'Active' SRM goes beyond reporting

All SRM tools have basic reporting capabilities, but "active" SRM is what will save you management time and money.

By Ruth Colombo

Storage is becoming more complex every day. In most organizations, critical data resides in a combination of direct-attached and networked storage, accessed by many distributed applications. The supporting hardware includes not only storage arrays and backup devices, but also network-related equipment such as switches and host bus adapters (HBAs).

Faced with growing complexity, storage administrators need a comprehensive view of networked storage in the enterprise. Many storage resource management (SRM) solutions monitor and report on networked storage. These SRM reporting solutions offer a valuable understanding of where and how storage is used. Using this information, organizations can spot usage trends, make forward projections, and charge back for storage usage.

However, the real potential benefit of SRM software goes beyond these reporting capabilities. Administrators need tools to help manage the entire storage infrastructure, particularly in the face of changing business priorities and storage environments.

Next-generation SRM solutions simplify and automate daily storage management tasks with the goal of reducing management costs. Because they not only monitor but also act on infrastructure components, these products are often referred to as "active" SRM solutions.

This article discusses emerging SRM solutions and their capabilities for proactive storage management. It focuses on the features that contribute to reduced management costs and identifies key integration points between SRM software and the information infrastructure.

Reduce management costs

Portions of SRM solutions give you insight into the storage infrastructure through reporting and visualization techniques. You can use this information in many ways: to improve storage utilization, spot potential capacity problems, and charge back storage costs to specific groups. You can also monitor return on investment (ROI).to fine-tune storage decisions.

Although these products help improve storage utilization, they don't significantly reduce the costs of managing storage—a much greater percentage of the total cost of ownership (TCO) for storage than the initial purchase price. To reduce these costs, you'll need active SRM software that

  • Automates routine management tasks—By automating or reducing management activities such as zone membership tracking and hardware/software inventory, active SRM products free administrators for other tasks, enabling them to manage more storage;
  • Responds automatically to changing conditions—An active SRM solution should not only monitor the infrastructure, but also take action automatically so administrators aren't constantly interrupted by crises. Instead of simply notifying you when a capacity threshold is met, the application should be able to provision additional storage in response to the event;
  • Invokes and guides human intervention when necessary—No storage software can encapsulate all of your local expertise. However, it can notify administrators when manual intervention is required and simplify complex processes like LUN and zone management—leveraging networking experts more effectively; and
  • Provides a central interface for managing diverse storage infrastructure components—Using one central interface to manage the storage infrastructure is more cost-effective than training administrators in a patchwork of vendor-specific solutions. A single management interface eliminates constant interactions between personnel working with the various element managers to track and check problems. The broader the scope of the management interface, the greater the potential cost reductions. The managed infrastructure should include the entire range of storage networking components: hosts, switches, HBAs, arrays, etc.

SRM requirements

Given the variety of SRM solutions on the market, how do you identify those that will yield a rapid ROI by reducing storage management costs? Look for the following characteristics:

Policy-based management

Automating routine tasks is just one part of storage resource management. More important is automating the correct responses to changing conditions. These conditions might include the failure of a device or port, an increase in demand for specific application storage, or storage capacity approaching a threshold.

The software should support flexible actions in response to highly granular events. If human intervention is required, the software should notify staff rapidly and provide wizards or scripts to guide action. The SRM software should also take corrective action such as rerouting network traffic to an alternate port if throughput exceeds a pre-determined threshold.

Policy-based management not only saves administrator time, but also improves the consistency of storage operations. Instead of having individuals respond to failures as they happen, making decisions on-the-fly, an organization can create the appropriate policy up front. The SRM software automatically follows appropriate procedures, regardless of who is working the shift when the event occurs. Policy-based management automatically encapsulates and distributes best practices for storage throughout the organization.

Application and file system information

For policy-based management to be truly useful, the SRM solution should have some level of understanding or integration with file systems and critical applications on the storage network.

For example, databases and e-mail servers often need application-specific actions. In many cases, a database or e-mail administrator must work with a system administrator to perform basic storage management tasks. SRM software should track the capacity of an database tablespace file and set alerts to notify the database administrator when the tablespace exceeds 80% of its capacity—for example—or when there's a potential problem with a redo log, while at the same time monitoring the entire data path for other network-based trouble spots that could affect application availability or performance.

Integrated path management

In networked storage environments, data paths are a key part of the storage management process. You need the ability to monitor and prioritize data paths, identifying potential bottlenecks before they affect performance.

For example, you might monitor all ports on a critical data path (such as between your Exchange server and its data) and set alerts or actions if any point exceeds 90% utilization.

Points of integration

Active SRM requires a high level of integration with different infrastructure components. For instance, the software should be able to identify specific events such as a port on a switch experiencing address errors. In addition, support for a broad range of devices is important.

Software integration is another point to consider. For example, administrators might want to know about the size and age of files, as well as who owns them. They might want to track all of the non-business related data, such as large MP3 files, on company file servers. Also look for tight integration with your specific applications.

The SRM software should also fit into your overall storage management framework, including backup-and-recovery operations and clustering software.

In the future, how can you be sure that the SRM product you implement today will work with equipment, devices, and topologies down the road? The answer lies in standards, many of which are still emerging for heterogeneous networked storage. Some of the key standards to watch include

  • The SNIA Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S), which is based on the Common Information Model (CIM) and Web-Based Enterprise Management (WBEM) standards. These standards create a common management backbone for heterogeneous SANs; devices can "plug into" the SAN and expose management information and interfaces to management applications such as SRM applications;
  • iSCSI, which provides native SCSI remote procedure calls over IP networks to create "IP SANs." (For more information about iSCSI, see "iSCSI gains a toehold in SAN market," InfoStor Special Report, April 2003, p. 18.)

The storage and storage networking industries are rapidly refining and adopting these standards. Products that commit to these standards should provide long-term interoperability, even as your storage infrastructure changes.

Proactive storage management

By implementing full SRM capabilities, you can adopt a proactive stance to storage management. Instead of reacting to problems as they occur, you can establish policies for various situations in advance and then have the SRM software automatically implement those policies. Proactive management leads to greater consistency and efficiency of service.

A proactive approach also gets you out of the interrupt-driven mode of managing storage problems. Instead of pulling from a capacity-planning project to cope with a port failure on a switch, proactive SRM software reroutes traffic and notifies you of the problem. You can discover and address issues before they become problems, improving overall productivity for longer-term, strategic processes.

In short, implement solutions that can not only improve storage efficiency, but also reduce the ongoing cost of storage management, even as your storage infrastructure continues to grow and change.

Ruth Colombo is senior manager of product marketing at Veritas Software (www.veritas.com) in Mountain View, CA.

This article was originally published on June 01, 2003