Users split over SAN management approaches

By Heidi Biggar

When it comes to purchasing storage management software, end users generally fall into two camps: those who prefer to purchase products from a single vendor and those who prefer to buy best-of-breed (or point) products from multiple vendors.

While the trend among end users last fall was clearly toward unifying storage management under a single platform, the momentum appears to have shifted over the last six months. Or is it simply that the hype surrounding the prospect of unified storage has diminished, or that end users aren't ready for this type of technology?

Whatever the reasons, users today appear split over the benefits of one approach versus the other.

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A recent InfoStor QuickVote reader poll reveals an end-user community divided over the two approaches. While 52% of respondents said they preferred to purchase storage management products from a single vendor in the form of a unified software suite, 48% said they preferred to buy best-of-breed products from various vendors (see figure).

These results contrast sharply with a QuickVote poll taken last September, in which 81% of respondents said they favored unifying storage management software under a single platform.

The one known fact is that while vendors assemble the pieces of a unified storage management strategy, end users continue to struggle with a breadth of management headaches, ranging from "capturing" their storage environment, to making the best use of the tools they do have, to lowering associated storage costs.

So, while their approaches may differ, end users share a common goal: to proactively manage their storage environments.

"The challenge we face is how to manage our data center and storage in a proactive way," says Scott Hopkins, vice president of technology planning at Harte Hanks, a CRM service provider in Billerica, MA. Harte Hanks provides services to about 60 customers, managing more than 30TB of storage capacity on 70 disk arrays.

"Our immediate goal was to purchase tools that would allow us to put in place the practices to proactively manage our storage environment and re-harvest our storage resources," explains Hopkins.

Whether the software tools were ultimately integrated was of secondary importance, he says. "It is important that other software work well with [these tools], but it is not necessary that they integrate with them. We were looking at best-of-breed products."

For Harte Hanks, the decision to purchase one vendor's product over another came down to three things: the product's ability to meet specific functionality requirements, price, and product road map.

"Although I was looking at best-of-breed products, I did push vendors to make sure that integration was going to happen," says Hopkins.

Harte Hanks currently uses Fujitsu Softek's SRM tool but plans to look at both Softek OpenView Storage Provisioner and Storage Manager in the future. Hopkins claims a 10% to 15% return on investment from its deployment of the SRM product.

Like Hopkins, Frank Tramontano, chief technology officer at Pace University, started out looking for a best-of-breed product to solve a specific storage problem. In the case of Tramontano, the initial problem was backup, not resource management.

"We just wanted to complete our backups in a timely fashion," says Tramontano. "Our backups were taking an awfully long time and were [consuming the bandwidth of our] data network. We were looking to cut our backup time down by half."

Tramontano says he ultimately selected Computer Associates' BrightStor Enterprise Backup because of the university's familiarity with the ARCserve platform, not the prospect of a unified storage management suite.

"[CA's management suite] was just an added benefit at the time," explains Tramontano. "But we're now introducing BrightStor SAN Manager and are also looking into BrightStor Portal as a way to 'see' what's going on in our SAN from a central location."

Neither Hopkins nor Tramontano is terribly concerned about vendor lock-in, should they decide to go with a single-vendor solution. "I've got a limited staff, so any way I can centralize storage management would be helpful," Tramontano says.

But not everyone shares this viewpoint. "Vendor lock-in is bad, but sometimes you don't have a choice because you need the assurance that that the products will last," says a senior storage architect at a Fortune 100 company.

"I want one view of my base-level storage and then I'll find best-of-breed products, which may or may not tie into a unified storage framework," he explains.

This particular Fortune 100 company maintains four data centers (two mainframe, two open systems), 100TB of direct-attached storage, and numerous SANs. The greatest challenge it faces is not knowing what it has or where it is located.

"A lot of stuff we have we have no knowledge of, so our first goal is to organize what we have and then implement a software suite that does the base-level management [e.g., switch management]," he says. "After that, we'll figure out the point products that will tie into this infrastructure."

For base-level management, the systems architect says it will turn to smaller players like AppIQ or CreekPath rather than to large vendors like Computer Associates, EMC, or Veritas. These vendors, the systems architect says, tend to provide products that are either too rich or too weak in feature functionality.

"For this reason, there's always going to be a need for point products," he says. "Will [the big guys] be the best answer? No, because there are true best-of-breed product vendors."

The Fortune 100 company currently has no storage management software in place except for the tools that came with its varied disk systems, switches, tape libraries, etc. The systems architect points to a long string of mergers as the source of its current management woes.

This article was originally published on April 01, 2003