Detours on the Road to Utopia

Detours on the Road to Utopia Storage management tools are continuing to improve - but they're not there yet

October 25, 2004

4 Min Read
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In travel, getting there is supposedly half the fun. But that's probably not a sentiment shared by storage managers who've been looking for a direct route to complete and comprehensive help in overseeing all of their organization's storage resources.

There's no doubt that storage management tools continue to improve. Today's emerging class of integrated SRM and SAN management suites deliver concrete improvements in storage environments compared with just a couple of years ago notably, by offering more unified control of devices, more sophisticated knowledge of utilization, and more automation of complicated tasks.

But the road to storage management utopia remains long, winding, and full of potholes. The biggest hazards continue to center on limited ability of integrated storage management platforms to deliver consistent control over any and all storage devices from any and all manufacturers.

Emerging management products that deliver a wider array of feature sets and device management capabilities are coming closer to providing a complete framework for storage management, but they aren't there yet. As a result, customers still need to ask many basic questions and carefully consider product differences before committing to a management system.

That's the key conclusion from this month's Byte and Switch Insider report, Integrated Storage Management: Closer, but No Cigar. The report explores the various characteristics of integrated storage management products, from their functionality all the way to pricing and total cost of ownership issues. Storage managers, vendors, and industry experts interviewed for the report say these products are starting to deliver on their promises, but realizing those promises still takes serious work.Where to begin?

Let's try definitions. For starters, players can't even agree on basic taxonomy: Some define SRM as the big bucket that holds SAN/device management and capacity management; others insist that device-centric SAN management is a separate but parallel category to SRM. As a result, even a simple issue like determining exactly what an SRM or SAN management product does requires further questions to find out exactly what vendors mean by their labels.

That brings us to features. As is typical with emerging products, integrated storage management systems don't have clearly defined universal feature sets. Many products offer provisioning tools, but some don't. Many don't include application-specific monitoring modules, while some do. However, seeing a check mark next to a buzzword only tells part of the story here. Check under the hood, and you'll notice that certain features only go so far.

Take provisioning, for example: Some management suites analyzed in this month's report purport to tackle the entire process of assigning new storage, from host alerts to LUN (logical unit) masking. Others simply recognize the need for more storage and launch another management interface to deal with LUNs.

Nevertheless, sorting through feature sets and capabilities may actually be the easiest part of evaluating integrated storage management suites; issues surrounding the makes and models of devices supported increase the challenge dramatically. Sure, a given suite can detect device failures and intelligently reroute SAN traffic, but which vendors' devices are supported? Which models? Which drivers must be present for the feature to work properly? To raise the bar even higher, different makes and models often receive different levels of support, depending on the vendors involved.All of these questions will continue to loom until standards mature and become more widely adopted. That's not likely to happen very soon – the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA)'s Storage Management Interface Specification (SMI-S) is still in its infancy, and industry insiders expect it to take at least another year to have a meaningful impact on standardization efforts.

It's clear that the storage management industry is moving closer to meeting the needs of their customers for comprehensive, seamless management environments. For example, the reporting features of SRM products can be a powerful tool in managing capacity usage and, ultimately, budgets.

"Right now, no real reporting is being done [for storage] at most IT departments," says Stephen Foskett, director of strategy services at storage consultant GlassHouse Technologies Inc. "It's being done manually with spreadsheets. Microsoft Excel-based SRM, as we like to call it, is probably the number-one product." In the next breath, though, he warns enterprises to brace themselves for the effort it takes to customize canned SRM reports to their liking.

Although this requirement applies to most products in this space, it illustrates a bigger theme: When it comes to SRM and SAN management suites, knowing where you want to go is easy. At this point, however, getting from here to there is a journey into the mostly unknown.

— Brett Mendel, Senior Analyst, Byte and Switch InsiderIntegrated Storage Management: Closer, but No Cigar is available as part of an annual subscription (12 monthly issues) to Byte and Switch Insider

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