HSM Makes Slow Inroads
Hierarchical storage management is the Rodney Dangerfield of storage management software, but the arrival of NT 5.0 may give HSM some overdue respect.
By Charles T. Clark
When storage management vendors started promoting hierarchical storage management (HSM) to the client/server world in the early `90s, it seemed like a natural. It gave users the ability to automatically migrate files from expensive disk drives to less expensive media, such as optical and tape; it was a proven technology in the mainframe community; and it seemed to offer a way of reducing storage management costs, an increasing concern for IT managers.
In the eyes of many fans, HSM could not miss hitting a home run. But to the surprise of many, it missed the ball by a country mile. HSM became a technology that never lived up to the expectations of industry analysts, vendors, and users.
HSM is by no means a new concept. In fact, IBM introduced it to the mainframe world in 1977.
IBM`s HSM software is now tightly integrated with its ADSTAR Distributed Storage Manager (ADSM) storage management platform. Lisa Haut-Mikkelsen, ADSM product manager at IBM, attributes HSM`s lack of acceptance in the client/server world to its complexity. "One of the reasons HSM hasn`t taken off is that it`s really complicated, and in the distributed world, there aren`t a lot of people who understand it."
Bob Abraham, vice president of Freeman Associates, a market research firm in Santa Barbara, CA, says client/servers didn`t accept HSM client/server users for one main reason. "There`s a very different mind set between mainframe users and client/server users. The mainframe world is very traditional and conservative, and the value of data is well understood." In contrast, the non-mainframe world is much more cost conscious. As a result, says Abraham, "We just didn`t have the ready mind-set that would accept a concept like HSM when vendors were porting it to midrange systems."
Early HSM vendors promoted the technology primarily on the promise that it would save money by migrating older files from expensive media to less-expensive media. Despite a lot of media hype, end-users never quite bought that argument.
T.M. Ravi, vice president of marketing for the Cheyenne division of Computer Associates, says vendors forgot about users when they were designing their HSM products. "HSM in general has been more appealing to vendors--architects and engineers--rather than users. Customers have had a number of strong and serious objections to HSM, and except in the mainframe space, HSM has had very limited success."
In addition, says Ravi, HSM vendors made several blunders in promoting the concept. "The fundamental mistake was developing a very rigid concept of a three-level hierarchy that was closely tied to optical jukeboxes. The value proposition that HSM vendors were pushing was that HSM was a way for users to save storage costs by moving data from expensive disks to inexpensive jukeboxes." Ravi contends that this value proposition proved wrong because the price of hard disks has dropped dramatically, while optical disks have not kept pace in either price or performance.
Computer Associates offers a data migration option for its ARCserve storage management platform. The HSM option is tightly integrated with the rest of ARCserve`s management components, including a disaster recovery option, to ensure recoverability of migrated files. In addition, CA promotes its HSM product on the basis of reducing storage management costs through automated policy management, which eliminates most of the human intervention required in data migration.
The Tide Turns
Ed Cooper, a vice president at Legato Systems, has a different opinion of why users initially rejected HSM. "HSM presents both a cultural and a management control challenge," he contends. "Users are not particularly comfortable with the fact that there`s software looking at all of their data--personal files, resumes, etc.--and making decisions on which data is going to be migrated without their control."
Cooper feels the tide is beginning to turn, however, because applications such as multimedia, data marts, and data warehouses are beginning to accelerate HSM`s acceptance. Says Cooper: "For environments that have large daily influxes of data, HSM becomes particularly advantageous because it moves the less important data off local disks onto less-expensive media. And users can still access that data, if and when they need it."
Persistence Pays Off
Some of the companies that have been in the HSM business for several years are beginning to see a resurgence of interest in the technology. "I think we`ll see an increase in HSM acceptance because its role is changing. It started out as a point product, and now it`s being wrapped into storage management software," says Randy Thornburn, vice president of development at Platinum Technology.
EMC has been a player in the HSM market since the company purchased Epoch Systems several years ago. Mary Ellen Putnam, EMC Data Manager (EDM) product manager, says users` attitudes toward HSM have changed. "More and more users are looking for software to automate their operations; the less manual the intervention, the better." The automatic file migration that HSM provides drives down the cost of storage management by making file migration less labor-intensive and by reducing the network bandwidth devoted to storage, adds Putnam.
Consolidation Improves Products
The consolidation that has swept through the computer industry has hit the HSM market and in some cases has resulted in better product offerings. For example, the merger between Open Vision and Veritas Software resulted in a tight integration of OpenVision`s HSM technology with Veritas` file-system and volume-management products.
Similarly, Alphatronix, a supplier of HSM and other storage management products, merged with Auspex, a manufacturer of storage servers. Auspex plans to package its storage management software, including the Inspire Migrator HSM product, with its hardware as a bundled storage management solution, according to Steve Beer, enterprise data marketing manager.
