SAN management merging with SRM

The goal is to get rid of Visio, Excel, pencils, and erasers and to automate the process of managing storage networks.

By Dave Simpson

Only a few years ago, SAN management seemed like one of the hottest categories in the overall storage management software market. But it never lived up to its potential for a variety of reasons, according to analysts. Early implementations were extremely expensive (at least from the large vendors), support for heterogeneous platforms was spotty at best, and SMI-S-the standard that was supposed to facilitate management of heterogeneous SANs-evolved more slowly than anticipated.

There was another reason why SAN management software didn’t take off as expected: The majority of SAN users just didn’t need it. Although large enterprises bought into expensive SAN management suites such as EMC’s ControlCenter (the market leader), the vast majority of companies were-and still are-trying to simplify their SANs, which tended to decrease the need for heterogeneous SAN management software.

“Mid-sized companies typically don’t have large, heterogeneous SANs so they often don’t need SAN management software,” says John Sloan, a senior research analyst with the Info-Tech research and consulting firm, which focuses on the mid-market. “Those companies are trying to simplify their SANs and are more interested in managing homogeneous storage networks or specific devices, in which case the component vendors’ management software often suffices.” (Management packages from vendors of SAN components such as switches, host bus adapters, disk arrays, etc., are typically referred to as device, or element, managers.)

As a result of all these factors, end-to-end (device to application) SAN management software has remained a niche market that addresses the needs of large enterprises, for the most part.

Merging with SRM

However, storage resource management (SRM) is very hot. In fact, SRM is the fastest-growing category in the overall storage management software market, with revenues clipping along at double-digit growth rates. For example, the Gartner IT research firm predicts a 14.8% compound annual growth rate for the SRM market through 2009, at which time it is expected to top $1 billion in revenues.

As a result of these trends, some vendors began merging SAN management and SRM, sometimes in cleanly integrated suites with a common interface and at other times in piecemeal fashion via acquisitions and disparate interfaces.

“SAN management software is blurring with SRM,” says Info-Tech’s Sloan. “They always had some common functions, such as discovery, but more and more functions are merging.”

What is it?

Although the two disciplines are converging, most people still associate specific functions with specific product categories. For example, SRM functions can include storage provisioning, array utilization monitoring, archiving integration, auto discovery, file-level utilization, recovery reporting, and the old SRM mainstays-capacity and quota management and reporting. Increasingly, SRM suites also include real-time performance management and application-level management (i.e., “application awareness”).

SAN management can include a wide array of functions, such as device discovery, provisioning, SAN visualization and topology mapping, event management, switch zoning administration, LUN mapping/masking, launching of device managers, asset management, administrative security, and reporting.

More-advanced SAN management features include policy-based management, active management, service-level management and chargeback, SAN design, and extended integration with other software tools (see figure).

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It won’t be long, however, until SAN management and SRM functions merge, with the resulting product category most likely being referred to as SRM. (Gartner uses the all-encompassing term “storage area management,” or SAM, which includes many of the aforementioned features as well as ties into business processes and other high-level functions.)

AppIQ’s StorageAuthority Suite is an example of a software suite that combines SRM, SAN management, and SAM under a single architecture and user interface. (Other examples include CreekPath and Sun/StorageTek.) “Users are demanding integrated suites,” claims John Kelly, director of product marketing at AppIQ, “so the trend is toward consolidation of point solutions. Users often have six or seven tools to manage their storage environment, and they want to get closer to one.”

(AppIQ is being acquired by Hewlett-Packard, and its management software is also resold by vendors such as Hitachi Data Systems and Sun.)

Kelly argues that “users should be able to manage about 90% of the storage management functions from a central platform, although you may still have to rely on other tools-such as device managers-to handle the rest of the management tasks.” As such, it’s important to note that no matter how much functionality your SAN management software has, you’ll still have to rely on device, or element, management software from individual component vendors for very granular management.

In addition to an integrated management suite, AppIQ is known for its adherence to the SMI-S management standard, which was developed by the Storage Networking Industry Association (www.snia.org). (For more information on the latest version of SMI-S, see “SMI-S 1.1 introduces value-added services,” p. 38.)

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But SMI-S is still in its nascent stages (at least in terms of software), and vendors often have to rely on other vendors’ APIs. “We use SMI-S when there’s equivalent functionality; otherwise we use APIs,” says Jim Franklin, senior marketing manager at EMC. “The industry still needs more functionality and stability in SMI-S.” (In addition to ControlCenter for large enterprises, EMC sells SAN management software called VisualSAN for smaller companies.)

And as with heterogeneous SAN management in general, the need for standards such as SMI-S may be greater in large enterprises than in small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs). “In theory, SMI-S is good but we don’t see a lot of interest in it among mid-sized companies,” says Info-Tech’s Sloan.

