End users demand better management tools

By Dave Simpson

If you're like the majority of your colleagues, you're dissatisfied with the storage management tools that vendors are providing, at least for storage area network (SAN) environments. In an extensive survey of IT managers conducted by TheInfoPro, a whopping 54% cited better management tools as the number-one capability that they need from vendors. And management tools also ranked number one (45% of the respondents) among the "pain points" that will drive spending over the next 12 to 18 months (see figure).

"Although the biggest pain point for users is the need for better management tools, an underlying pain point is the allocated versus utilized [capacity] issue," says Ken Male, founder and CEO of TheInfoPro, in New York. "Users need to better determine what's being utilized vs. what's been allocated so that they can re-allocate unused capacity."

Surprisingly, some of the functions touted most often by vendors—such as vertical application integration and support for standards—rank relatively low on end users' list of concerns. Although IT managers say that support for management standards such as SMI-S will not affect spending over the next year or so, 58% of the respondents said that storage management standards were "very important," while 31% said they were "somewhat important" and 11% did not consider standards to be important.

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The InfoPro survey was based on interviews with 192 IT managers and executives. The average length of an interview was one hour. About 76% of the responding companies were US-based, and 24% were non-US (mostly Europe, Canada, and Mexico). Companies represented a wide range of industries, although financial services and telecom/technology accounted for 53% of the surveyed companies. By design, all of the surveyed companies had at least one SAN.

The need for better management tools seems to be mostly due to a slow shift toward heterogeneous (multi-vendor) SANs. But, according to the results from other surveys, end users are split on whether they prefer to buy SAN management tools from a single vendor or from multiple vendors. For example, in an InfoStor reader survey, 52% said they would prefer to purchase a unified management suite from a single vendor, while 48% prefer to buy "best-of-breed" management tools from multiple vendors (see "Users split over SAN management approaches," April 2003, p. 1).

In comparing storage management technologies in use today vs. technologies that will be implemented in the next 12 to 18 months, it's clear from TheInfoPro survey that end users are currently focused on relatively mundane tasks such as LUN management. But there is a strong trend toward storage resource management (SRM), business continuity management, and storage capacity forecasting (see figure).

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Some of the functions that are most hyped by vendors and the press are not among the top priorities for end users, however. Examples include automated storage provisioning, chargeback based on capacity utilization, security tools and services, and policy-based management.

Despite increased emphasis on storage management software by both end users and vendors, few IT organizations (less than 20%) spend more than 30% of their storage budget on software, and backup software still accounts for the largest percentage of software expenditures. However, the shift in spending is clearly toward software (see figure above).

"Users are planning to spend more on software, but they feel that the [required] products aren't really there yet," says TheInfoPro's Male. "They're still limping along with home-grown tools and maybe some point products because the full suites aren't fully baked yet."

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Bearing in mind that TheInfoPro survey was limited to companies that had at least one SAN, responses show a strong shift toward SANs and a relatively weak trend toward network-attached storage (NAS). For example, more than half of the interviewees indicated that they would shift more toward SAN investment with little or no NAS-related spending increases. Only 7% indicated a shift to NAS with little or no increase in SAN expenditures.

The survey did not query users about NAS-SAN convergence. (For more information, see "NAS and SAN converging, but debates remain," InfoStor Special Report, March 2003, p. 26.)

TheInfoPro survey also asked a lot of questions about vendor preferences. In terms of potential success in the storage management arena, EMC topped the list by a long shot with 52% of the respondents. The next four vendors—Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Hitachi Data Systems, and Veritas—were grouped fairly closely, with 20% to 32% of the respondents citing at least one of those vendors as a potential leader in storage management.

TheInfoPro report on storage management is 95 pages, plus 199 pages of user "narratives." For more information, or to participate in future surveys: www.TheInfoPro.net, tel: (212) 418-1351, or e-mail: info@TheInfoPro.net.

In the next issue, we'll summarize the results of TheInfoPro's end-user survey on storage networking.

This article was originally published on June 01, 2003