Technology Product Focus: Managing the storage monolith

A slew of software is coming to market that helps IT professionals manage the increasing amounts of storage they have attached to Windows NT, NetWare, Unix and mainframe servers.

That news comes none too soon, because, according to Strategic Research, storage capacity per company is growing by 44 per cent a year. That means that by 2003, a typical large company could be managing about 200Gbytes of network storage, in addition to its enterprise network and systems management duties.

But how do you know which packages to use?

Dave Hill, storage analyst for Aberdeen Group, divides storage management into four classes: data protection, data placement, storage administration and storage resource management.

"If you are going to manage the storage-area network you need all this software.

"And you want to get it from a company that is hardware-neutral," Hill says.

IT managers generally do well protecting the data on their networks. They back up the network daily, protect tapes against damage and even vault data to remote sites to provide for disaster recovery.

Many companies, such as EMC and Veritas Software, make this task easier by offering snapshot backup tools that take a point-in-time copy of data so IT staffs have a record of the state of the network at any time. If problems occur, they can recover data or files from the time period they want. Snapshot backups eliminate the worries of having a decreasing amount of time, called the backup window, available to back up data.

Other data protection tools include open file managers, which let customers ignore the backup window entirely. These tools assume that no window exists and files are being accessed continually. St Bernard Software and Computer Associates make software that backs up open files. Specialised tools are also available for backing up and recovering individual messages and transactions from e-mail message stores and databases. Among the vendors that sell such tools are CommVault and OTG Software.

With the large numbers of servers and storage arrays currently employed, analysts say it is difficult to determine if storage is being used optimally. Some servers may have more storage available than they can use, others need storage immediately. A Unix server may be overloaded, while an NT server with gobs of available storage sits idle.

Making the most of storage

Now that NT and Unix servers can share data located on the same storage array through a technique called zoning, or partitioning, software is starting to appear that lets IT managers analyse their data storage distribution from a single console, adjusting it manually or automatically as required.

DataCore Software has created software that lets an IT manager create a "virtual data pool" from a variety of storage arrays that can be assigned to any Unix, NT, NetWare or Linux server: Take 5Gbytes from Drive A and give it to an NT server; take 10Gbytes from Drive A, give it to a Linux server; and give the remaining 21Gbytes to the Solaris server. Taking data residing on any storage device on the network and making it available to any server is a Holy Grail that many users want but few have been able to achieve because of technological limitations.

Richard Boyle, vice president of Chase Global Private Banking in New York, is using pooling. "Before having any Fibre Channel or pooling products, we just threw more disks into a server," he says. "With pooling you can add storage as you need it, and you are in a far better position to predict how much storage you need. Before pooling, you would buy another server and spend a minimum of three days work dividing up the users and bringing it online."

Once IT managers have consolidated their storage and backed it up, their attention should turn to what Aberdeen's Hill calls storage administration - software that handles hardware configuration and controls access to it. Most Fibre Channel vendors, including Brocade, Gadzoox and Vixel, offer software that installs, configures and controls access for their devices. Only a few vendors, such as Vixel, offer device management that is independent of the device they manufacture.

Another area of storage management that network managers are concerned about is storage resource management (SRM), characterised by software from HighGround Systems. SRM lets storage administrators manage the physical as well as the logical storage assets - features such as disk capacity, files, volumes and utilisation, and tasks such as asset management.

Within SRM is the capability to monitor events on the storage subsystem, correct them and set policies to avoid them in the future - capabilities that have been tracked on network devices for some time. According to Hill, SRM should fit alongside application and network management and database administration.

Art of zoning

Storage vendors have considered the data network to be different to the network infrastructure, and because of its differences they have some new ways to manage it. They've incorporated zoning to allow access to the disk by server operating systems.

Until recently, however, vendors paid little attention to network and systems management techniques, says Steve Duplessie, an analyst with Enterprise Storage Group. They've forced users to manage storage with new tools instead of through a single, consolidated console with a view of the data as well as network and systems infrastructure.

Gadzoox Networks was one of the first vendors to use a directory-enabled technology, common in Novell network management products, to manage its storage routers. Brocade recently introduced software called Fabric Watch that relies on SNMP to collect statistics about devices and feed them to consoles such as BMC's Patrol for analysis and reporting.

Users want storage management that ties into the rest of their jobs - managing the network infrastructure - so they can view their entire systems, from a single console. At least that's what many users say.

"We have IBM Simplicity's storage management for the company's NetFinity server-attached storage," Chase Global Private Banking's Boyle says. "Wouldn't it be nice if we could report those storage functions up through Tivoli? Both [Tivoli and DataCore] have promised that they will do that."

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More about Aberdeen GroupBMC Software AustraliaBrocade CommunicationsCA TechnologiesDataCoreDataCore SoftwareEMC CorporationEnterprise Storage GroupGadzoox NetworksHighGround SystemsIBM AustraliaLogicalNovellOTG SoftwareStrategic ResearchTivoliVeritasVeritas SoftwareVixel

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