Regaining Control of Storage Management

As enterprise storage capacity continues to grow exponentially, storage is simultaneously spinning out of control in many corporations. The widespread utilization of multiple technologies, manufacturers, operating systems, and methods of connection means that without tools that operate across all these devices and platforms, many companies are struggling to understand exactly what they have and how to take full advantage of the dollars they have spent.

“With eBusiness-related storage requirements doubling annually, organizations are faced with three main challenges,” says Bill North, Research Director for Storage Software at IDC. According to North, these challenges are: “building storage environments that can scale to meet demand, effectively managing these increasingly complex environments, and coping with ever-shrinking backup windows.”

As companies purchase and install new capacity to cope with mushrooming demand, in most cases they do not use it efficiently. Consider utilization levels — mainframe storage utilization prides itself on eighty to ninety percent utilization, while it is not uncommon for distributed storage environments to achieve only thirty percent utilization. Overcapacity has become the norm, yet it masks a serious situation — a lack of real control when it comes to storage management.

In response, vendors have issued a plethora of proprietary management tools that are largely platform and vendor specific. If you exclusively use equipment from one vendor, life may not be that complicated, but in most enterprises, storage administrators are faced with a console-hopping existence — they have consoles specific to each operating system, hardware type, and manufacturer. The result is that many admins don’t have the time to learn how to properly use each management tool, and so they end up struggling to cope with anything beyond backup and restore.

The complexity of SAN, NAS, and direct-attached systems from multiple vendors demands simplification. Fortunately, this is beginning to evolve in the form of a management layer that can operate independent of hardware and software. This trend makes it possible to bring everything storage related together in one single console, or storage management portal.

Storage portals are now beginning to appear on the market — IntelliStorage ESP and Computer Associates BrightStor Portal are a couple of examples. Such software is already being used by some companies to simplify operations, provide higher availability, and free up IT from storage-related drudgery.

These portals offer a multitude of features. They attempt to provide a single point of access for all storage management functions, including replication, utilization, backup, restoration, and library management. They work on a good portion, if not all, of the hardware that is already in place. By utilizing an open architecture, they can incorporate new storage innovations with relative ease.

At the same time, they are able to access the proprietary management features that most storage vendors build into their products. In addition, storage portals are typically able to cope with a heterogeneous environment. Regardless of which operating systems are in play, storage assets can still be managed centrally, with enterprise-wide consolidated storage reporting made possible, which means no more need for admins to screen hop in order to assemble data.

Page 2: Baby Step

Baby Step

While the trend towards storage portals is a welcome one, there is still a long way to go if organizations are to regain full control of their storage resources. What is needed is complete automation of storage functions. Storage management vendors are working on this, but solutions are not yet available.

According to IDC’s North, “Key areas of dynamic provisioning and operational workflow will provide order to storage chaos.”

Workflow engines make it possible to automate the many tasks necessary to manage storage. Each individual step in a complex task is captured and recorded by the workflow engine.

This technology is augmented by defining the best practices for specific tasks so that operators can tell the portal what to do and then have the software take care of the tasks automatically. Many aspects of the mundane and time-consuming aspects of backup/restore, for example, will soon be able to be programmed automatically.

Another intriguing advance is dynamic provisioning, which ensures that storage capacity is always available. Take the example of adding new storage to a SAN. This typically requires extensive operational procedures and a large amount of time to install, configure, and change the storage applications, devices, and products.

The goal of dynamic provisioning is to take care of all this without operator involvement. It will automatically discover new storage capacity, configure it appropriately, and move data accordingly without the administrator having to involve himself or herself in the details of where the capacity is physically located or its low-level configuration.

Eventually, these features will be incorporated into existing storage portals. While that probably won’t mean plug-and-play storage than a child could manage, it is at the very least a step toward the establishment of a layer of enterprise storage automation — a step that represents greater freedom from the constraints of the storage features of a particular vendor, as well as the hope of relief from the complexity of the many competing storage systems.

This feature originally appeared on Enterprise IT Planet.


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Drew Robb

Drew Robb
Drew Robb
Drew Robb has been a full-time professional writer and editor for more than twenty years. He currently works freelance for a number of IT publications, including eSecurity Planet and CIO Insight. He is also the editor-in-chief of an international engineering magazine.
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