SRM vendors focus on breadth of support

As opposed to adding advanced features such as automated management, vendors are concentrating on expanding their support for heterogeneous platforms and specific applications.

By Kevin Komiega

The storage industry is rivaled by few in its ability to generate and sustain buzz around a new technology. When storage resource management (SRM) burst on the scene as the latest must-have storage management tool it was heralded as a panacea for all management problems. But just as water seeks its level, so does technology. SRM vendors that promised advanced features and automation back in 2001 are now focusing on device recognition and extended support for storage subsystems and specific applications. And this is one time where vendors changing course may be in the best interests of end users.

However, to say that SRM technology has not matured over the past five years would be inaccurate. Once known simply as a quota management tool, SRM software now offers granular device recognition, monitoring, customizable reporting, and modest levels of automated management for everything connected to a networked storage infrastructure, from hosts and clients to disk arrays and all the way through the backup process.

Today’s SRM software provides administrators with a comprehensive view of disk capacity, bandwidth, switch ports, network interfaces, and data access patterns. SRM tools can tell administrators where their storage resources are, who is using them, and when they will need to buy more.

But all along vendors have promised to take SRM to the next level and take a more active role in storage management through automation. Those promises have yet to be fully realized, but it’s not because the software vendors are dragging their feet. The bottom line is that they are listening to their customers.

As a storage manager for a large telecommunications company, Chris Stevenson is a seasoned veteran when it comes to evaluating and using SRM tools. And for Stevenson, automated management is not a consideration when you are looking at SRM tools. His approach is to play to the strengths of the technology-data collection, reporting, and capacity planning.

“We have to know about it before we can better manage it,” says Stevenson. “We’re using the [SRM] information to better plan storage purchases and provisioning, and we’re trying to maintain a cost chargeback model so we can budget properly.”

In an attempt to gain visibility into his IT environment at the storage, host, database, file system, and backup level, Stevenson has implemented Storability’s Global Storage Manager (GSM) 4.0. (Storability is a division of StorageTek.)

The keys to success for SRM, according to Stevenson, are performance, customized reporting, and breadth of platform support. Using SRM for automated management is toward the bottom of his “to-do” list.

AppIQ’s StorageAuthority Suite System Explorer graphically depicts all resources, highlights selected fabric elements, and provides context-sensitive drill-down and configuration capabilities.
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“We’re probably not going to use an SRM tool for administration over the next two years, but everybody needs help with reporting,” says Stevenson. “My perspective on the SRM space is that it’s all still in beta. Nobody’s really finished. It’s tough to be on the bleeding edge.”

According to Steve Duplessie, senior analyst and founder of the Enterprise Strategy Group research and consulting firm, the definition of SRM has not changed much over the past few years, but the way end users are evaluating SRM tools has changed. They want SRM tools to do less and do it in a simpler way.

“A lot of the bells and whistles are overkill,” says Duplessie. “One of the big issues with SRM adoption was that it simply cost too much to get going. By taking out functions, vendors can lower the pricing and make SRM more attractive.”

Breadth versus depth

Not much has changed in the nine years since Tom Rose got into the SRM business with start-up HighGround Systems, which was purchased by Sun Micro-systems in 2000. Rose, now a vice president with AppIQ, says that the widespread adoption of SANs has spawned the need for SRM tools to become more device-aware.

“The SRM software category is now more a market of breadth rather than depth,” explains Rose. In his opinion, vendors are now attempting to repeat what they did in the networking world with the development of network management consoles, while continuing to expand the SRM support matrix.

“It’s about creating a solid foundation rather than advancing proactive [management capabilities]. There’s so much complexity already that we need to expand support and integration with what customers already have,” Rose says.

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Storability’s Global Storage Manager (GSM) suite includes a number of SRM modules, including GSM Asset View, Array Trending and Forecasting View, and Backup Exceptions View.
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So what’s driving the shift from automated SRM tools to a wider range of heterogeneous systems support? The answer is simple: End users are facing the same basic problems today that they were five years ago. They still don’t know what storage resources they have or how those resources are being used.

AppIQ isn’t the only vendor focused on extending support to additional platforms, devices, and applications. Storability, for example, is on a similar path. “Vendors have increased their device and application coverage to focus more on SANs and arrays,” says Ed Palmer, Storability’s senior director of product management. “Customers are always asking for expanded platform support.”

Gunnar Bolin, vice president of global marketing at Northern Software, says SRM vendors are adding more and more capabilities to their software, but that users are realizing that they need to look at things as they relate to cost. “Users have become more interested in SRM tools because they are more than just quota management now. The tools are becoming increasingly more aware,” says Bolin.

Bolin believes SRM tools are saving users money, but the found dollars aren’t in reclaiming unused capacity. Instead, cost savings are realized over time through smarter purchasing. “The cost per megabyte [of storage hardware] is lower than it has ever been, so the cost savings for raw capacity are not that great anymore,” Bolin explains. “The cost savings [from SRM] are related to the capacity projections you can create under tight budget constraints.”

What you get

SRM software is already rich in functionality. For example, most SRM products provide analysis of capacity usage, automated reporting, trending, and support for heterogeneous storage environments whether they be SAN, NAS, or direct-attached storage (DAS). Many SRM suites also support specific applications and databases such as Microsoft SQL Server, Sybase, and Oracle.

