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Information Strategist: Baby-Sitting Storage

A client called me a few weeks ago to discuss a decision he was confronting: whether to buy a large storage array or hire another staffer in his administration group. I gave him a pat answer, "If you buy another array, you are going to need at least one more staffer to baby-sit it."

The client, like most companies today, has a heterogeneous storage environment--equipment from name-brand vendors, plus a lot of white-box arrays bolted into racks in his data center. His company, like many, has no wraparound SRM (storage resource management) system to manage his storage environment holistically--mostly because he bought into the claims of each vendor that its built-in storage-management tools were all he needed.

The truth is a very different matter. To manage and maintain his NAS gear, he now needs to "surf the Web"--open and close the self-articulated Web pages on each box to obtain status and capacity details. The bigger shared arrays have their own point-management utilities--some Web-accessible, others requiring the use of a management console. The white boxes are managed using utilities loaded on various application servers.

Immersion Center


In short, his storage management is a mess. He sought to resolve the situation last year by buying new gear from a vendor that claimed its management software, for which he paid $80,000, would manage everything in his shop. He discovered that it didn't even give an accurate accounting of the capacity allocation on the vendor's own high-end Fibre Channel box, let alone visibility into or control over the lower-cost SATA arrays from the same vendor that comprise his archive repository.

I've spoken with those responsible for storage administration and heard war stories about being awakened in the middle of the night by frustrated users or automated pings from applications that had encountered "disk full" errors. One admin told me the only way he could control allocation was to fill disks with copies of AOL CDs, then delete a CD image to free up space when needed--a sort of counterintuitive approach to capacity management, but it works for him.

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