Finding room to grow

There is little doubt anymore that storage-area networks will eventually be part of many agencies' data storage plans. But it's also clear that in the short term, the steep price and complexity associated with current SANs will cause foot-dragging by all but those with the most urgent new storage needs.

For those whose requirements are growing less dramatically, there is a way to wring more capacity out of existing systems: storage resource management (SRM) software.

Besides helping identify and tap underused storage capacity already sitting in their offices, SRM can give systems administrators a better handle on storage usage patterns and system performance. That can be valuable information when it comes to configuring current storage resources and planning new storage purchases.

"In general, installed disk storage is only about 50 percent utilized," said John Webster, senior analyst with the market research firm Illuminata Inc. "SRM is becoming popular because it helps find ways to utilize that unused capacity already out there."

SRM is available in a range of prices and forms — from software packages to specialized storage management appliances, such as SANnet Axis, introduced last month by Dot Hill Systems Corp.

Among the software products, a recent trend is to offer greater control of storage resources being used by specific applications, such as electronic messaging software and database systems.

For example, Computer Associates International Inc. two weeks ago rolled out the latest release of its BrightStor SRM (formerly known as CA-Vantage) software, which now integrates tightly with Microsoft Corp.'s Exchange Server messaging and collaboration platform.

In its basic form, most SRM software gives only a high-level, file-based view of storage usage. With the new BrightStor SRM 6.2, systems administrators can view and manage storage capacity being used by Exchange at a much more granular level — from servers to public/private folders, right down to a user's mailbox, which might be stuffed with hundreds of old e-mails or portly file attachments.

Greater visibility and control of a particular application's storage consumption improves an administrator's ability to track and allocate resources more effectively, according to John Kelly, group manager for product marketing in Sun Microsystems Inc.'s storage software group.

To this end, Sun last month introduced a new version of its SRM software, Sun HighGround SRM 5.0, which has added support for Oracle Corp. and Sybase Inc. database management systems.

"When you look at a database server from a file system point of view, it [doesn't] tell you much about utilization because all you'll see is a huge file," Kelly said. "With our new version of SRM, you can drill down into that database object and determine storage utilization [and] growth rates, and set thresholds to tell you when the file will fill up." Both Sun and Computer Associates count a number of federal agencies as SRM customers. In addition, the Social Security Administration is installing a suite of SRM products from BMC Software Inc. to help better manage storage connected to its Hitachi Data Systems mainframes. Because of the way the agency's mainframe software works, a program can call on additional datasets as needed and consume extra storage capacity in a way that is difficult for systems administrators to track and control.

"Without a means of automating this process, we had to manually go in and look at all the qualifiers [for applications], add up all the space they're using, and determine if it is justified and if we accounted for it with sufficient [storage] space," said Dennis Moore, chief of the multimedia storage management branch at SSA.

"We bought the [BMC] product to automate and track this," he said. "It gives us a warning when an application gets close to its allocated space. We also have the option to [take down] the application if it goes beyond its space. It should save our staff a lot of time."

The big picture

Storage resource management products can give a systems administrator a global view of his or her storage infrastructure by monitoring storage-related elements, such as servers, applications, disk arrays, tape drives, network- attached storage appliances and storage-area network switches.

SRM gives administrators a view of storage capacity usage, including trend and forecast information — in some cases down to the individual user level.

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