Storage resource management is the fastest-growing segment of the overall storage management software market.
BY ROBERT INFANTINO
Not too long ago, purchasing storage was like shopping at Sam's Club: Everyone was stocking up, almost as if he or she needed to buy in bulk. Many organizations actually purchased more than they really needed. Demand was high; the economy was booming. Businesses were expanding their IT infrastructures and buying as much storage as they could. Sure enough, there was more than enough storage space to go around in any one enterprise, and more was always better.
In the past year, however, the world economy suffered a precipitous dip. It's unnecessary to illustrate what happened next, because we all know the story-redundancy, cutbacks, closures, and, in the businesses that survived, a massive wave of overall belt-tightening. Even those companies that did not need to cut back faced problems in having extra storage on hand. So what do you do with all of that storage, much of it now unused and costing an untold amount of money?
This is where storage resource management (SRM) software comes in and why it can be a solution for large-scale enterprises operating in the new economy. Potentially, it can be the saving grace for those companies trying to figure out how their storage resources are being used or how they can be used more efficiently. SRM allows them to optimize these resources, predict potential problems before they occur, and plan for future growth.
As storage grows, expenses shrink
It's difficult to plan for future storage growth in most organizations due to the dynamic and volatile nature of users, applications, and data. The Internet has caused explosive growth in storage requirements. Applications are increasingly more complex, and rich data such as streaming media, sound files, and graphics are pushing storage needs to new levels.
In the midst of all this, IT infrastructure has also grown considerably, but budgets are now tighter than ever. A report from Forrester Research, entitled "Slaying the Storage Beast," by Galen Scharek, Charles Rutstein, and Steven D. Kim, testifies to this problem. "Storage surges, but budgets remain listless," Forrester reports, backing up that claim by interviewing several IT managers about their situation.
"It's been a huge problem to justify the cost of all this new storage," says one respondent. "Our storage probably grew about 300% over the past year." Another refers to the tightening of the economy: "Our storage budget has been growing a little bit, but we're trying to really prune it down and keep it from going up. We've implemented hard quotas on e-mail, and we're very strict about archiving data in our applications."
Need more proof? The Enterprise Storage Group, a storage analyst firm in Milford, MA, estimates that storage is doubling every 8.5 months. However, the number of IT personnel to help manage that increased capacity has not grown proportionally, nor is it expected to do so. This massive growth, combined with the cut-and-slash mentality that many companies have now adopted, has created a storage management gap that is making it harder and harder to identify storage problems. In addition, the fact that there is adequate storage available for users and applications at all times often means that excess storage is ordered and on hand, sitting idle until it is actually used.
While having excess resources available is important, equally vital is understanding that adding storage to an already-burdened controller or bus may actually decrease performance levels. The alternative is planned downtime while additional storage resources are brought online, equating to lost productivity when applications cannot access storage or users cannot access the network.
Unfortunately, administrators often do not have a feasible method to gauge the true nature of the data they manage. They may know how much storage is connected to their infrastructure but not how it is being used, unused, or, in some cases, misused. In a storage area network (SAN) or network-attached storage (NAS) environment, where the purchase, setup, and administration of storage resources can consume a significant percentage of an IT budget, duplicate files and files that haven't been accessed in a long time consume valuable storage real estate. More storage requires a longer backup window to repetitively archive duplicate files that are never accessed or changed.
Given these issues, it is fortuitous that SRM packages can look at an organization's storage resources and provide the company with detailed data on a regular basis. SRM comprises several components that collect and manage metadata-data about the organization's data. SRM delivers a centralized view of distributed storage resources, providing IT managers and system administrators with the ability to create and enforce enterprise-wide storage policies affecting multi-location, cross-platform architecture-all from a single location.
SRM packages can see problems as they are occurring and before they take place. Once a problem is picked up or forecasted, SRM's reporting capabilities allow it to alert the IT manager. This is an important time-saving mechanism, because it allows companies to easily monitor what resources are being used, where bottlenecks are occurring, and other problems that tend to plague the storage network.
