Point Product or Fancy Framework?

For this healthcare provider, the features from startup Akorri made it an easy choice

February 1, 2007

4 Min Read
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The storage architect at Boston's CareGroup Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center used to have a communications gap with his management. "CIOs gauge storage [value] based on utilization," says Michael Passe. "We engineer for performance." In his view, utilization of a SAN can be high or low, but response times and I/O operations per second (IOPS) tell the real story.

But until six months ago, Passe had no way to measure performance the way he wanted to. Midrange storage vendors, he says, don't offer the kinds of performance measurement and optimization tools that come with enterprise-level systems.

He had a few products that contributed information. His group uses Onaro software, for instance, for configuration and change management in the hospitals' 2-Gbit/s Fibre Channel SAN. But he wanted something more.

Then in August 2006, some former Onaro employees, including Tom Riddle, the former VP of business development at Onaro, approached Passe and this group on behalf of their startup, Akorri. (See Akorri.) They proposed to make CareGroup a beta site. To speed the process, they delivered a prototype Intel-based appliance with a hardened Linux kernel, equipped with the startup's BalancePoint software. Their claim: to measure performance across applications, storage, and servers.

"They take response time, queue depth, I/O generation, and other metrics and give us an index number to show how a host is performing," Passe says. They can also gauge memory and CPU utilization.Passe intends to use Akorri's product to determine which applications running on the hospitals' EMC Clariion CX600s and CX700s might be moved to a newly purchased CX380 for better performance. "I need to target which application may need more IOPS," he says.

CareGroup's SAN handles 100 Tbytes to 110 Tbytes of application data on behalf of roughly 100 hosts running under Windows, HP-UX, and Linux. The IT staff is in the process of migrating from 2- to 4-Gbit/s Fibre Channel and will also include some iSCSI connectivity later this year via interfaces added to the firm's Cisco switches, Passe says.

Passe accepted the beta appliance from Akorri, agreeing to pay for it if certain conditions of performance and functionality were met. (Akorri's product starts at $30,000, the startup says, though a typical configuration for a large enterprise is more in the $100,000-plus range.) So far, most of Passe's conditions have been met, though some remain pending. The next version, for instance, promised by Akorri for Q2, will have modeling, or the ability to determine how performance will be affected if more storage or another host are added to the network.

Will Passe replace Onaro? No, he says. "There isn't that much overlap." He's keeping Onaro SANscreen Foundation for configuration and change management on the SAN, even though Akorri will offer some of those capabilities.

Passe's choice reflects his interest in using point products instead of an overall framework. Onaro, for instance, does have performance software for SAN applications in the form of its Performance Insight product -- which Passe isn't using. Onaro also has a replication monitoring tool, in addition to its originally released configuration management package. (There's no information on whether Onaro tried to sell these other wares to Passe.) From Onaro's standpoint, Performance Insight competes with BalancePoint, and Onaro's "portfolio" works better than a performance product delivered by itself."If capacity planning isn't coupled with performance management, you won't be able to do the capacity planning... You need a portfolio of products that combine configuration, performance, and recoverability... and take an application-centered viewpoint," says Bryan Semple, Onaro's VP of marketing.

Other vendors are also pushing the framework approach. (See SRM Tests Willingness to Spend.) But Passe isn't ready for that. "EMC has been pushing me to look at Smarts," he says. "But it seems like this monolithic framework... I think you end up spending most of your time managing the product rather than managing the environment." For now, he prefers a few point products that do what he wants them to do over a framework he feels he'd have to babysit.

Not everyone would gamble on a startup. But there again, Passe sees advantages. He was already familiar with the founders of Akorri, which helped. And he likes having his problems made a priority. "We've been working through what we wanted to get from a product," he says. "And so far, we're getting a one- to two-week turnaround. Try calling EMC and asking for some new features and enhancements. I'd probably be still waiting."

Mary Jander, Site Editor, Byte and Switch

  • Akorri

  • EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC)

  • Onaro Inc.

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