SRM lays the groundwork for storage management

Administrators are still using storage resource management software for basic capacity monitoring and reporting, but SRM will eventually be integrated with other storage management functions.

By Alan R. Earls

According to the Gartner consulting firm, storage resource management (SRM) software includes functions such as capacity and performance reporting and analysis, capacity/performance management automation, storage provisioning, storage management product integration, and application integration. Clearly, the definition of SRM is expanding, as is the number of players in the market despite consolidation (see vendor list on p. 32).

Regardless of how you define it, end users are reporting significant benefits from implementing SRM software. For example, about a year ago, Birmingham, AL-based Source Medical, an information solutions provider for the outpatient healthcare market, went live with SRM tools from Sun to help manage more than 37TB of storage. Source Medical uses Sun's Resource Management Suite, StorEdge Utilization Suite, and Performance Suite software for resource and data management functions.

At that time, LeeRoy Hardeman, group vice president of development support at the company, gave InfoStor a tentative thumbs up on the SRM software, but this year the verdict is more positive. "We still have some [storage] supply-and-demand issues, but they are often addressed before we even know about it," he explains. Hardeman also says that monitoring is very proactive and, since implementing the SRM software, there has been no downtime due to equipment problems.

SRM has become an increasingly popular way to monitor storage resources and enhance storage performance at all sizes of enterprises. Revenues in the SRM market were up 27% last year, to more than $290 million, according to Gartner. In fact, SRM and device resource management were the only sub-segments of the storage management software market that grew in 2002.

The importance of SRM software is reflected in the number of SRM-related acquisitions by large vendors over the last two years. Examples include TrelliSoft by IBM/Tivoli, Precise Software by Veritas, and Astrum by EMC.

"I've been surprised by the increasing rate of SRM adoption," says Nancy Marrone-Hurley, an analyst with the Enterprise Storage Group. She adds that the acquisition binge has repositioned SRM as an enabling technology for the next steps in the automation of storage management. For now, though, most organizations are focused on using SRM to solve their current problems.

A case in point is Foster Farms, a $1.4 billion company based in Livingston, CA. Joseph Mann, a senior systems engineer at Foster Farms, manages an extensive WAN environment on a relatively small IT budget. One of his main challenges was to find a simple, low-maintenance means of managing the avalanche of data on more than 120 Windows servers scattered across 11 states. "When we run out of disk space we don't have e-mail, we can't do invoices, and we don't get paid," he says. Mann and his staff decided to evaluate SRM products based on several criteria, including ease of installation, low administration overhead, and broad reporting capabilities.

Mann evaluated five SRM products before choosing Northern's Quota Server software. With a staff of only four people, Mann needed software that was simple to install and easy to use. "I like it because it can be hands-off or not, as needed," he says. "I don't think about it; it manages itself."

When users reach their capacity quotas, the software automatically dispatches warnings.

"We set up Quota Server to do printed reports every morning and send e-mail warnings," says Mann.

Another positive result included the discovery of more than 100,000 MP3 files. "I saved a terabyte of capacity by implementing a no-MP3 policy," says Mann—a policy that didn't result in a single complaint. Foster Farms is now in the process of evaluating Northern's Storage Suite (particularly the reporting module and user portal) as a next step in strengthening its storage management policies.

Richard Guetzloff, senior director of operations at RR Donnelly, in Chicago, also reports significant benefits from using SRM software. With more than 50TB spread over 120 locations (with Unix and Windows 2000 servers, and EMC and HP/Compaq storage arrays), Guetzloff says the greatest benefit gained by using Tek-Tools' Storage Profiler SRM software (which the company integrated with HP OpenView) is the ability to monitor backup operations. "We don't always have IT people at each location, so we haven't had a way to easily ensure regular backups," he adds. Furthermore, he can monitor the time consumed by backups and other problems to determine well in advance what additional resources may be needed.

SRM revenues for BMC Software, Computer Associates, and IBM came primarily from their mainframe SRM products. EMC's SAN Manager and DBTuner provide most of the EMC's SRM revenues.
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Guetzloff says the SRM implementation has been largely pain-free, but that there were some initial challenges, primarily with false positives. When Storage Profiler and OpenView were first integrated, "it was sort of like the problems you might encounter when you first set up an intrusion detection system," he explains. Guetzloff is also using EMC ControlCenter (ECC) software to manage the company's storage area networks (SANs). That means he can now produce regular metrics on SAN utilization and, with Storage Profiler, on backup operations.

