Leveraging storage resource management software

By Alan R. Earls

Users are looking beyond basic capacity monitoring and reporting to SRM functions such as chargeback, capacity planning and provisioning, and "active" management.

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Although storage resource management (SRM) software has not quite taken the world by storm—yet—things have definitely been happening in the market in terms of adoption strategies and vendor offerings.

"SRM has had so much promise, and it has always been one of those solutions where end users 'get it' pretty quickly in terms of what it does," says Ed Cooper, director of BrightStor marketing at Computer Associates. But, he adds, it's a technology that should be more widely deployed "because it complements an overall storage infrastructure strategy. Users can get a better return on their storage investment with SRM by improving efficiency, increasing storage utilization, and managing their environment more uniformly."

However, the majority of the user community is still sitting on the sidelines trying to figure out what to do about SRM. Meanwhile, though, a growing number of organizations are jumping in with both feet, making SRM the cornerstone of storage management environments that are more efficient and "data-centric" than ever before. In particular, some companies are using SRM to support chargeback—giving storage professionals leverage over business units that consume the most storage resources.

And vendors say they are delivering SRM functionality in a number of new ways, including offerings targeted at audiences beyond traditional large data centers.

Hemant Kurande, chief technology officer at Storability, says his company has seen a sharp increase in SRM-related RFPs from customers over the last year, an indicator that end users are "knowledgeable about SRM and about the challenges they are trying to solve." And, he argues, users are demanding both point products and integrated solutions.

"For a long time there has been a lot of talk about SRM, but few vendors offered the features users wanted," says Randy Kerns, a partner with the Evaluator Group consulting firm. Now, though, SRM products have matured and are meeting end-user expectations in terms of functionality and feature integration. Kerns credits vendors such as CreekPath, EMC, and Fujitsu Softek in particular for creating renewed interest in SRM and offering the most complete product portfolios.

"There have been a lot of vendors with point solutions, but end users want integrated suites," says Kerns.

And now, he argues, vendors and users should start thinking of SRM in the larger context of information life-cycle management (ILM). ILM will need to be a component of SRM, or SRM will need to be integrated with ILM solutions, according to Kerns. However, he adds, complete ILM solutions may not appear for years (see "The ABCs of ILM," p. 1).

Barry Ader, director of software product marketing at EMC, says that SRM has gone through a typical adoption curve, and the market is beginning to mature and users are starting to look for more-sophisticated capabilities.

Many companies—particularly larger organizations—have already taken advantage of SRM's ability to provide detailed information on what and how storage assets are being used. Ader says that mid-tier companies, with less storage expertise, have to solve many of the same problems but in a different way "because sometimes one person wears several hats, including storage administrators."

Capacity planning and provisioning

Ader predicts that the next phase of SRM adoption for both large and mid-sized organizations will be in the areas of capacity planning and provisioning. "In the past, those were tedious, manual processes that were very error-prone," he says.

Ader attributes increased end-user interest in SRM in part to the fact that storage capacity is growing exponentially—by more than 50% per year at most organizations. But that's only part of the story. Much of that growth comes in the form of "unstructured data"—such as e-mails with attachments—as well as from a significant increase in the volume of transactions.

Rather than simply try to ride the runaway horse, though, some organizations are leveraging SRM to achieve a new level of control over storage. "Capacity growth is driving the need to automate and manage storage according to business policies and regulatory requirements," says Ader. "Many companies are looking for better ways of managing their cost structures and deploying technologies. It comes down to having the resources you need available at the right time and at the right price point." Ader also notes that service level agreements (SLAs) and the concept of chargeback are piquing end-user interest in SRM software. "The ability to do regular reporting through SRM is the key to addressing those issues," he says.

Ader isn't alone in spotting SRM-enabled chargeback as an emerging trend; in fact, almost every vendor and analyst interviewed for this article indicated that chargebacks are an increasingly important piece of the SRM pie.

"Because it provides all the monitoring and reporting mechanisms, hopefully in one package, SRM is the key enabler for the internal utility model," claims Kerns, who says that more and more companies are purchasing SRM software primarily to get an understanding of where their costs are and to initiate a system of chargebacks within their IT organizations.

"The chargeback model is a natural for larger companies," says Arun Taneja, principal analyst and founder of The Taneja Group consulting firm. "That's because large IT shops have to satisfy the needs of a wide variety of groups or divisions. The only way that can work is with a chargeback mechanism, because otherwise if business units remain insulated from costs they'll all demand only the best and most expensive kind of storage."

But while the business logic is compelling, Taneja warns that the chargeback capability of SRM products has not been extensively demonstrated yet. "Most of these products have this capability on paper, but until it is used more widely we won't really know how good it is."

But that's not stopping users from testing the water.

"Users are always looking for solutions that can help improve their efficiency," says Jeff Hausman, group product marketing manager at Veritas Software. "They are being asked to find ways to reclaim disk space that isn't being used, to automate the provisioning of storage, to automate management, and to provide service level agreements"—all of which are related to SRM and chargeback services. But, he notes: "If you're going to charge for a service, you better be sure you can provide the service."

