Software fills forecasting gap in SRM

By Kevin Komiega

—Storage resource management (SRM) tools have become an integral part of managing networked storage environments by bringing visualization, discovery, provisioning, reporting, and a host of other capabilities to the fingertips of storage administrators. But one area of the storage management process that some SRM tools have yet to master is capacity planning and forecasting. And where there is a gap, there is a new product to fill it.

According to a study of 75 storage professionals and high-level IT managers, accurately predicting the need for storage capacity can result in more timely storage purchases and can allow administrators to take advantage of the inherent price decline of storage over time. The study, conducted by MonoSphere, claims that a storage purchase deferred by two quarters can translate into a cost savings of up to 18%. The same study shows that large enterprises with storage budgets of $10 million can save as much as $3 million annually by increasing their capacity utilization by 30%.

In other words, knowing with certainty when you will need more storage can result in significant capital expenditure (CapEx) savings.

"Traditional SRM applications have all had capacity-planning and forecasting capabilities in their plans, but they just do capacity reporting. They don't really have sophisticated, query-based tools to tell you what your future looks like," says Laura Dubois, research director for storage software at International Data Corp. (IDC). "I think SRM missed the mark in a way. SRM vendors had to focus in on the technology infrastructure and do topology mapping, performance, utilization, and a lot of other things."

Dubois agrees that there is a need for advanced capacity-planning tools beyond those offered by SRM vendors. It is a need being driven by exponential storage growth.

IDC research shows that end users are facing year-over-year capacity increases of 40% to 50% and, in some cases, as high as 100%. Being able to better manage the storage purchasing process through more-efficient capacity planning can deliver significant savings to an organization, according to Dubois.

MonoSphere has moved to fill the perceived need for advanced capacity-planning and forecasting tools. The company recently debuted a product called Storage Horizon, an agent-less capacity-planning tool for large and medium-sized companies. Storage Horizon discovers, organizes, analyzes, and forecasts storage usage to give IT departments a more accurate view of capacity utilization and future requirements.

Storage Horizon runs on Windows, Unix, or Linux hosts and uses protocols such as WMI, SNMP, and SMI-S to gather usage data from a storage environment. The software then analyzes past, present, and future storage needs.

The product lets storage managers remotely monitor utilization rates of an unlimited number of storage devices and applications from any location. It can forecast when an application will reach a specified utilization rate, post deviations from the capacity forecast to its user interface, and simultaneously send SMS and e-mail alerts in advance of the application reaching the utilization threshold, thereby avoiding any failures or performance degradation.

Storage Horizon features advanced querying functions, a forecasting engine that uses statistical time-series analysis and free-hand planning, and a financial modeler that outlines growth patterns, dollar value of storage assets, and system age. The software also provides alerts, notifications, and customizable reports through a central user interface.

MonoSphere's CEO Ray Villeneuve contends that SRM tools have relatively simple capacity-planning capabilities and claims they don't forecast well and are not very accurate. However, he does not position Storage Horizon as a replacement for SRM tools.

"The product is purpose-built specifically for capacity planning. Many users already have SRM applications that have value in provisioning and virtualization. We are complementary to those SRM applications," says Villeneuve.

Villeneuve says SRM's value is in operational cost savings through the reduction of the personnel needed to manage large amounts of storage, while capacity-planning tools like Storage Horizon cut down on hardware costs.

Storage Horizon's pricing is based on the number of terabytes of capacity under management. MonoSphere says a 50TB implementation would cost approximately $50,000.

This is not MonoSphere's first attempt to make a splash in the storage software market. In 1993, the company launched a storage virtualization and management product called MonoSphere Storage Manager (MSM), which was an out-of-band management application designed to consolidate storage into a virtual storage pool.

Villeneuve says the company changed its direction in 2004 to focus on capacity planning because of user demand for forecasting tools.

This article was originally published on December 13, 2005