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"For us, SRM has been almost like middleware, not only helping us integrate systems but also changing policies and procedures," says Guetzloff.

SRM implementation at MapInfo

A change in policies and procedures was also the outcome of SRM implementation at Troy, NY-based MapInfo Corp. With 6TB under management, network administrator Mary Diefendorf says her deployment of Fujitsu Softek's Storage Resource Manager software helped the company "understand the storage we had before we tried to grow our disk capacity." She used the SRM software to track down old, unused files, as well as ever-multiplying MP3 files.

Among the discoveries that came from the SRM process was the fact that the backup software was changing the "last-modified" dates on files, making it difficult to accurately age-categorize information. There were also user home directories located at different levels within file structures, further complicating backup.

"We had a grueling selection process in which we put four separate SRM products into our test environment," says Diefendorf. Key selection criteria included being able to remove files on-the-fly, being able to identify old files and redundant directories (and their owners), and being able to check through NetWare volumes.

While Diefendorf says she is pleased with what SRM has done for her organization—and is interested in looking at more-advanced software—for the moment she wants to improve SRM's ROI.

From APIs to SMI-S

Eventually, SRM is expected to become one element in an even more powerful and automated approach to storage. Carolyn DiCenzo, a Gartner research vice president specializing in storage management software, says users are trying to better understand storage usage and to further automate the management process. "They want to get deeper and understand things like whether their DBAs are really using the capacity they've got or simply over-allocating storage," she says. Similarly, there is significant interest in prioritizing storage so that only key files use the most expensive storage devices. "However, the life-cycle management approach to data is still evolving," says DiCenzo.

DiCenzo notes that "rich" APIs can allow SRM products to manage storage devices at a more detailed level. "Discovery and monitoring basic health is easy, but allocating LUNs on a storage array or managing devices on a switch requires access to the same controls that the device element manager has," she says. Disk array vendors have been offering more-detailed APIs since late 2001. As a result, SRM vendors have been able to offer better solutions.

Longer term, the emergence of the SNIA's Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S) should take management beyond what's possible through APIs, says DiCenzo.

John Webster, senior analyst and founder of the Data Mobility Group, agrees that the influence of SMI-S could be significant. "SMI-S could enable smaller vendors to compete on an equal footing with the big players and could dramatically reduce the cost of management software and enable users to integrate disparate management applications," he says.

In April 2003, SNIA released the first version of the specification (SMI-S 1.0). According to Roger Reich, chair of SNIA's SMI Committee, the goal is for all new management products to use the SMI-S standard by 2005.

Eventually, SRM will be more tightly integrated with other storage management functions. "SRM is becoming a base enabling technology [for more-comprehensive management solutions]," says ESG's Marrone-Hurley. "You can't have an effective storage management solution without first being able to gauge what you've got."

Marrone-Hurley says that the next wave of SRM (or SRM-enabled) solutions will include automated provisioning and automated data migration: "Those functions don't necessarily require SRM, but to make it more comprehensive you want to be able to ensure that mission-critical applications never run out of space."

To what degree new functions will be automated is another question, though. Marrone-Hurley notes that from the vantage point of many users, simply providing automatic reports is sufficient. Others, however, are looking for intelligence that can make more complex storage decisions without user intervention.

Many users are taking a one-step-at-a-time approach to SRM and higher-level management functionality. Gary Pilfas, a systems and storage architect at United Loyalty Services (a subsidiary of United Airlines), recalls how bleak things were before acquiring CreekPath's SRM software. "I was doing SRM with an Excel spreadsheet, and I had no bandwidth left to do the things I was actually hired for," he says.

"Once we installed SRM and were able to view our resources through a single pane of glass, it was then a matter of building in best practices," says Pilfas. Once you get past SRM you can start thinking about integrating it with functions such as performance management and security management.

Alan R. Earls is a freelance writer in Franklin, MA.

This article was originally published on September 01, 2003