idaho, attended one of CA’s Apollo 13 ITIL simulation role-playing games. These are designed to help organizations drive ITIL awareness by providing real-world scenarios. Teams learn about managing processes more effectively. Cook was so impressed that she brought CA onsite to deliver another such event to 20 staffers. She relates how processes such as incident management tend to become dispersed across multiple divisions and facilities. That makes it hard to see how well, or badly, that process is actually performing. By breaking the members into the various groups responsible for each aspect of incident management and then simulating an incident, they could clearly see where things were breaking down — and the value of having an agreed-upon process to accomplish incident resolution.

“We had an epiphany — we could observe the bottlenecks and take the right actions to tweak the processes to eliminate them,” said Cook. “That enabled everyone to see the value of ITIL and buy into the concept of a common language around ITIL.”

EMC is another major storage player that appears to be leveraging ITIL as a means of extending its reach. The cornerstones of this strategy are being built around its Smarts and nLayers acquisitions.

EMC Smarts was originally a network discovery, monitoring, and analysis software. It performs sophisticated analysis without the need for any rules because the model reflects the actual environment, so the analysis adapts to changes in the network. Continued development of the technology since its acquisition by EMC has extended this analysis capability beyond networks into storage, servers and applications.

nLayers, on the other hand, is an application dependency mapping product that is now marketed as EMC Smarts Application Discovery Manager (ADM). The most recent version of the software introduced deeper discovery of custom applications and a feature known as the Configuration Management Database (CMDB), which is central to long-term ITIL success.

“The plan for bringing these two technologies together is to lay the foundation for the resource management software business for EMC,” said Glenn O’Donnell, EMC principle product marketing manager for Resource Management Software. “The grander vision of EMC is far more than storage hardware, and resource management is key to executing on this vision.”

EMC Smarts ADM offers the ability to automatically identify how storage and other technology domains fit into the overall IT picture. It maps the interrelationships, so administrators in all corners of the organization can understand their role in the bigger picture. It automatically discovers the complex labyrinth of application relationships that bind the many infrastructure elements into business services.

Not a Magic Bullet

It would be nice if ITIL required a quick meeting, a couple of definitions and voila, sanity reigned throughout the storage world. But it isn’t that simple.

“Far from being a magic bullet, ITIL brings a context for conversation between disparate parties,” said Reichman. “Its biggest impact would probably be in change management. The simple fact of having a weekly change board would have instant benefits — stakeholders sitting together and discussing changes and their impacts.”

EMC’s O’Donnell admits that some in storage are resisting ITIL, though that resistance is dwindling. To his mind, anyone getting in the way of the ITIL juggernaut could be making a serious career goof.

“Deep expertise in storage or any domain will always be necessary, but that expertise must be augmented with a strong awareness of ITIL and IT Service Management,” he said. “Without this extra dimension to their skill sets, these experts will be automated into oblivion.”

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Drew Robb
Drew Robb
Drew Robb is a contributing writer for Datamation, Enterprise Storage Forum, eSecurity Planet, Channel Insider, and eWeek. He has been reporting on all areas of IT for more than 25 years. He has a degree from the University of Strathclyde UK (USUK), and lives in the Tampa Bay area of Florida.

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