Avail Software was an early player in the Windows NT HSM market and licensed its code to several other HSM vendors. Avail was purchased by Wang Laboratories, which in turn sold the HSM software to Eastman Software.
Ed McNierney, chief technology officer at Eastman, says the use of HSM varies by platform. "HSM is a technology that`s been around in the mainframe world for a long time. In contrast, it`s well understood, but less mature, in the Unix market. In the PC-LAN market, HSM is very new, not widely understood, but growing rapidly."
Eastman is working on its own high-end HSM product--Advanced Storage Server for Windows NT. According to McNierney, two features differentiate it from competitive products. First, Advanced Storage Server provides a multilevel hierarchy of storage on several servers across the enterprise. Second, the core HSM code is integrated in the Windows NT operating system, resulting in transparent storage and retrieval of files.
In addition to developing its own HSM product, Eastman is working closely with Microsoft and Seagate Software to co-develop HSM implementations. For example, Seagate is basing its HSM product on Eastman`s software. And Microsoft is embedding a rudimentary version of Eastman`s HSM code in Windows NT 5.0.
Microsoft`s HSM efforts may accelerate acceptance of the technology, at least in the NT market. "We started working with Avail about three years ago to put rudimentary--not enterprise-level--HSM into Windows NT 5.0. This should make it easier for other companies to build full-function HSM products on top of what we`re shipping," says Kevin Pfaut, group program manager in Microsoft`s Windows NT group.
Although HSM has not enjoyed the widespread acceptance that vendors and analysts predicted, that situation is gradually changing. In the past, users rejected HSM for a variety of reasons (e.g., fear of losing control of files, spurious value propositions, and not understanding HSM`s role in capacity planning). However, the huge storage requirements of applications such as multimedia, data marts, and warehouses may change users` attitudes toward HSM.
Case Study: HSM Eases Storage Management, Cuts Costs
Simplifies File Management at GSG
Graphics Systems Group is a pre-press service bureau based in New York, specializing in digital imaging and special effects for print media. When the company decided to upgrade its storage hardware and software to cope with a huge increase in the size and number of images, it found that HSM was a prerequisite to its key software applications package--Direct Data`s DataWeb.
Graphics Systems uses an SGI Origin 200 server supported by a StorageTek Timberline tape library and Quantum DLT 7000 drives. Total capacity: 2.1TB. Additionally, the company has a MegaDrive RAID array with a Fibre Channel interface to the SGI server, and Gigabit Ethernet switches.
Mark Rice, executive vice president and co-founder of Graphics Systems, says that Veritas Software`s HSM product has been immensely helpful in migrating and retrieving files. However, he`s quick to add that the HSM software is not easy to run. "I thought I was buying a Mercedes and instead I got a nuclear submarine."
PLF Imaging Systems, a Central Islip, NY-based vertical integrator in the photography and pre-press markets, handled systems integration for Graphics Systems. Eric Kosser, PLF`s marketing manager, says he was particularly impressed with the scalability of Veritas` HSM software.
Rice says HSM has dramatically improved the company`s ability to manage images. Additionally, Rice says investment in HSM technology makes his company more competitive.
Cuts Costs at Lockheed-Martin
Joe Anderson, an IT manager at Lockheed-Martin in Morristown, NJ, began using HSM nine years ago. At the time, Lockheed was involved in a project that required storing large amounts of engineering test data on 9-track tape.
When the tapes started to overflow Lockheed`s warehouses, the company started an initiative to develop a workstation-based system to reduce data management by staging it from hard disks to less-expensive media.
Anderson tried to develop his own HSM solution in-house, but the project soon became unmanageable. He looked to third-party vendors. After evaluating a number of HSM solutions, he chose Advanced Software Concepts` NetArchive-HSM, primarily because it worked right out of the box.
"Since 1990 our application has grown by orders of magnitude," says Anderson. "We now have two 660GB HP SureStor jukeboxes, a bunch of smaller Maxoptix jukeboxes that hold 50GB to 60GB, and large DLT tape libraries from ATL. The engineering lab that started out with eight stations now has 80 workstations constantly producing data consisting of 100MB to 150MB partitions."
Anderson says he has seen many benefits from HSM. "In the early days, it was very cost-effective and improved the manageability of files dramatically. More recently, it has reduced storage management costs by requiring little intervention by IT personnel."
What Are the Benefits?
According to David Martin, HSM product manager at Veritas Software, HSM:
- Gives users transparent access to migrated data, resulting in virtually unlimited disk storage space.
- Reduces the time needed to perform backup operations.
- Optimizes investments in storage capacity across the enterprise by migrating inactive data to lower-cost devices.
- Uses robotic storage devices that can eliminate operator delays when accessing data.
- Reduces administration costs by automating many aspects of storage management.
- Provides scalable data migration and file management for both local-area and wide-area (remote) environments.
Charles T. Clark is a freelance writer in Haverhill, MA.