Managing Storage Software

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Storage customers planning large storage management software implementations are faced with a number of issues. For starters, since storage management software is designed to spot underused capacity and get it to where it’s most needed, storage users need to know how a storage product will fit into their applications and processes.

Topping the list is how storage manage software fits into an information lifecycle management (ILM) strategy. The first step, industry experts say, is understanding the content to be stored.

Tom Clark, director of solutions and technology for McData, says a hierarchical storage management (HSM) infrastructure with different classes of storage containers, delivery, quality of service and security are necessary for ILM, but customers still need to identify the business value of their data before decisions can be made about where it should be stored.

“This requires a much closer understanding of the business application and the data it generates,” says Clark. “Manipulating file metadata, monitoring frequency of access, tagging data, etc., are really application-specific tools required to identify business value. Once that determination has been made, the data can be passed to the appropriate policy-based mechanisms within the hierarchical SAN.”

John Meyer, senior solutions architect for Dimension Data North America, says the biggest challenge storage customers face today is understanding what unstructured data exists within their environment and how to develop policies and procedures for managing it. Meyer says there are tools available that can identify characteristics of the data, such as age, format and file size.

“The challenge occurs when IT is asked to place business value on that data and to apply business policies in managing that data,” says Meyer. “A majority of customers with whom I work are waiting on the business to make decisions on what to do with this data so they can then utilize the SRM tools and products available to them.”

Meyer says e-mail archiving seems to be one of the solutions that IT has enough business requirements on to begin moving forward with ILM solutions.

Still others look at ILM as more than a tool kit; it’s a way of thinking about data and its management.

Stephen Harding, director of marketing at Tek-Tools, says ILM involves managing data throughout its useful life. As its usefulness changes, so should the way it’s stored and managed. At their best, ILM strategies function to move data from one storage platform to another based on how the data is used, the costs of the various types of available storage, and performance.

“Functions like file analysis and data classification are key to any ILM initiative, and data must be groomed throughout its useful life,” says Harding. “ILM strategies can certainly function without content management and still offer value to organizations. The idea of content management is a complicated one because most stored data lacks adherence to any set of conventions, making managing the content a difficult at best task, and requiring tools that can complement the data classification and file analysis features of SRM products.”

Compliance Plays a Role

Regulatory compliance also has a role in storage management, particularly with storage and backup reporting.

“Compliance, at its most fundamental level, is about ensuring that data is secure, and security here means accessible to the right people and recoverable in the event of a data loss,” says Harding. “It’s not terribly complicated, but it does require that organizations be able to groom their data, establish policies for data protection that can then be followed.”

Storage management and reporting performs these functions. Harding says there is no single way of providing compliance solutions for every organization, but a good storage and backup reporting solution performs the necessary functions for compliance and should be customizable to specific needs of an organization.

Some storage vendors are trying to ride the wave of compliance by claiming that their products are compliance solutions, says Clark. He says the onus should be on vendors to show how their solutions will help customers with compliance issues.

“Not all types of business data falls under regulatory compliance, so vendor solutions should be tailored to specific business applications that do fall under compliance,” says Clark. “These more sophisticated storage solutions come at a premium, and customers will no doubt do considerable due diligence to ensure that the proposed products actually help.”

Others believe that compliance may drive a segment of growth, but not the whole market. “Most storage data is not subject to regulatory oversight,” says Brian Biles, co-founder and vice president of Data Domain.

Most solutions that customers implement in support of compliance objectives are comprised of multiple vendor products, says Meyer.

“Rarely is one vendor’s solution implemented to cover all aspects of compliance,” Meyer says. “Vendors are positioning their products as components of a broader solution that enable customers to implement compliance within their organizations.”

Meyer says different vertical markets have prioritized compliance according to the regulatory requirements they face, such as access, retention and protection.

Device Resource Management Improves

Some industry experts say device resource management (DRM) offerings will continue to improve, expanding to include a wider set of vendor devices. DRM vendors are also expected to package their products with storage resource management (SRM) tools to encourage customers to buy a wider portfolio of offerings.

Meyer agrees that product vendors want to capture both the device and storage resource markets with single solutions. “The challenge has been accomplishing this objective across a multi-vendor and multi-platform environment,” he says. “Customers reducing the number of vendors in their data center will be better candidates for this type of an approach.”

Harding believes that there is a trend toward offering consolidated packages of features that include both DRM and SRM capabilities, but he adds that they won’t necessarily cease to be standalone products.

“Device management that allows standardized views into storage devices, including tape, disk, switches and host bus adapters, goes hand-in-hand with storage management features that look into the server environment, databases, e-mail, file systems and other applications,” Harding says.

Many SRM products already include backup management, Harding says: “Device management is a logical next step. This trend may continue to develop as the Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S) is adopted more and more by device and management vendors.”

Clark says device and resource management should be written to industry standards such as SMI-S so that customers have the flexibility to use whatever upper layer management framework they want to manage data transport and placement. The hope is that SMI-S will help make storage software more interoperable across hardware platforms while driving innovation, as developers spend less time on custom interfaces.

For more storage features, visit Enterprise Storage Forum Special Reports

Leslie Wood
Leslie Wood
Leslie. Wood is an Enterprise Storage Forum contributor.

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