In a survey of InfoStor’s readers (which included companies of all sizes), more than one-fourth (26.5%) of the respondents said they were already using SMI-S to some degree, while another 12% plan to implement it next year. However, 27.8% of the survey respondents have no plans to leverage SMI-S and a third (33.7%) said that they weren’t familiar with the standard (see figure, right).

Low-cost SAN management

Until recently, SAN management software was well beyond the budgets of most SMBs (loosely defined as fewer than 1,000 employees, an IT budget of less than $20 million, and/or fewer than 200 servers). But that’s changing as smaller vendors try to edge into a market that’s still dominated by large vendors with expensive suites.

For example, St. Clair County Community Mental Health, in Port Huron, MI, chose the Crosswalk Storage Manager (CSM) suite in part because of its affordability, according to Allan Munsie, IT director at St. Clair. The suite is priced from about $5,000.

Although St. Clair is moving toward a SAN, the organization is currently using CSM in a predominantly NAS environment. (The software works with direct-attached storage, NAS, or SANs.)

CSM is based on a Knowledge Server engine database and optional modules such as SAN Manager, which is based on McData’s SANavigator software, and the Resource Manager module, which is based on Tek-Tools’ Profiler Rx SRM software. (St. Clair uses both modules.) CSM is an example of the trend toward merging SAN management and SRM.

The CSM suite-which is compliant with the SMI-S, CIM, and SNMP standards-is also a good example of the trend toward management software that goes all the way from device-level management to applications and server management. For example, St. Clair’s Munsie uses CSM not only for a variety of storage management/monitoring tasks, but also for monitoring and managing servers (e.g., CPU utilization) and applications such as Microsoft’s SQL Server and Exchange.

“CSM collapses server, applications, and storage management and monitoring into a single view,” says Munsie. Prior to implementing CSM, Munsie’s IT team used manual methods and Windows-based management tools, which were cumbersome, lacked functionality, and did not provide an infrastructure-wide view, according to Munsie. St. Clair only has six people to manage its entire IT infrastructure.

“The goal is to relate information from discovery tools to host servers, applications, and business requirements,” says Rob Kelley, vice president and CTO at Crosswalk, which has been shipping CSM for about one year.

St. Clair also uses CSM’s Backup Reporter module to monitor and report on Backup Exec jobs. (Backup monitoring and reporting tools will be covered in a Special Report in the December issue of InfoStor.)

Munsie acknowledges that it’s difficult to calculate return-on-investment (ROI) figures for storage management software, but notes that his organization saved approximately $120,000 in hardware costs alone thanks to CSM’s SRM features such as disk space monitoring and reporting.

Change management

Change management is one of the newer functions under the SAN management umbrella. Change management software is available from vendors such as Computer Associates (BrightStor SAN Designer), EMC (SAN Advisor), and start-up Onaro (SANscreen). Change management, or “predictive change management,” as Onaro calls it, is designed to reduce the time and resources required to manage SANs and remedy potential problems that might occur as a result of making changes-inadvertently or not-to storage networks (see figure).

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One company that has been using Onaro’s SANscreen change management software is State Street Global Advisors, a Boston-based asset management firm with more than $1.4 trillion in assets. State Street uses the change management software in a SAN environment with more than 300 hosts, 60 Fibre Channel switches (more than 1,500 switch ports), 15 disk arrays (predominantly EMC Symmetrix and Clariion, with more than 200TB of usable capacity), and more than 6,500 paths. The SAN environment is spread out over three sites, and continuous uptime and data availability were critical requirements.

“Previously we were using manual methods in conjunction with Excel and Visio to try to track SAN changes and their effects, and we really didn’t have a good feel for the environment and the effects that changes might have,” says Tom Dever, a principal and senior storage engineer at State Street. As a result, the firm was spending an inordinate amount of time managing and troubleshooting its SANs, and it was experiencing major outages that related directly to changes in the SAN. In the 18 months since the firm implemented SANscreen it has not had one SAN-related outage.

In addition to using SANscreen to predict the impact of changes and troubleshoot SAN-related problems, State Street uses EMC’s ControlCenter software, although primarily as a configuration management tool.

Dever says that most changes that can have adverse effects on SANs are the result of routine maintenance, but he also notes that HBAs can fail or be swapped, LUNs can be inadvertently overwritten or cables disconnected, and administrators can make simple errors in, say, zoning reconfigurations.

Dever notes that it’s difficult to calculate ROI for change management software, but the key benefits he’s realized from automating the change management process are

  • A sharp reduction in SAN troubleshooting time;
  • Less finger pointing between different IT groups;
  • Less engineering staff required for SAN troubleshooting; and
  • A reduction in storage deployment time.

Change management software is designed primarily for Fortune 1000 firms with complex SANs and at least 128 switch ports, according to Onaro officials.

(For more information on SAN management, see “SRM vendors focus on breadth of support,” InfoStor, September 2005, p. 22.)

This article was originally published on November 01, 2005