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Managing a Tape Environment Is No Longer an Oxymoron

Managing the software and hardware components of an IT infrastructure, such as in a data center, has become an increasingly complex and difficult challenge. Yet meeting service levels and cost requirements revolves around the ability to manage efficiently (do things right) and effectively (do the right things).

Almost all vendors tout how well their software tools can help ease the burden of management. While that is desirable, simplified management is not the only answer to the complexity challenge. A more important question to consider is whether administrators have the necessary information and analytical capabilities to manage effectively -- if at all. For example, IBM just acquired Exeros to enable it to help customers automate and accelerate understanding of data and data relationships. The rationale that IBM expressed for the deal is, "You can't manage what you can't understand." That builds upon the age-old philosophy: "You can't manage what you can't measure."

Vendors are trying to fill in as many data center management gaps as possible, especially in an increasingly virtualized world where the focus is on creating a new generation of IT infrastructures. Storage vendors recognize this, as well. For example, NetApp bought Onaro to acquire SANscreen, an approach to extending data center automation to storage. EMC acquired WysDM for data-protection management capabilities that provides past, present and future insights into existing backup environments.

But what happens when the information that you need to manage is not actually available? For example, all the information that is needed to manage a storage area network (SAN) is not natively available. HBAs, switches and disks are all involved in SAN I/O, but it is not their job to collect that information. Adding in specific hardware devices to be able to collect SAN traffic data enables the ability to audit and report on data traffic and trends. A company called Virtual Instruments provides that capability, which can lead to quickly identifying performance problems and behavior anomalies, as well as being able to point out potential issues that are on the verge of exceeding "best practices" thresholds, and moreover, identify potential cost savings.

That is great for SANs, but what about the tape automation environment? Tape automation is not the most glamorous part of a data center (as a user never sees it directly), but it is a major part of its bread and butter. If a data center were a starship, Scotty would be very comfortable with the tape environment as part of his engineering responsibilities.

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