Software-and standards-are the keys to TCO and ROI

The dominant mantras in the IT community all involve the repetition of total cost of ownership (TCO) and return on investment (ROI). Hardware vendors have responded over the last year by slashing prices (and by peppering their PowerPoint presentations with the acronyms), but solving the TCO/ROI crunch depends mainly on storage management software.

The problem is just as acute in direct-attached storage and network-attached storage (NAS) environments, but the emphasis seems to be on SAN (storage area network) management software—the topic of this month's Special Report (see p. 21).

The authors (Richard Lee and Harriett Bennett, of The Storage Consulting Group) and I struggled with the issue of which vendors/products to include in the review. Depending on the definition of SAN management software, dozens of vendors could be included. But the authors came up with a hierarchy of functions that loosely define end-to-end SAN management, which is what IT managers are demanding. In your attempts to reduce TCO and increase ROI, the last thing you need is the daunting task of cobbling together non-interoperable point products from dozens of vendors.

Of course, you want best-of-breed software, but most of you are willing to make sacrifices in product functionality to gain seamless interoperability between different software applications, which is the key to reducing TCO. But unless you're willing to bet the farm on a single vendor to gain that seamless interoperability, we'll need standards for storage management software.

The big RAID vendors are lining up in a smattering of partnerships that involve the swapping of APIs to provide interoperability of software modules and management of heterogeneous hardware environments, but that appears to be mostly political posturing with little long-term viability.

On the standards front, the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) and a number of large vendors are championing the CIM/WBEM standards. That's good news, but those standards are of primary benefit to developers, not end users. (For a detailed look at CIM and WBEM, see next month's SNIA column.)

What SAN administrators really need is what systems/network managers have had for years: centralized management frameworks like the systems/network management suites from vendors such as Computer Associates, Hewlett-Packard, and Tivoli. Those are on the way from most of the large vendors, as well as from a few ambitious start-ups, but whether they'll be based on standards is questionable.

I don't fault the vendor community for the lack of standards. After all, standards level the playing field, which is fine if you're an "also ran" vendor, but not good if you're on the leader board. Establishing standards is sort of like the PGA changing the Augusta course to make it harder for certain golfers (such as the one who won this year).

Competition and capitalism conspire against the formation of standards, but unless the vendor community comes together to create standards for SAN management, the TCO and ROI arguments in favor of storage networks will remain hollow promises.

Dave Simpson,

This article was originally published on May 01, 2002