By Elizabeth Ferrarini
Web hosting services. Internet service providers. Net sourcers. How do these e-services providers manage server availability, storage growth, and capacity optimization? Combined, these three areas comprise more than 50% of storage resource management (SRM) time, according to Strategic Research, a consulting firm in Santa Barbara, CA.
John Webster, a storage analyst at Illuminata, in Nashua, NH, says, "These e-services have had to home grow SRM tools or to patch together a polyglot of point solutions. The integrated SRM products they need aren't available."
Customers sign contracts (including service-level agreements) with e-services companies based on server availability and specific storage capacities, and expect to get accurate reports about these features.
A source at Intelecom Data Services (IDS), a Web-hosting firm in Marlborough, MA, says that IDS manually tracks the amount of disk space customers use. Although customers pay for the amount used, the source says the service has been forgiving about the metric used for computing storage charges. IDS, which was recently acquired by Conversent Communications, a regional Internet service provider (ISP) also based in Marlborough, MA, plans to improve its SRM capabilities.
Some organizations prefer to co-locate or to rent floor space for their servers at a Web hosting service or an ISP, and to administrate their servers, storage, and applications on their own. Usually, the co-located service provider maintains the physical hardware, including routers and communications lines, while customers are tasked with SRM.
Rackspace, a startup in San Antonio, TX, enables organizations to rent custom-configured Linux servers. Customers manage
their servers and storage, at least for now. Richard Yoo, Rackspace's chief technology officer, says, "Since we don't have administrative access to the servers, we can't always guarantee uptime, especially if the customer does something to bring it down."
On the other hand, Yoo says that when a server gets to about 150GB, some customers become concerned about disk crashes and losing data. He says, "We're trying to figure out where our customers want to draw the line with administrative control." Yoo says that Rackspace plans to move to brand name hardware and software that offers better SRM capabilities.
Net sourcers take the data center concept and Web hosting one step further. Organizations such as Intira and GlobalCenter offer a complete IT infrastructure, including data centers with server and storage hardware, switching equipment, and IT personnel and tools to manage every aspect of the infrastructure. Customers just have to load their applications and run.
Based in Pleasanton, CA, Intira, which has three U.S. data centers, has built its business for Fortune 1000 organizations looking to place their e-business operations in a one-stop IT shop. Storage hardware is based on a Noah's Ark of two or three of everything-mostly from EMC, HP, IBM, and Sun.
For server and storage management, John Steensen, chief technology officer at Intira, says the company has built an extensive, real-time system (layered over Hewlett-Packard's OpenView) that monitors 400 data points so customers can be assured of server availability and adequate storage capacity. If a customer's storage exceeds a threshold, Intira carries out the customer's escalation procedures for allocating more space through load balancing. "We built because there weren't any management suites that went from the bottom of the network to the top," says Steensen.
In contrast to Intira, Sunnyvale, CA-based GlobalCenter has built its IT infrastructure through buying brand-name network and storage management tools from vendors such as Veritas, or by partnering with third-party services. For example, GlobalCenter offers storage from StorageNetworks Inc. (SNI), a storage service provider based in Waltham, MA.
"Developing management suites does not make sense, especially if it's not your core competency," says Jason Schaeffer, GlobalCenter's director of systems and infrastructure. "By selecting best-of-breed tools, we know we can provide customers with a certain service agreement level for each component in our IT infrastructure."
The requirements for managing server availability, and storage growth and capacity optimization, won't go away as Web hosting services move to storage area networks (SANs), or net sourcers lease storage space from storage service providers such as SNI. Giga's Adams says that e-services providers need integrated SRM tools that address the overall lifecycle of data management, from allocating storage capacity to tracking archive media to a vault. "Until these types of SRM tools appear, the e-services companies will continue to build, buy, or rent, layering one SRM tool on top of the other," says Adams.
Elizabeth Ferrarini is a Boston-based journalist and the author of several books about online services.