Keeping up with storage demands

It's hard to imagine exactly what experts mean when they say that the average large agency nearly doubles the amount of data it creates every year, unless you're the lucky person who has to figure out where to store all that new information.

Storage provisioning, as it's called, is the time-consuming, labor-intensive and largely thankless chore of setting up new space for the data, but it's one that might get much easier thanks to a wave of new storage resource management (SRM) software tools hitting the market.

Software from EMC Corp. and Veritas Software Corp., as well as forthcoming products from Computer Associates International Inc. (CA), Hewlett-Packard Co. and others, promises to help automate the storage-provisioning process, saving staff considerable time and making sure that unused capacity on expensive storage devices is not wasted.

"If you ask [storage administrators] what they want help with, provisioning is always one of the first things that comes up," said Robert Passmore, a research director at Gartner Inc.

The ultimate goal is to fully automate the provisioning process, so that the software can track application and system usage patterns, then dole out storage space as needed according to operational priorities such as percent of disk utilization, system availability and relative cost of storage. However, this current wave of products, while promising, is only a first step, Passmore said.

The foundation for automated provisioning capability has been around for several years in the form of SRM software. Until now, SRM software has generally provided more passive reporting capabilities, such as telling administrators how much disk space is available on a given system or how much space has been allocated to a certain software application or database.

The second stage of SRM development — still with much unfinished business, Passmore said — has focused on broadening the range of other vendors' storage equipment and software applications the management tools can monitor. That move has been an especially valuable enhancement now that users increasingly deploy storage on dedicated networks independent of computer servers and mix storage devices from different manufacturers in one environment (see box).

Vendors are working on the next task of automated provisioning and trying to allow more proactive management of storage resources based on business policies. In about a month, EMC will begin shipping a software product called the Automated Resource Manager (ARM), the first foray into those capabilities. EMC officials believe that the provisioning component will be a big hit with storage administrators struggling to keep up with growing storage demands.

"Customers tell us that it can take days, if not a week or more, to provision new storage, requiring different steps at the [disk] array level, the storage network level, as well as the host level," said Barry Ader, manager for open software at EMC. "ARM will automate the manual tasks from end to end and bring the process down to a matter of minutes."

Policies that administrators set will guide how ARM carries out the provisioning, according to Ader. For example, mission-critical applications could be set with a policy group that requires storage devices with the most advanced high availability and disaster recovery capabilities, plus redundant paths to carry data between storage devices and servers.

For now, EMC's software product will work only with the company's own Symmetrix and CLARiiON storage systems and with HP's StorageWorks product line. Additional third-party storage support is being developed, according to EMC.

Support for third-party products is very important, especially in the government where owning a mishmash of storage devices is common, according to Larry Borkowski, chief of automation operations and plans at the Army National Guard, which is using a previous version of EMC's ControlCenter SRM software that does not support third- party products.

Third-party support "would give us a chance to take the other vendors' hardware we have, tie it in with our EMC arrays and allocate storage from this one piece of management software," he said.

Veritas' new entry in the policy-based SRM space is called SANPoint Control 3.5. (This release follows Version 2.1 of the product — there was no 3.0 release.) It also accommodates automated provisioning and lets administrators set up policy-based rules. It works in conjunction with the company's Foundation Suite file system and volume management software.

Pricing for SANPoint Control 3.5 starts at $20,000. Last month, HP laid out its plans for providing automated provisioning and other policy-based SRM tools, but products are not available yet.

CA also promises to provide automated provisioning capabilities in the future through its BrightStor Portal, which was recently introduced to the market and provides browser-based access to storage devices and applications.


Accommodating standards

A lot of the work that vendors do when they develop storage-management products involves accommodating storage devices and software from other companies.

The methods for integrating third-party products range from the cooperative exchange of application program interfaces (APIs) to the not-so-friendly reverse engineering of competitors' products.

However, one promising but still emerging standard called Bluefin may help the situation. This storage-specific standard is being developed by a group of leading vendors now working together through the Storage Networking Industry Association, as part of that group's Storage Management Initiative. Bluefin is a vendor-neutral API for discovering, monitoring and managing devices on a storage-area network.

SNIA members plan to complete the first version of Bluefin this year and start shipping compliant products in 2003. EMC Corp., Veritas Software Corp. and other vendors have pledged support for Bluefin, which should provide end users with an improved ability to manage mixed product environments.


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