Are you disillusioned with SAN management software?

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At the Gartner PlanetStorage conference last month, one of the more eye-opening sessions was analyst Bob Passmore's presentation on the storage area network (SAN) management software market. One thing that surprised me was how few users have bought SAN management packages. Another surprise was EMC's share of this (still fairly tiny) market.

At latest count, Gartner estimated that EMC had sold about 12,000 licenses for its ControlCenter SAN Manager software. (In 2002, the total market for SAN management software was about $100 million, and EMC had nearly an 80% market share.) But from EMC's share it's a huge drop to vendors such as Hewlett-Packard, Veritas, IBM, and McData, each of which had total license sales in the low hundreds. (Other vendors that qualified under Gartner's definition of SAN management software included Fujitsu Softek, Sun, CreekPath, Storability, InterSAN, and Computer Associates.)

The total installed base of SAN management software products was less than 14,000 last year. The fact is that most sites are managing their SANs with what Gartner calls "element managers," or device-level management tools.

As Passmore noted, using element managers is fine, as long as your SAN is relatively small—say, fewer than 20 servers and a couple disk arrays—and limited in terms of different vendors' products. Beyond that, you really should be using SAN management suites and managing your SAN as a single entity. Otherwise, you're wasting an awful lot of time/resources/money by using different vendors' element managers.

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However, one problem is that SAN management software is expensive, some of it is hard to install and use, and support for heterogeneous devices—particularly disk arrays—is weak. That explains users' reluctance to take the SAN management software plunge.

If users are to take advantage of SAN management software to lower total SAN costs, the software will have to be less expensive, better integrated, and capable of managing a lot more SAN devices than most of these packages are capable of managing.

Gartner puts SAN management technology on the slippery slope between "Peak of Inflated Expectations" and "Trough of Disillusionment" (see chart). And it may be years until SAN management software catches up to Fibre Channel SANs, which themselves are only starting up the "Slope of Enlightenment" curve and haven't even reached the "Plateau of Productivity," which is characterized by widespread deployment.

The irony is that, without adequate and affordable SAN management software, users will be less likely to buy into—or expand—their SANs. In a sense, the software tail may have to wag the hardware dog for SAN momentum to continue.

Dave Simpson,

This article was originally published on July 01, 2003