By Alan R. Earls
Storage resource management (SRM) holds the promise of radically simplifying the life of storage administrators. Instead of complexity, disparate products, manual workarounds, and life lived within earshot of a pager, SRM promises to provide automated intelligence and an easy-to-use interface that will make storage operations painless and reliable.
That's the promise. The reality currently falls somewhat short of that vision. Some vendors are long on marketing hype and short on deliverables. Others have begun to offer workable products but have limited functionality in some areas.
Still, many users report that SRM software is simplifying storage management hassles, while reducing overall costs. One example is Reston, VA-based AdvanceMed, an application services provider for the outpatient healthcare market.
After evaluating a range of products, AdvanceMed chose SRM software from Fujitsu Softek. While the amount of their experience with the product is still measured in weeks, Ken Hutchins, director of technical services, is particularly impressed with the software's automation capabilities.
Hutchins explains that, using Fujitsu Softek's Storage Manager, he defines action sets for which he can then define rules for functions such as archiving. "You can then automate the actions you want taken," says Hutchins, "and you can access the reporting feature from anywhere on the Web."
Hutchins says his organization has been challenged by the large increases in storage capacity that new customers bring. For instance, he says that 20GB of raw customer storage can quickly become more than 300GB of data. Hutchins currently manages 11TB of storage. "We wanted to get ahead of the process, and that's why we obtained Storage Manager under a beta test program," he says.
The bottom line? "We immediately found 100GB that was wasted," says Hutchins. "It took only six minutes to identify, even though it involved 19 servers, which would have taken a week and a half without the [SRM] software." Later, the software helped to quickly identify another 430GB that was being mismanaged. "In total, we freed up about half a terabyte in about half an hour," he adds.
Understand your environment
Nancy Marrone, an analyst with the Enterprise Storage Group, in Milford, MA, says that SRM software is extremely useful for understanding how storage resources are really being utilized. An SRM tool enables IT personnel to understand what files are stored where, who they belong to, how long it has been since they were accessed and, most importantly in some cases, SRM allows administrators to determine what files are needed and which ones are not. "There are many testimonials of companies reclaiming terabytes of capacity that was filled with unnecessary data," says Marrone, "and SRM tools are also useful for controlling capacity utilization through soft and hard quota management."
Marrone says that most SRM solutions provide the same basic capabilities, although there are variations on feature sets, speed and method of data collection, and operating system support.
"We've talked to many large end users about storage, and the first thing we say to them is, 'Get an SRM tool, because right now you simply don't understand what you have,' " says Dennis Martin, an analyst with the Evaluator Group consulting firm, in Greenwood Village, CO. Martin says that most end users are relatively unaware of their storage resources and utilization. Thus, his advice is simply to start with any SRM tool, and "once you have a better idea about your resources, then decide what you want to do and begin to think about which SRM product actually is best for your needs."
Hudson's Bay Company, a large Canadian department store retailer, uses SRM products from BMC Software to manage its growing storage infrastructure. In the past two years, Hudson's has seen a 4000% growth in the amount of data it manages and its overall environment increase in complexity. To ensure the availability and perfor mance of its mission-critical financial and inventory management and replenishment applications, the company selected BMC's SRM software to gain greater control of its multi-platform storage systems, which include mainframe, AIX, and Windows NT servers.
Figure 1: Storage resource management includes a number of different functions, most of which revolve around improving capacity utilization.
"As is the trend with any IT infrastructure today, the amount of our stored data is not getting any smaller," says Laurence Whittaker, supervisor of enterprise storage management support services at Hudson's Bay Company. "This increase in stored data, along with the complexity and diversity of our storage environment, adds to the management challenges we face."
