SRM software enables storage best practices

Storage resource management functions include data collection, reporting, monitoring, capacity planning, event management, scheduling, automation, and resource management.

By Raymond Chew

The first generation of storage resource management (SRM) software provides basic features such as reporting, monitoring, and trend analysis that help IT administrators understand the complexity of their storage environment. However, users are demanding more-advanced features so that SRM can be used for strategic planning. SRM software must mature and provide advanced features that can be used to achieve this new objective.

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Organizations want to implement storage management best practices to help facilitate well-defined and documented processes to more effectively leverage storage investments. Recent SRM solutions offer advanced storage management capabilities that deliver resource-efficient best practices and facilitate effective management of the storage infrastructure.

Storage management best practices

Organizations of all sizes face various issues related to their in-house data and storage management practices. Disasters and the loss of business-critical data have forced storage administrators to conduct post-disaster analysis to re-evaluate how data is being protected. Proper planning and thorough processes for data protection, along with contingency plans that address on-demand scenarios or non-accounted cases, will help organizations better handle issues that disrupt data availability and business continuity.

In addition to unforeseen disasters, storage administrators must consider various operational activities that need to be continually fine-tuned to optimize the performance of the storage infrastructure that supports revenue-generating business processes. As organizations streamline business processes and tighten budgets for IT spending, however, storage administrators will have fewer resources to help manage the exploding data growth.

The proper planning and procedural steps taken for daily operational and maintenance activities are part of a company's holistic approach for creating self-corrective storage methods. When put into action and in a process of continuous improvement, the methodology becomes known as a "best practice." Best practices are process-oriented steps that are well-planned and prioritized to facilitate a certain activity that helps ensure the delivery of the desired service level and quality of service.

SRM software provides the functionality to facilitate storage management best practices (see "Benefits of best practices," p. 32). With a highly available storage infrastructure, mission-critical business processes can be relied on to support revenue-generating business activities.

SRM functions

Storage management best practices can be successfully attained through the data collection, reporting, monitoring, capacity planning, event management, scheduling, automation, and advanced resource management capabilities of SRM tools.

First and foremost, SRM tools provide detailed information on physical and logical objects. SRM provides information on file systems, volume managers, server systems, storage subsystems, interconnectivity devices, and applications from a storage perspective. The metadata collected by SRM software offers insight into how storage is affecting the overall IT landscape. Additionally, advanced SRM solutions should also provide end-to-end mapping between the physical storage objects (i.e., physical disks on RAID array) and the logical objects (i.e., volumes), including up to the file and application layers.

Storage capacity, performance, and event management capabilities allow SRM software to respond in pre-defined ways to storage events. With this capability, SRM tools help ensure that storage and dependent applications operate within the defined parameters.

The job scheduling capabilities of SRM tools help users run reports, actions, and batch jobs, and invoke operations to ease their workload, improve resource consumption, and simplify work flow.

The following is a short list of storage management best practices that SRM solutions facilitate:

  • Planning for data and server consolidation;
  • Planning for migration to network-attached storage (NAS) and storage area network (SAN);
  • Effective backup planning and management;
  • Storage capacity planning (including space reclamation and usage management);
  • User quota management; and
  • Storage usage and chargeback management.

Planning for consolidation

Many organizations are using new operating systems and storage technologies to consolidate disparate islands of storage. SRM helps IT managers collect storage-related information and centrally manage storage objects, including storage-intensive applications. SRM software provides critical information about the data sets, file types, users, devices, subsystems, and applications that are in disparate locations within the enterprise. By surveying their storage landscape for data consolidation planning purposes with SRM, administrators can clearly and easily differentiate and classify storage objects.

Migration to NAS and SAN

Organizations are looking to centralized storage solutions such as NAS and SAN to provide better manageability and lower TCO. In planning and preparing for the migration, IT administrators must know which are the most accessed or I/O-intensive files or data blocks, applications, and servers to help prioritize what resources to migrate. Similarly, some organizations may consider moving storage assets over to faster media such as solid-state disks.

SRM tools provide IT administrators with information on items such as the location of files and the owners, file types, files of certain sizes, groupings of files, and read/write frequency. This information offers insight on storage capacity requirements and stress on servers, as well as application and data bandwidth due to high access rates.

Backup planning and management

IT administrators can use SRM-generated reports to identify the files and data that are most vulnerable, meaning those that have not been backed up and are subject to loss without a redundant copy.

By providing insight into the different level of protection, SRM tools improve the backup planning process. Reports on data sets, files, volumes, etc., provide administrators with information on backup jobs vs. available backup windows. Backup sizing information obtained from data-set sizes tells administrators how much secondary storage such as tape will be needed to accommodate the types of backup jobs (incremental, differential, or full). Trending and forecasting reports based on historical storage information collected provide administrators with insight on future resource demand growth. All these projections will help administrators adequately plan for future contingencies.

