Ask your local storage manager what his major complaint is with his job, and he'll likely say, "The crummy tools I have to work with." Broad spectrum or cheesy vendor-supplied tools just don't provide enough flexibility or automation for large installations. Enterprises need something more robust and efficient. The following list highlights six significant pain points in storage management. The solution in all cases is good management software. There is no substitute for having the right tool for the job.
1. Performance Monitoring
When applications slow down, everyone wants to point a finger at what each considers to be the "weakest link" in the process. It isn't long before the eyes turn toward storage as that weakest link. Of course, you know it usually isn't, but you have to prove it with data--performance monitoring to the rescue. Now, when those accusing tongues wag in your direction, simply display your performance data in front of their panting faces.
The weak link they're pondering is disk Input/Output (I/O), which translates into latency, sluggish response times and attention-deprived users left waiting with a progress bar instead of a quick checkout. Performance monitoring programs can run from free all the way to tens of thousands of dollars, but monitoring your mission-critical storage with a less than adequate package can have costly consequences. Find one that works and use it. You'll need it for your defense.
2. Policy Management
How you handle storage policy says a lot about your company. Do you have a formal, written policy that covers backup, archive and retention? If not, you should draft one immediately. Your policy should also cover versions, backup type (differential, incremental and full), frequency, storage location and eventual file disposal.
Perhaps the easiest management method is to logically group nodes into policy groups. Systems (nodes) perform the same functions, connect to similar or shared data or share related security policies. For example, files owned by human resources have certain backup, storage and retention criteria that are very different from those that govern event logs.
Storage managers apply these policies to files through policy domains and policy sets. Enterprise storage management software allows storage managers to create these policies and apply them to logical node groups. Additionally, an administrator may also apply management classes to files that determine versions, retention, archival requirements and disposal.
3. Asset Management
Asset management takes two forms in the enterprise: Digital asset management (DAM) and storage asset management (storage hardware). DAM, a major buzz term that originated few years ago, is a real enterprise requirement to manage images, graphics, videos, text, presentations, spreadsheets and any business-related file. DAM solutions have three features in common: storage, retrieval and delivery. Enterprise asset management also includes workflow automation, backup, archiving, licensing and usage tracking.
Storage asset management is a different topic. This type of asset management has to do with managing the physical storage assets from a financial perspective. Assets must have some sort of tracking mechanism associated with them. Life cycle, maintenance, depreciation and disposal are all part of that tracking. Companies use this information to charge back to business units and eventually to customers for the use of those assets. Without tracking, there is no accountability and no ability to recover costs for those assets.
4. Capacity Management
Capacity management is the bane of every enterprise manager's existence. It's a constant battle to emerge victorious from the cries of "We're out of space." Usage tracking software is the only reliable method of keeping storage capacity issues at bay. The days of tracking storage with manual disk free programs and scripts are long gone.
Storage resource management is one of the primary pain points of enterprise management. Monitoring, reporting and recovery are key factors to look for when choosing resource management suites. You should also investigate a package's ability to provide historical and future usage data.
5. Security Management
When did security become a storage manager's problem? The minute storage hit the production rack. Unfortunately, storage managers are often unequipped and ill-prepared for this new responsibility. Security is someone else's gig. Nope, not for storage it isn't. It's yours.
You need adequate controls to prevent unauthorized tinkering with storage configurations. And, don't confuse storage security management with operating system security; they're different. Storage security means security at a lower level than Windows shares or NFS mounts. Those are system administrator issues. At the storage level, where the storage administrator allocates LUNs and presents them to hosts is the level of concern for storage admins. You need software with granular control over those resources and management utilities. Don't bet the farm on the "honor" system.
6. Configuration Management
Is there anything more tedious than allocating new LUNs? OK, maybe reallocating them is, but in either case it's a time-consuming, error-prone task that must be streamlined. Storage managers need automation software to take some of the sting out of configuration management.
Plenty of good software exists for automating storage tasks, creating templates, reducing errors and boosting productivity. Home-grown scripts and default, vendor-supplied tools often don't make the cut.
Ken Hess is a freelance writer who writes on a variety of open source topics including Linux, databases, and virtualization. He is also the coauthor of Practical Virtualization Solutions, which was published in October 2009. You may reach him through his web site at http://www.kenhess.com.