Hudson's Bay Company required an SRM solution to improve overall service to the company's end users. "SRM is a cornerstone for any storage management discipline," says Whittaker. "You cannot manage large pools of corporate data without mapping it out, visualizing it, and understanding how it's being used." Through BMC's Patrol Storage Network Manager (Patrol SNM), Hudson's has access to a user interface that enables centralized administration of storage devices and processes across its entire network. Additionally, Patrol SNM provides the company with a better understanding of its complex storage environment through an automatic device discovery feature and a graphical view of physical storage devices and their connectivity relationships.
Whittaker credits the SRM software with providing plenty of detail-down to the file level-but he observes that some SRM packages may include more functionality than some end users will need. "You have to know what you want," he cautions, "because all of the [SRM] functionality may not be appropriate all of the time.
"One of the features of Patrol SNM collects information about storage on an ongoing basis and lets you do predictive analysis," Whittaker continues. Another feature provides "exception-based" management, sending alerts-or pages-to an operator console when certain thresholds are reached. And while the setup was somewhat daunting, Whittaker says that BMC's representatives helped solve the problems and got him up and running. "It takes time," he says. "It isn't something you can just pop out of the box."
Preston T. Shirmeyer, a senior network systems analyst at Northern Trust Retirement Consulting, in Atlanta, tells a similar story. The company helps corporate clients such as Delta Airlines and Motorola evaluate and design retirement programs. Shirmeyer currently supports all business units-including the call center, sales, accounting, client teams, fulfillment, communications, human resources, office ser vices, and IT-with about 80 Windows 2000 servers and three Sun Solaris servers. The company currently has seven licenses for Precise W. Quinn's SRM 4.1 software and has been evaluating version 5.0.
"Reporting was limited in 4.1, and we may need to provide reports for management on a regular basis," says Shirmeyer. The new reporting function in version 5.0 is a complete rewrite, he says, with an interface that is similar to Windows 2000 and extensive drill-down capabilities.
Facing his own mountainous storage problems, Jeff Deaver, a storage administrator at Minnesota Life Insurance, chose Computer Associates' BrightStor SRM software. Deaver's responsibilities revolve around an IBM mainframe, two StorageTek 9500 SVAs with more than a terabyte each, and two STK Powderhorn tape silos with more than 11,000 tapes. One silo holds more than 40TB.
Deaver manages the storage pools, allocates new volumes when necessary, forecasts disk/tape growth and purchases, and does some R&D on new technology options for his organization.
The SRM software is mainly used as a reporting tool. "It has the ability to easily hash certain data in ways that other mainframe tools can't," Deaver says, "and it also has the ability to log and trend data, which is helpful for forecasting work. It can watch for events to happen, like an SMS pool filling up, and then take certain pre-programmed actions, like adding more volumes to the pool."
LeeRoy Hardeman, group vice president of development support at Source Medical, in Birmingham, AL, has had less exposure to his current SRM software-from Sun-than Deaver but having worked with other SRM products in previous positions, he feels comfortable assessing the merits of SRM tools.
Source Medical's goal is to economically service the information management needs for outpatient healthcare facilities and needed to provide customers with a "large company" IT infrastructure at a "small company" cost. Part of that cost factor is the 37TB of storage that Hardeman manages. The environment includes a Sun StorEdge 9960, StorEdge 9900 Resource Management Suite software, StorEdge Utilization Suite software, and Performance Suite software for resource and data management functions.
"We had an ideal situation," admits Hardeman, "because we were in a start-up situation so we could build from the ground up around best practices." That meant creating a scalable, clustered system with ample backup-and-recovery capabilities-all from one vendor-to simplify support and accountability issues.
Hardeman had previously worked in an environment with Sun servers, EMC disk arrays, and SRM software from Veritas. Now he is using Sun's storage management software with Veritas' archive and disaster-recovery software.
Since going live in February, Hardeman says there has only been one unscheduled outage. "We do periodic upgrades and resource adjustments, but it is all scheduled and very reliable," he says.