Capacity reclamation and planning

Storage capacity planning is the process of understanding historical and current storage allocation, consumption, and capacity availability within storage environments and dynamically allocating it for future growth. By determining current, past, and future capacity requirements, storage administrators can plan what has to be allocated to support and accommodate future server and application growth as well as performance requirements.

Storage-related data is collected via automated, policy-driven data-collection engines in SRM tools. Historical and current storage metrics are stored in the SRM data repository, and patterns are identified through trend analysis and forecasting. SRM also provides detailed reports that identify aged, duplicate, obsolete, un-owned, or orphaned files and temporary files that can be migrated or removed to improve capacity utilization. In addition to identifying these file types, SRM can be configured to reclaim or recover valuable disk storage space by removing, archiving, or backing up these files.

SRM tools constantly monitor for capacity threshold breaches and engage the file system, volume manager, or virtualization engine to allocate new capacity from the storage pool so that capacity is replenished and expands to support data growth.

User quota management

As organizations face ever-increasing storage-related costs and attempt to regain control of what employees are saving on shared network servers and desktops, especially non-business file types (MP3, WAV, AVI, etc.), IT administrators need to restrict the storage space allocated to users as well as set filters to prohibit the download of certain types of files. Based on corporate policies, either hard or soft user quotas can be enforced and administered via SRM tools. Users are notified on quota breaches so that remedies can be taken or restrictions can limit further downloads.

Storage usage and chargeback

The rapid adoption of centralized storage solutions such as NAS and SAN is indicative of a trend to centralize and consolidate storage management. Due to the high cost of these investments, IT administrators have to account for storage consumption by individual users within the enterprise. Storage chargeback is the practice of sourcing storage resources to different users or groups of users and accurately accounting, metering, and billing them for their capacity consumption.

SRM solutions facilitate storage chargeback by providing the ability to create logical configurations of users. Advanced SRM tools have the ability to define "classes" of objects, allowing administrators to logically group disparate storage objects and manage them as a unit, applying storage policies uniformly and efficiently. Subsequent to metering and determining storage consumption by the different user groups, SRM supports storage chargeback by allowing storage administrators to export consumption metrics to integrated or customer-chosen chargeback and billing applications.

In today's 24¥7 business environment, continuous data availability is a must. Users will not tolerate disruptions to data access. The successful implementation of storage management best practices is facilitated by SRM solutions. SRM software must provide end-to-end management capabilities that assist organizations in better managing their users and the storage assets that make up the networked storage landscape. SRM provides the capabilities to successfully design and implement core processes to ensure availability of data, applications, servers, and storage systems. SRM helps administrators optimize their storage infrastructure to effectively and efficiently support business processes and achieve lower cost of storage ownership.

Raymond Chew is product manager for BrightStor solutions at Computer Associates (www.ca.com) in Islandia, NY. He can be reached at chera05@ca.com.

Benefits of best practices

As organizations strive to optimize storage usage, storage management best practices become critical for reaching these goals. Through best practices, organizations can achieve:

High availability of data—By providing the optimal conditions and operating parameters for the storage infrastructure, storage management best practices help ensure the availability of the data necessary to support applications and users.

Lowered total cost of storage ownership—Well-defined and effectively implemented storage management best practices can result in significantly lower storage TCO by issuing guidelines on use of resources.

Improved business continuity—Best practices can be continuously improved to ensure that data is protected, made redundant for high availability, provisioned to accommodate data and user growth, and seamlessly managed to provide business continuity.

Enhanced scalability to accommodate growth—As data stores and organizations grow, the underlying storage infrastructure must support and accommodate them. New business processes place significant stress on the storage infrastructure as well. Organizations with proper best practices in place are better able to anticipate and address issues associated with organizational growth.

Performance benchmarks—Without the necessary storage management policies, organizations have very limited benchmarks and guidelines to gauge their storage performance. Best practices set the standard by which organizations have a baseline to determine how their storage resources are performing.

Improved service levels—IT departments are being given the responsibility to deliver specified levels of service to their internal and external customers. Some IT administrators must meet internal Service Level Agreements (SLAs) to avoid penalties such as budget cuts. Storage best practices can help administrators meet and even exceed SLAs.

Superior budget planning—Storage and IT departments are converting from cost centers to sustainable service providers and potentially, to profit centers that contribute positively to the bottom line of their organization. The process of charging back to users for storage consumption versus an unregulated environment can provide organizations with the opportunity to influence the behavior of storage users. Storage best practices provide the storage metrics and analytics necessary to take advantage of these opportunities.

This article was originally published on April 01, 2003