Enterprise media management for open systems

Enterprise media management for open systems

With distributed open systems, keeping track of tape and optical media requires mainframe-caliber management software.

Michael Kramer

Open systems have taken over many of the enterprise-wide, mission-critical functions once reserved for mainframes. This expanded role presents challenges when it comes to distributed storage and media management.

Unlike mainframe systems, which were kept in highly controlled, centralized data centers, today`s open systems are spread all over the enterprise.

These Unix and NT systems perform mission-critical tasks and are much more flexible than mainframes, but there is a hitch. For users, the tradeoff between mainframe and open-systems storage is the complexity of systems management, especially when it comes to managing storage and media.

While there have been several advances that have helped system managers control widely distributed on-line storage across the enterprise, much less attention has been paid to managing the media once it leaves the on-line environment. Once media leaves the control of on-line storage systems, the potential for it to be misplaced, lost, or inadvertently reused is much greater. Media management controls the movement, retention, and inventory of the physical tapes, optical discs, and other media from any source at any given time.

An enterprise media management system is not tied to a single operating system or backup/storage technology. It provides a unified solution across the enterprise, which controls all the media generated by any source--from desktops to mainframes.

Exception processing is the key

Many organizations have homemade spreadsheet or database media tracking applications. Generally, these systems rely on manual tracking, so the spreadsheet only shows where media should be, not where it actually resides.

A media management system, building on the capabilities of legacy systems, keeps track of how long media should be retained, as well as when and by what method (slot or box assignment) it should be moved. It also enables users to take inventory to make sure media is in the right place and to protect against inadvertent rewrites.

In a media management system, all the retention and movement parameters are predefined to a volume (i.e., Server X Backup). Once the initial setup of the system is complete, users only have to log the media; the media management system automatically manages all moves and retentions.

A media management system tracks media by volume name, generation, type of media, location, and other parameters. It allows users to set parameters based on days, generations, or permanently, and can create automated movement schedules and handle several sites, movements, and storage methods.

Through a technique called relationship vaulting, some media management systems keep media sets whole by allowing one volume to control the movement and retention of another volume. For instance, movement and retention schedules for associated full backups and incremental backups can be linked. When the full backup moves, the incremental backups move with it; they are not purged until the next full backup. This keeps media sets in synch.

The real open-systems media management challenge is logging media--that is, getting the serial number of the media attached to the correct volume definition in the media management system.

Legacy systems have internal log files that notify media management systems when a piece of media has been generated and what is on the media. With Unix and NT, however, these log files either don`t exist or lack key information. A media management system solves this problem by giving users choices of proactive and reactive logging capabilities, making up for the lack of log data.

Advance logging pre-assigns serial numbers to volumes in batch mode before jobs are run. Labels are generated and adhered to the media to be used for the day. When a piece of media is specified for a job, the operator inserts the correct tape for the day`s run.

The system should accommodate authorized changes in case an exception arises, such as having to use different media than the originally assigned piece. Functions should also be in place for logging retroactively, after the data has been written to the media.

Bar codes are an efficient way of entering information quickly, while keyboards are good for logging only a few pieces of media. Regardless of the method, the media management system assigns volume names to the media and applies the retention maps and movement paths assigned to the volume during the initial setup. This automates the retention process and greatly reduces errors since manual input is kept to a minimum.

In addition, media management systems enable system managers to define several retention periods and relationships to one volume in order to manage different cycles.

For example, a full backup created in the middle of the month may be retained and/or vaulted differently than a full backup created at the end of the month. Some newer applications allow for different generations of the same volumes to reside on the same piece of media. For example, a backup system may enable a user to write more than one backup to the same medium. The media management system must be able to track these different data sections.

An enterprise-level system that manages all media must work in any networked environment, including LANs, WANs, and Fibre Channel SANs. In this way, it can support all potential archive sites regardless of size or location. Because both size and location can vary widely, a media management system must be able to scale to a level that is different and more complex than mainframe-only environments, while operating at local and enterprise levels simultaneously. This means the system must include multi-user, multi-platform, multi-site support, so users can manage media from any location.

Enterprise media management should enable system managers to assign restrictions at the domain level, or what a user can see, and at the access level, or what they can do within their domains.

Domain security can be limited to a particular subset of volumes, users, hosts, sites, or any combination thereof. Access-level parameters define what users can do in their assigned domain, such as add, inquire, edit, and delete items.

An added security feature is multi-level purge protection, which requires operators to verify media scratch status at each step of the process before media is reused. Finally, media management must have audit capabilities that capture a history of all of the media in the system, including when the media was manipulated and by whom.

You can backup as much as you want, but if you can`t find the right media to restore, you may as well not have backed up in the first place.

As Unix and NT systems take on more mission-critical tasks, media management systems will match the capabilities of legacy systems, while offering the flexibility and cost effectiveness of open systems.

Click here to enlarge image

B&L Associates` Vertices is an enterprise-wide media management system that allows users to track media regardless of platform applications.

Michael Kramer is vice president of marketing and sales at B&L Associates, (www.bandl.com), in Needham, MA.

This article was originally published on July 01, 1999