When bottlenecks or outages occur, IT staff will usually respond in a reactive mode, scurrying to bring additional resources online to solve the problem. Once the problem has been corrected, storage capacity meets or exceeds demand, until once again, without warning, the business demand for storage resources extends beyond the network's capabilities, leaving an organization vulnerable to bottlenecks and outages.
When bottlenecks occur, it's like getting something stuck in the kitchen sink's drain: Much as the water won't go down, the information won't flow. But the continuous flow of information is crucial to the success of any organization, especially larger ones that otherwise do not have any easy way of accessing critical data. The good news is that SRM can be your plumber. It can look for bottlenecks and rectify them not only as they occur, but, using historical data, prevent them from happening in the future.
The first step in avoiding future storage-related problems is to get a clear understanding of your existing storage environment. SRM automatically discovers how much storage you have and the nature of the data on storage devices. It details the characteristics of the data, including location, ownership, age, access date, and size. Since SRM tracks this information, it can provide valuable trend data to predict future needs and potential failures. Trend reports showing consumption rates can be extrapolated to predict the future of storage resources, maintaining high levels of availability and user productivity.
Predicting the future
Rarely is an administrator given the opportunity or means to predict aspects of the company's future, but that is, in a sense, what SRM empowers them to do. SRM can predict problems that may occur before they actually happen. It can determine storage infrastructure capability, identify performance deficiencies, and predict failures, giving organizations a peek at their storage future and saving them a lot of headaches that might have otherwise arisen at some point down the road. It does this by tracking and recording the history of a company's storage environment.
Think of the SRM package as a storage analyst. It takes snapshots of performance metrics and data delivery and provides them directly to an administrator. As it's doing this, it catalogs the information, looking at peaks, valleys, plateaus, and other anomalies. By crunching historical information, SRM software is able to use that knowledge to its advantage in preventing problems that may occur before they ever happen.
Once the SRM package identifies the problem, it has the ability to automatically fix it. This is known as "automated correction," or "policy-based management." Basically, an IT manager can set policy, based on each enterprise's unique environment, so that automated actions can rectify a problem. This will become more and more prevalent as many SRM vendors continue to enhance and improve their software.
Companies grow, resources shrink
There are certain events that an SRM system cannot predict, however, such as when a corporate acquisition is about to take place. Acquisitions and mergers can present many issues that need to be tackled, not the least of which is combining new and already existing data. Once again, SRM can help do this seamlessly.
Most companies' storage resources are currently running at 25% utilization. However, after an enterprise merges with another, it may still be left with more old data, which, after the merger, could translate to more unused capital resources. What's the point of backing up three-year-old files, for instance, that no one ever accesses?
The question is: How do you identify data that is inappropriate, unnecessary, outdated, or simply no longer being used by either organization?
Then, there is traditional company growth. As a company grows, it adds new employees, applications, and customers. This means that new equipment is constantly being purchased to keep ahead of growth requirements. Systems, controllers, and storage purchased 10 years ago have dramatically different performance metrics than similar equipment purchased today. Growth is aggressive and multi-dimensional: With all the different permutations of CPU speeds, controller types and versions, disks types, and speeds, it is difficult to monitor the performance of equipment and components manually, especially with the limited resources available for storage management.
SRM products can extract file metadata and make decisions on data placement, effectively differentiating it from the already-existing information. The SRM package can identify owners of groups and files and find out who is consuming what and by how much. Through these activities, IT managers can discern which files are still valuable and which are not, thus managing their storage resources more effectively and efficiently and decreasing the total amount of storage under management.
SRM optimizes storage resources, increases system availability, and improves storage system efficiency. It predicts potential problems before they become real while identifying bottlenecks. In addition, SRM provides site-specific data to be used to plan for efficient growth.
As organizations' data pools double, so do the challenges administrators face to manage this growth. Better tools, processes, and an understanding of the data under management will lead to more-efficient data delivery, lower cost of ownership, and an increase in data availability.
Robert Infantino is president and CEO of Astrum Software (www.astrumsoftware.com) in Boston, MA.
What is SRM?
According to Gartner Dataquest, storage resource management functions can include the following:
- Asset management
- Capacity management
- Configuration management
- Event notification
- Performance management
- Policy management
- Quota/space management