Can Storage Resource Management Solve Your Storage Needs?

Thursday Apr 17th 2003 by Leslie Wood
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Can Storage Resource Management Solve Your Storage Needs?

Over the years, storage resource management (SRM) has often been referred to as "top-to-bottom integration," as it has grown to not only include its ability to monitor and report on storage, but to manage the system itself, its applications, storage devices, and the efficient backup and recovery of data. In a nutshell, SRM has come a long way.

However, when it comes to SRM, the storage industry seems to be way ahead of storage customers -- while it is looking toward utility-class products, customers are getting a headache from competency deficiency, which is causing a huge gap between the two parties. So, how are we going to close this gap?

Robert Infantino, Astrum's founder and executive vice president of business development, believes that industry leaders can close this gap by providing a solution approach that helps customers implement all the features of the SRM applications. "Many SRM vendors have historically just mailed the CD to customers and wished them good luck," Infantino said. "With the wide range of features available in an enterprise-class SRM application, it's crucial that customers have expert assistance to implement this powerful functionality in a way that fits their existing storage management processes," he continued.

The million-dollar question: What is SRM, anyway?
Gartner Group defines SRM as "those products that provide data collection and automation agents to consolidate and operate on information from multiple platforms supporting storage management tools on multiple OS storage, and SAN devices." However, there have been many other definitions of SRM and this may be adding to the SRM headaches being experienced by customers.

According to Phil Treide, vice president of storage marketing for Computer Associates, Gartner's SRM definition is close to how his company defines the SRM solution area. He believes that some of the confusion may lie with the usage of the word "automation," which is a word that is being abstracted to a certain degree. "The essence of SRM solutions are as the provider of knowledge that provide storage administrators with the proper information, both real-time and historical, on storage assets and accompanying parameters [capacity usage, availability, allocation, application use of storage, and performance metrics] that exist within the storage landscape," he continued.

Karen Dutch, vice president of marketing at InterSan, believes that there is no single product today that provides the complete range of capabilities in Gartner's SRM definition. "This is why Gartner still breaks down SRM into three subsegments: provisioning, SAN management, and SRM," she says. However, Dutch believes that as the products mature, the lines between these subsegments will blur and disappear. "At that point, she says, there will be true enterprise class SRM products providing the full range of capabilities."

In a recent survey of conducted by Glasshouse Technologies concerning SRM, it was found that about 60 percent of the storage industry professionals surveyed never even heard of SRM? Maybe, this is yet another factor adding to the SRM headache.

Treide says that the lack of SRM awareness among users can be attributed to various factors, including:

  • Class of products in the early adoption phase of the technology life cycle
  • Confusion among end users about SR due to vendor's wild claims and inconsistent industry definitions and buzzwords
  • End user's focus is still inward towards other operational areas such as backup/recovery

"Better education and astute awareness of SRM and what it stands for can be clearly communicated across the storage industry through educational means -- SNIA task force or committees, accurate and well-defined articles on SRM and its capabilities, etc.," he says. "The more there are discussions of SRM in the open among all parties concerned, the better the quality of information will become," he added.

There are many issues driving the need for SRM. And, since information is a key asset for all organizations, the requirement to manage it efficiently and protect it is one of the most important of the bunch. According to Treide, some of the other issues driving the need for SRM include:
  • The need to effectively control total data storage costs, including operational as well as hardware costs
  • The requirement to improve overall efficiency of the storage infrastructure
  • The need for better manageability of storage and the other aspects of the IT landscape
  • The need to mitigate risk and data vulnerability to minimize storage-related disruptions to business process and data availability

Dutch believes that the factors driving the need for SRM are not new but boil down to three basic IT challenges: managing growth, reducing costs, and meeting application service levels. Dutch believes that to keep instep with exploding data growth, IT organizations must annually add TBs upon TBs of storage infrastructure.

However, she says, while the cost per MB continues to decrease, the total cost of managing (TCM) the storage increases as IT organizations must hire, train, and retain highly skilled personnel. "As a result, IT organizations are re-examining their management strategy and looking for software that enables them to more efficiently manager their storage environment," she says.

The key functionalities of SRM
Infantino believes that the key functionality of an SRM product is to provide all necessary information related to an organization's data storage, so that the organization can take automated, policy-based actions to effectively manage their data.

