Knowing which software tool (or tools) to use to solve a particular data management issue is no easy task, especially in complex IT environments.

With the introduction of its TotalStorage Productivity Center last month, analysts say IBM has taken much of the decision-making process out of the hands of the IT administrator by centralizing, automating, and optimizing key storage functions from a central dashboard.

“Integration is the biggest problem,” says Jeff Barnett, manager of market strategy for IBM storage software. “It is confusing for users to determine where one tool starts and where another stops.”

Barnett says that while users have had IBM point products at their disposal for some time, users either don’t know a particular capability existed or they don’t know which products to use for which purposes.

By integrating key point products—in particular, Tivoli Storage Resource Manager and Tivoli SAN Manager—into a single suite, IBM hopes to take a lot of the guesswork out of the equation for administrators, to make it easier for them to perform certain tasks, such as provisioning, by reducing multi-step processes down to a single, automated task.

Explains Nancy Marrone-Hurley, a senior analyst with the Enterprise Storage Group: “IBM has integrated a number of products aimed at SAN [storage area network] management that in the past had to be launched individually and had no real interaction with each other. A single screen allows users to launch the right products based on the problem they are trying to solve.”

Users no longer have to identify the product they want to use, just the particular problem they’re trying to solve, explains Marrone-Hurley.

Users can just go to the Productivity Center GUI and click on the problem (e.g., “manage data availability” or “manage storage volume life cycles”) and the console launches the appropriate software, she says.

IBM is certainly not alone in trying to meld various pieces of its software together. In fact, all of the big players (e.g., Computer Associates, EMC, and Veritas) are doing it, as are some of the backup vendors (e.g., CommVault) and SRM and virtualization players (e.g., CreekPath, Storability, and StoreAge). Many of the smaller players have already built interactive, integrated platforms and are now looking to broaden their service offerings.

Mike Fisch, director of storage and networking at The Clipper Group consulting firm, says that IBM is among the leaders in end-to-end management, but that all of the vendors still have considerable work to do.

“EMC and IBM have the most comprehensive suites, although both have much development and integration ahead of them, and Veritas is in there, too,” says Fisch.

Eventually, enterprises will be able to dial up the storage service levels they want and the infrastructure will deliver it, he says.

What Fisch is describing is the concept of utility computing, or on-demand computing (see “How does storage fit into utility computing?”, p. 1). Computer Associates, EMC, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Sun, and Veritas all have announced visions for this type of proactive IT/storage environment.

IBM’s TotalStorage Productivity Center integrates Tivoli Storage Resource Manager, Tivoli SAN Manager, and TotalStorage Multiple Device Manager software. The device manager serves as the “glue” for the integration, providing the common management console or GUI from which other applications (e.g., SAN Manager and Storage Resource Manager) can be launched, configured, and monitored.

At the product level, Fisch says the most significant part of the announcement is the TotalStorage Multiple Device Manager. Besides providing centralized management capabilities, such as LUN provisioning and performance and replication management, it also supports the SMI-S management standard.

The Multiple Device Manager can be used to configure storage devices, monitor and track SMI-S-compliant storage devices, and more easily and efficiently manage replication services (e.g., IBM’s Peer-to-Peer Remote Copy and FlashCopy). The software’s three components—a device manager, performance manager, and replication manager—make this possible.

Multiple Device Manager also integrates with IBM’s SAN Volume Controller virtualization software, and up the storage stack with Tivoli Provisioning Manager and ThinkDynamic Orchestrator, two key components of IBM’s on-demand computing infrastructure.

“[IBM has clearly presented] its top-to-bottom, modular, software/hardware stack for delivering storage service levels,” says Fisch. “This includes everything from FastT and Shark disk arrays to ThinkDynamic Orchestrator and a lot of components and links in-between.”

Multiple Device Manager is available as part of the integrated Productivity Center suite or as a stand-alone product with a scaled-down SAN Manager version. Pricing for Productivity Center scales based on total storage capacity at customer sites, with 1TB entry configurations starting at $5,000.

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