Centralized storage management tools simplify administration while decreasing overall costs

Centralized storage management tools simplify administration while decreasing overall costs.


Jim Fernandes
nStor Technologies
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IT professionals face increasingly difficult challenges in managing rapidly growing enterprise-wide storage resources in heterogeneous networks. Companies in almost every industry are experiencing explosive growth in their requirements for storage capacity. These environments often include large numbers of servers with attached storage and a growing population of servers sharing storage over a storage area network (SAN).

These complex requirements are driving the need for centralized storage management tools that simplify the administration of storage assets, reduce IT overhead costs, and improve overall efficiency and usage of storage resources. The key to effective storage management is a robust software solution. Software is a critical component of an enterprise data storage strategy, giving businesses the ability to better leverage their IT resources, including employee time.

As the cost per megabyte continues to decrease, the focus is shifting from hardware toward storage management software. This is not to downplay the importance of a reliable high-performance hardware solution, but software is emerging as the differentiating factor, which can provide a competitive advantage. This is due to the fact that storage management software plays a vital role in administering distributed IT assets, maintaining high availability, and minimizing downtime. The effective management of resources from the data center across the network increases both productivity and revenue.

Two key factors to consider when purchasing storage management software are network security and heterogeneity (support for different operating systems and platforms). A typical network today has several servers running different types of operating systems, storage systems, and workstations, making storage monitoring in these environments a difficult task. End users require a single, easy-to-use software application that simplifies the many tasks required to support a heterogeneous network. Although storage vendors promote interoperability and open standards in theory, software products often fall short when it comes to managing a mixed-vendor storage pool. The demand for heterogeneity will continue to increase as businesses realize the benefits of managing all their networked storage as if it came from a single source.

Complete network security is also one of the most important attributes to consider when implementing storage management software. Software must be able to provide the tools necessary to promote a secure environment. Some software packages allow administrators to assign every component in the storage system to a defined storage domain or multiple domains, each with a different password. This capability means that system managers can grant limited access to storage management without needing to expose full-privileged access to any operating system. In this way, IT policy-makers can, for example, easily keep engineering, accounting, and e-commerce information "partitioned" from each other to prevent inadvertent misuse or corruption of files.

Not all storage management users need to perform the same tasks. Some users simply need to be able to evaluate the current status, others must deal with maintenance issues, and selected individuals reconfigure and deploy the storage. The use of user-defined domains creates a rich environment to support any system administration management structure. Operating system administrators can have the access they need to configure and manage the storage they use, while storage administrators can effectively deal with their storage, independent of the various computers that require access.

The ability to keep a watch on storage resources 24x7 is critical, making automatic monitoring an important component of a storage management software suite. Automatic monitoring programs check on the health of the storage, generating messages as needed, and provide the ability to adjust, configure, and interact with the storage systems. Allowing all hosts in a storage environment to communicate with each other makes it possible to coordinate and monitor their activities. Automatic monitoring programs can also broadcast alerts to network administrators or outside service personnel through e-mail messages. This type of functionality greatly simplifies complex storage architectures such as storage area networks (SANs) and reduces the cost of administration.

Web-based administration is another important feature in storage management software. Most software provides system administrators with local or remote access via a standard Web-based browser with a high degree of security, reliability, and performance. Users cannot only view and manage storage resources from anywhere in the world, but they can also choose to view the storage as individual units or opt for a centralized view of all resources in the SAN.

Powerful and efficient management of storage resources is critical to maximizing business productivity and reducing administration costs. Because IT managers continue to face exploding amounts of data to store, secure, and make continuously available across the enterprise, the industry is assured of continuing demand for effective storage management tools.

Jim Fernandes is product manager, software, at nStor Technologies Inc. (www.nstor.com) in San Diego, CA. He can be contacted at jimf@nstor.com.

This article was originally published on August 01, 2001