"The first step in this is to build a knowledge base of the attributes of the data that is spread across multiple operating systems, storage architectures, and geographic locations, and provide both enterprise data summaries and detail data reporting, as desired, to pinpoint where and why inefficiencies are occurring," he says.

Infantino also says that the benefit to the customer from these capabilities is that they can often identify 30 percent or more of their data that does not need to be on production storage, or part of the backup plan, due to being duplicate, stale, non-business related, etc. This, he says, provides an immediate cost savings in terms of disk and backup resources, and going forward, customers can use trending to view where growth is occurring, so they can either take immediate measures to limit it or plan more accurately for their future storage needs.

Dutch says that the key functions of SRM include the discovery of devices, file systems and paths. This, she says, automates inventory/asset management so it is always current and accurate. "Path discovery correlates logical us to physical devices," she says. Another key function, according to Dutch, is physical and logical topology maps. This function, she says, automates topology rendering and visualizes how business applications and lines of business are consuming storage resources.

Another key function of SRM is health monitoring and event management. Dutch says this improves time to recovery following a device failure or degradation. Dutch goes on to point out that application impact analysis is yet another key SRM function because it automatically relates device problems to the impact on the business applications to improve application availability and prioritization of device problem resolution. And she also lists charge back as a key function because she says it enables the IT department to accurately bill for storage resource consumption based on QoS and service levels. And, finally she says that reporting is also a major function of SRM as it improves planning and forecasting activities and eliminates manually maintained spreadsheets.

Infantino says that both agent-based and agent-less approaches have a place in SRM deployments. He says that in some environments, such as NAS, placing an agent on the NAS device violates NAS vendor software license agreements, so agent-less capabilities are a requirement.

In other situations, such as on file servers, agents are more common, he continued. "The key feature set that customers should investigate is an architecture that supports both. Customers will want to ensure that agents have a low impact on CPU resources, are schedule-driven, and can execute multiple capabilities," he says.

Infantino also says that having multiple levels of access control is critical. "An enterprise SRM product will inevitably be used by a range of people, including different groups of administrators (mail, database, different operating systems), their managers, and even business users (CFO, business unit heads, etc.) who may be interested in charge-back or capacity planning issues," he says. "What is most important, though, is that any logical or physical SRM product customers evaluate have both an API and a CLI, so that it can leverage functionality from other storage management applications that it does not offer natively," Infantino says. "In today's market, SRM vendors typically provide either logical or physical SRM feature sets with very little overlap; therefore, it's crucial to make sure that any products you implement will be able to interoperate with one another."

Treide believes that customers should look at the SRM product strategy from the perspective of the end user's needs and requirements, and not on what is the "latest and greatest" technology. "As all storage environments are different down to the last details, it is crucial that end users look at the tools that best fit the problems at hand, while keeping the overall scheme of things in mind. This will allow them to best evaluate how SRM solutions play with all the other components in the various facets of storage management in order to determine how SRM can help to alleviate storage problems," he says.

SRM solutions
One storage analyst stated that when it came to SRM, customers weren't the problem -- the problem is with the SRM vendors who he felt had not done a very good job of defining the term in the first place. "Any time 60% of customers aren't familiar with a certain kind of software, some responsibility certainly lies with the vendors," Infantino says. "Vendors need to do a much better job of using actual customer examples to demonstrate how adopting active SRM solutions now can result in huge cost savings down the road, through avoiding unplanned downtime, last-minute scrambles to add new storage, and wasted staff time."

Dutch says that given that capabilities between SRM products and classic SRM to Storage Area Management (SAM), she would recommend that customers first define what problems they are trying to solve. "If the problem is finding out how used files or MP3 files got on the server in the first place, I would suggest a classic SRM solution," she says. "If the customer has a rapidly growing SAN environment and wants to automate the storage operations associated with managing and reporting on the SAN, I would suggest a SAM product."

The bottom line when it comes to SRM, concluded Treide, is for end users to complete the necessary due diligence in order to discern the benefits of SRM to their organization. This will ensure that only the solutions that fully meet their needs, have the viability to continue to do so in the future, and provide tangible business value are considered for implementation in their organization.


» See All Articles by Columnist Leslie Wood


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