As enterprise storage capacity continues to grow exponentially, storage is simultaneously spinning out of control in many corporations. The widespread utilization of multiple technologies, manufacturers, operating systems, and methods of connection means that without tools that operate across all these devices and platforms, many companies are struggling to understand exactly what they have and how to take full advantage of the dollars they have spent.
"With eBusiness-related storage requirements doubling annually, organizations are faced with three main challenges," says Bill North, Research Director for Storage Software at IDC. According to North, these challenges are: "building storage environments that can scale to meet demand, effectively managing these increasingly complex environments, and coping with ever-shrinking backup windows."
As companies purchase and install new capacity to cope with mushrooming demand, in most cases they do not use it efficiently. Consider utilization levels — mainframe storage utilization prides itself on eighty to ninety percent utilization, while it is not uncommon for distributed storage environments to achieve only thirty percent utilization. Overcapacity has become the norm, yet it masks a serious situation — a lack of real control when it comes to storage management.
In response, vendors have issued a plethora of proprietary management tools that are largely platform and vendor specific. If you exclusively use equipment from one vendor, life may not be that complicated, but in most enterprises, storage administrators are faced with a console-hopping existence — they have consoles specific to each operating system, hardware type, and manufacturer. The result is that many admins don't have the time to learn how to properly use each management tool, and so they end up struggling to cope with anything beyond backup and restore.
The complexity of SAN, NAS, and direct-attached systems from multiple vendors demands simplification. Fortunately, this is beginning to evolve in the form of a management layer that can operate independent of hardware and software. This trend makes it possible to bring everything storage related together in one single console, or storage management portal.
Storage portals are now beginning to appear on the market — IntelliStorage ESP and Computer Associates BrightStor Portal are a couple of examples. Such software is already being used by some companies to simplify operations, provide higher availability, and free up IT from storage-related drudgery.
These portals offer a multitude of features. They attempt to provide a single point of access for all storage management functions, including replication, utilization, backup, restoration, and library management. They work on a good portion, if not all, of the hardware that is already in place. By utilizing an open architecture, they can incorporate new storage innovations with relative ease.
At the same time, they are able to access the proprietary management features that most storage vendors build into their products. In addition, storage portals are typically able to cope with a heterogeneous environment. Regardless of which operating systems are in play, storage assets can still be managed centrally, with enterprise-wide consolidated storage reporting made possible, which means no more need for admins to screen hop in order to assemble data.