SRM is “tell-me-what-I-have” software. For example, SRM tools can tell users if host bus adapter (HBA) drivers are out of date, distinguish single-path from multi-path connections, and validate SAN configurations, provisioning, and backups.

SRM tools also help facilitate information life-cycle management (ILM) and tiered storage architectures by identifying inactive and seldom-accessed files, allowing them to be manually migrated to lower-cost tiers of storage.

But vendors are realizing that fully automating all SRM functions is still a ways off and not necessarily a top priority for end users; instead, SRM vendors are putting interoperability with legacy and new technologies on the front burner. The result, at least in the near term, will be SRM tools that are increasingly aware of the storage environment, but not necessarily deeper in functionality.

According to SRM vendors and users alike, there is a high level of interest in adding support for virtualization products. As adoption of virtualization rises, users are clamoring for support for products such as EMC’s Invista and VMWare, Hitachi Data System’s TagmaStore disk array, IBM’s TotalStorage SAN Volume Controller (SVC), Microsoft’s Virtual Server, and other virtualization technologies.

Meanwhile, SRM vendors are busy extending support to additional hardware platforms and applications. For example, Storability has added support for Cisco switches, Novell servers, and IBM tape libraries, along with SMI-S support for hosts and switch fabrics, to the latest version of its Global Storage Manager (GSM) suite.

AppIQ has added unified SAN and NAS management with integrated backup reporting and fault analysis for Veritas NetBackup and has also extended support to IBM TotalStorage Enterprise Storage Server (ESS) disk arrays. App-IQ also offers modules for integration with Network Appliance’s Data ONTAP operating system, extending its management capabilities to all of Net-App’s primary, nearline, and gateway systems.

EMC’s VisualSRM suite supports multi-vendor, heterogeneous storage environments and offers application support for Microsoft Exchange and SQL Server, Sybase, and Oracle databases.

In addition to extended support for heterogeneous disk arrays and specific applications, end users are also interested in data classification capabilities, service level management, and improved quota management, reporting, billing, and chargeback features.

Technologies rarely live up to their marketing hype, but there’s one other factor that might be slowing the advancement of SRM functionality. The industry-wide movement toward interoperability influences almost every piece of storage hardware and software that enters the market. Case in point: The Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S), a storage management standard developed by the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA), has had a marked influence on product development in the storage industry.

The SMI-S standard leverages common transports and the Common Information Model (CIM) to help define objects and components of a storage network and serve as a “universal translator” for storage devices and applications. However, becoming SMI-S-compliant requires that vendors dedicate personnel to the task, which means fewer developers to beef up the management capabilities of SRM tools.

Fast growth for SRM

Although SRM represents one of the smallest segments of the overall storage software market, it is experiencing the fastest growth. According to the Gartner Inc. IT consulting firm, the SRM market grew 30.8% last year and is forecasted to double by 2009, reaching $1.2 billion. In contrast, the total storage software market grew only 12.3% last year.

The biggest selling points for SRM software are the return on investment (ROI) benefits that come from reclaiming storage capacity, followed by SRM’s trending and capacity planning capabilities. Predicting storage growth has become an invaluable practice for storage managers with tight budgets because it allows them to accurately and efficiently plan future storage purchases.

The User Portal of the Northern Storage Suite SRM software enables IT administrators to provide users with tools and information they need to independently manage their storage space.
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All indications point to continued growth in the SRM market. According to a recent survey by the Enterprise Strategy Group, 45% of end users polled are currently using SRM tools in some form, while another 19% plan to purchase SRM software this year.

An end-user survey of storage professionals conducted by TheInfoPro research firm produced similar results. For example, more than half of the respondents (54%) were already using SRM software, while 18% planned to purchase SRM tools this year and 11% planned to implement SRM next year. In TheInfoPro survey, 17% of the respondents had no plans to use SRM.

Choosing a solution

There are several things to keep in mind when you are evaluating SRM tools. Like everything else in IT, potential SRM customers must know what they are trying to accomplish and how it will support the organization’s business requirements.

The keys to any solid SRM package are performance, breadth of device and application support, and broad support for storage subsystems, switches, and databases.

For Stevenson, performance and custom reporting were paramount considerations. “Because you’re going to be deploying agents, performance is really important,” he says. “Make sure the agents don’t need to be restarted and don’t impact clients.”

Stevenson says that knowing what types of information you need from reporting tools is also crucial. “One of the easiest ways to be unsuccessful with SRM software is not being able to report on and validate data.”

The ultimate promise of SRM is total automation of storage reporting, allocation, provisioning, and other management tasks.

There is no question that-eventually-vendors will fulfill that promise, eliminating the mundane manual tasks that consume valuable administration time. But, at least for the near term, SRM software vendors are focusing on broader support for applications and devices, which appears to be exactly what end users want.

Representative SRM vendors

AppIQ BMC (mainframe only)
Computer Associates CommVault
CreekPath Crosswalk
EMC Hewlett-Packard (AppIQ OEM)
HDS (AppIQ OEM) IBM/Tivoli
Network Appliance Northern
NTP Software SGI
Softek StorageTek/Storability
Sun (AppIQ OEM) Tek-Tools
TeraCloud Veritas/Symantec

This article was originally published on September 01, 2005