Another service provider wrestling with SRM is Omnicom Management Services, which provides personnel, business, and technology services to agencies affiliated with Omnicom Group Inc. The parent organization is a strategic holding company that manages a portfolio of advertising, marketing services, specialty communications, interactive/digital media, and media buying services companies.
Marcus Kwan, senior network administrator at Omnicom, explains that the management service model his business provides means handling back-office support functions for many of Omnicom Group's companies. Specifically, he operates a cluster of file servers and two storage area networks (SANs). The challenges of operating this shared infrastructure include ensuring files from each of the constituent companies are kept separate, secure, and backed up, and that costs and services are apportioned fairly (business units are charged for the number of gigabytes under management).
"Our files for audio, video, and other media are often very large," Kwan explains, "and a primary goal has been to avoid overuse of certain resources."
To that end, Omnicom adopted SRM software from Precise W. Quinn about 18 months ago. The software is used for monitoring and establishing restrictions on the home directories assigned to users. "We've been able to use [the SRM software] to show old files that aren't being used and which files are being used most frequently," Kwan explains.
"One reason SRM has not taken off more rapidly is that users don't really understand what information is buried in the data they collect and how to use the SRM tools proactively," says the Enterprise Storage Group's Marrone. "We believe there should be professional services, or training classes, to go with the sale of an SRM solution so that users can fully take advantage of the capabilities."
Minnesota Life's Deaver enthuses about the training he got from CA: "We went through a Web-based class on the product that covered all the basics. It was a good class and the Web made it affordable since we didn't have to travel."
Likewise, AdvanceMed's Hutchins commends the training he got from Fujitsu Softek's engineers. "They educated us on-site while we were using the software and prepared a training guide geared toward our network. It was a very customized solution."
Marrone says that insufficient user education is probably the main barrier to wider SRM implementation. "Users need to know what they can really do with the tools. Once they do, the ROI argument is a no-brainer."
Too much functionality?
Users and analysts agree that, in an effort to differentiate, some vendors may have made their products too complex with superfluous functionality. "Even with a standard SRM package most users don't take advantage of a great deal of the capabilities," Marrone says.
"The [SRM software] is so vast that it would be difficult for anyone to use all the functions, much less have a need for all of them," says Northern Trust's Shirmeyer.
Figure 3: Implementation of storage resource management may involve various corporate management levels to improve storage Quality of Service (QoS).
Minnesota Life's Deaver also says he does not use all the functionality in his CA BrightStor SRM package: "There are so many bells and whistles, it's hard to even get to know them all, let alone use them. I simply don't have time."
"There's no doubt that users do not take advantage of the true power of SRM solutions," admits Marrone. However, she says this really points to another longer-term issue. "We hear from customers that SRM solutions provide great data, but that they don't do anything.
"Users want the application to take actions, not just send an alarm when a threshold is exceeded," she adds, "but vendors are responding to this complaint by putting intelligent, policy-based actions in their SRM solutions."
Future SRM directions
According to Marrone, a variety of vendors are developing more policy-based "active" SRM capabilities. She predicts that there will be a lot of vendors (established companies as well as start-ups) coming out with solutions that will provide intelligent data movement using SRM capabilities as the basis for decision-making.
Indeed, the Evaluator Group's Martin says that "active" versus "passive" is the key to understanding emerging products: "SRM is a big space, and there are lots of sub-categories. We define products into two categories-passive and active." (Some vendors use the terms "viewers" and "doers.") He explains that the passive functions are generally equivalent to the report-oriented products "that tell you what is going on."
Martin says there are a wide variety of approaches among the various SRM vendors. Most have reporting functions. Some offer "policies," but they interpret that function in different ways. "Some consider a policy to be simply remembering to schedule a certain report," he says, "while others actually take action when a threshold is reached."
And that, says Martin, is where the action will be in the near future: taking SRM up a notch so that users can get past "not knowing" all the way to "not worrying."
Alan Earls is a freelance writer in Franklin, MA.