According to Hausman, "Storage administrators want the ability to track the services they provide and to charge back if necessary in a utility model." But that wish list is further complicated by the fact that users want (or have) products from multiple vendors that can be integrated together to provide a comprehensive solution.

Kevin Harris, chief technology officer at AmeriVault (an EMC SRM customer) says SRM is crucial to his ability to do chargebacks to customers. AmeriVault manages more than 36TB for its clients in a service provider model. Although Harris says he doesn't directly use his SRM software for allocating costs (his company's proprietary applications already handle that task) SRM is critical to his ability to manage his massive storage infrastructure. "We had problems managing our storage as we grew," Harris admits. "In the early days it was very easy to 'eyeball' single servers and get a view of capacity, but as we grew into a farm and then added another remote location it became completely unmanageable."

AmeriVault realized the need for tools that could track capacity to make sure the company didn't run out of space or, just as bad, end up buying storage it didn't really need. That's when it installed EMC's VisualSRM. Among other things, the software provides for tiered notification regarding the capacity of specific drives. "If something abnormal is happening, we're alerted so there's no impact on customers."

The product has now evolved so that Harris says he can easily generate regular reports with statistics on available space and usable space. "We can make adjustments to the infrastructure and analyze trends for a month or a year," he says. The bottom line is that Harris can now better plan future storage acquisitions and ensure they can meet the threshold requirements for any given application.

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EMC's Ader says that although the storage services provider model didn't catch on, it is becoming more and more attractive for companies to provide storage services internally using the same model. "They are being asked to speak the language of business and deliver better services back to users," he says. Ader suggests that SRM-based chargeback may actually be less important than the demand that storage professionals serve up a better "product"—one that is better tuned to the needs of the business.

For CreekPath's senior vice president of marketing, Scott Hansbury, the most interesting wrinkle in the SRM story is not the drive to pull in revenue via the services model but rather the related demand, partly inspired by regulations, to classify data and store it in the most appropriate way based on those classifications. "Customers are moving from passive reporting to more active and automated storage management," says Hansbury.

And vendors are providing the functionality to support those capabilities. Whether it is termed ILM or something else, it still comes down to understanding what data you have, understanding what it means to an application or to your business, and then determining how best to utilize the infrastructure to support those requirements.

New buzzword

Hansbury says one of the new buzzwords is "storage operations management," a concept that aims to provide a holistic view of both infrastructure and data, with the ultimate goal of generating management policies. "We have customers that used SRM to find as much as 10TB of unused or lost capacity; without SRM there would be questions about what to do with that capacity and how to re-provision it," he says.

For some organizations that are leveraging SRM, chargeback is a concept that remains foreign, and the classification process that Hansbury describes is the key priority. Ron Cekala, manager of Unix and enterprise storage at Aramark Services, in Philadelphia, is a case in point. Cekala has an infrastructure consisting of a whopping 300TB of storage area network (SAN) and direct-attached storage (DAS) supporting about 200 Windows servers, 50 Unix servers, and an IBM mainframe. He estimates that storage capacity growth is in the 50%-per-year range.

However, Cekala notes that only about 30 to 40 of the servers are on the SAN, "leaving lots of terabytes just floating around," which is a concern to upper management. To help get a handle on his storage environment, Cekala relies primarily on CommVault's Galaxy backup software and QiNetix QNet monitoring software. Working together, the products can reveal how much storage is being backed up to tape and can provide a view of how much is really available "on the floor."

However, while getting a better understanding of storage usage is critical for Aramark, chargebacks are not. In fact, Cekala says there are no plans to move in that direction. Instead, Cekala says he uses storage monitoring capabilities to establish needs and utilization, and if there's a requirement for more storage he simply asks the group that needs the storage to pay for the capital costs.

Tom Rose, marketing vice president at AppIQ and a founder of SRM pioneer HighGround Systems, says that SRM technology has changed quite a bit since it was introduced about seven years ago. How-ever, "I'm not sure end users' problems have changed," he adds.

Passive and active views

In the early days of SRM, the tools provided basic monitoring and reporting but did not provide active management and detailed drill-down capabilities. Now, a number of SRM vendors offer both passive and active views that extend from the application down to the device level.

Ash Ashutosh, AppIQ's chief technology officer, says that the challenge for SRM vendors is "to provide the same tightly coupled functionality that exists in the mainframe world. The SRM software must know about the applications that access the data, as well as about the network and storage infrastructure that stores the data."

But while users undoubtedly want more "intelligent" SRM tools, they basically just need to simplify storage management. While praising the functionality that he gets from EMC's SRM software, AmeriVault's Harris admits that SRM tools could be more user-friendly. For example, he wishes he had more flexibility in reporting and more integration with EMC's hardware products "so instead of being a layered product SRM would be fully integrated. If you buy a SAN, it usually has its own set of applications to manage LUNs and arrays. However, the way it is now you still need another application to manage capacity from the host side instead of just having one application that can connect to the physical and logical side."

Aramark's Cekala says that with only six months of SRM experience under his belt he has realized significant benefits, but that when he gets more experience, he, too, may start to find areas that are lacking in the current crop of SRM products.

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

This article was originally published on January 01, 2004