Today, more than ever, business applications are dependent on data from the corporate storage infrastructure. This means that storage administrators are faced with the challenge of availability requirements that leave no room for error.
Storage provisioning offers storage administrators a framework for managing ever more complex enterprise storage environments. Gartner predicts that by 2006, storage provisioning products will be incorporated into real-time infrastructure (RTI) products.
Some analysts define RTI as an IT infrastructure shared across multiple customers, business units or applications, where business policies and service-level agreements drive dynamic and automatic optimization of the IT infrastructure, thus reducing costs while increasing agility and quality of service. Others refer to this approach as a utility computing infrastructure.
One of the leading markets for RTI implementations is the service provider industry. Gartner says that market is changing from dedicating equipment to each customer and charging per piece of equipment to offering "virtualized" or "utility computing" services that are priced based on usage. Gartner analysts predict that storage providers that do not build application- or utility-based functionality will not grow and will risk becoming extinct.
"Without simple and efficient storage provisioning, service providers will not survive the brutal shakedown that will occur in the storage industry," predicts David Scott, president and CEO of 3PAR, which specializes in utility storage.
"Companies are implementing architectures and product strategies that will allow them to build out IT infrastructures for their increasingly dynamic business environments," says Doug Ingraham, senior director of SAN switching at CNT.
Ingraham says the first phase of incorporating storage provisioning products into RTI products is already underway. "As with any product incorporation, the integration will be tighter and more full-featured in subsequent years, ensuring that provisioning will be an integral part of RTI products," he says.
Not everyone shares that view. Assaf Levy, vice president of Onaro, which specializes in change management for SANs, says that by 2006, storage provisioning will either be device-specific or part of storage resource management (SRM) products and integrated with storage change management solutions. This will enable the validation of provisioning requests before execution, ensuring the correct execution by the provisioning products, he says.
Virtualization Still Evolving
Virtualization is another technology that users are looking toward to manage their storage infrastructures.
Virtualization involves the consolidation of all storage resources into a virtual storage pool so that when an application requires storage, the storage manager can allocate capacity from the pool. Since the resources allocated to an application can be increased or decreased at will, there is no need to over-allocate storage.
One knock on storage virtualization is that it may not improve storage utilization, at least not yet.
Levy says that since most IT shops use virtualization for very limited tasks such as replication and backup, those uses will not improve utilization. "Only IT shops that automate currently manual processes such as monitoring, troubleshooting and planning by using process and change management solutions will gain enough control to start utilizing virtualization to create storage pools, tiered storage, and enable dramatic utilization improvements," he says.
Scott says doubts about storage virtualization's ability to improve storage efficiency are restricted to network-based storage. Utility storage is an exception, he says.
"When many industry analysts refer to storage virtualization, they are referring primarily to heterogeneous network-based storage virtualization products," Scott says. "With this approach, there are two inhibitors to improving storage efficiency."
The first, Scott believes, is limited support for functionality that can improve storage efficiency. When looking at functionality, most products go no further than providing simple pooling and copying functions, he says.
The second inhibitor, he says, is that the complexity of deploying network-based storage virtualization reduces the likelihood of it being used broadly by customers. That limitation, he says, comes from constructing a "solution" out of many extra layers of hardware and software, possibly from different vendors, each with different management and error diagnostics.
"This complexity makes network-based storage virtualization very brittle and susceptible to significant management and general administrative overhead, as well as creating risks to data availability and data integrity," he says.
Ingraham says storage virtualization allows more flexibility in provisioning storage as needed among multiple applications, providing an incremental improvement over provisioning storage based on estimates of each application's requirements. However, he says, this benefit pales in comparison to the improvement in storage utilization as a result of tiered storage — utilizing virtualization and replication to select the most appropriate storage for each application and stage in the data lifecycle.
The Future of SAN Management
Some industry analysts predict that by 2006, SAN management functions will be embedded as part of storage element managers and storage resource management tools.
"Everyone seeks to continually add value to their products," says Ingraham, "and as vendors add more and more software capabilities, the lines between which software product does what begin to blur."
Still, he says some products will be more effective at managing a particular storage or storage environment than others, so stand-alone products will continue to exist. "It is imperative that the customer understand their existing storage infrastructure and where they want to go in the future, as then, and only then, can the customer decide which of the various tools make sense for them," he says.
Ingraham believes that one area that is often overlooked is the management of an extended SAN, and the correlation between different protocols or management domains. He says that as customers move to tiered storage and information lifecycle management (ILM) environments, they will increasingly send data across different protocol domains (local FC SAN to IP WAN to the remote FC SAN, for example).
Levy says storage management functions do not have enough value to become a stand-alone tool. The top categories by 2006 will be storage change management and SRM, he predicts.
As corporate data continues to grow both in quantity and importance, storage management will continue to evolve as a critical part of IT infrastructures. We'll look more at the future of storage management in the next part of our Storage Outlook series.
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