Storage, server monitoring software gains popularity

As the economy continues to tighten the belts of IT shops, some companies are turning to server and storage-monitoring software to restrict the amount of space used by business units and charging those departments for their use of IT and data resources.

Research firm Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Connecticut, estimates that for every dollar spent on disk storage, it actually costs US$7 more to manage that data. Because most of that cost is based on management, Gartner analyst David Furlonger said companies are looking to software to help them better control business-unit use of IT resources.

With 25,000 employees, UPMC Health Systems in Pittsburgh was concerned about network storage capacity being overtaken by personal data -- more than 1.8TB worth.

The additional management for routine data backups and restores, as well as ongoing monitoring and maintenance, placed a burden on UPMC's IT shop and cost them in extra man-hours. On top of that, UPMC had migrated from a Novell to an NT server environment about seven years ago, which removed its ability to manage disk-space allocation for users, according to Karen Malik, manager of network servers and desktop design at the largest nonprofit integrated health care system in the country.

Now, UPMC is considering a chargeback tool that comes with the latest version of a software package the company installed two years ago.

"It would be a huge process for us to implement that, but it would likely be worth it because of the return on investment," which she has yet to calculate, said Malik.

Malik oversees a shop that maintains more than 325 NT and Windows 2000 servers. One of the biggest problems she has had with UPMC's environment was how users were eating up entire disks to store personal data, thus forcing Malik and her team to constantly ask people to delete files. And because it doesn't currently have a chargeback method, UPMC's IT shop "financially supports all server hardware, and we can't afford not to control the disk usage," she said.

Additionally, Malik said, notifying users that they needed to delete files was an arduous task that often left the IT department at critical levels of disk space.

"First you have to do the reporting on who's using all your space and contact them and justify your case. It's a political process," she said.

In 1997, UPMC installed its first server/storage-monitoring utility called Quota Server from Northern Parklife Inc. in Tampa, Fla. UPMC originally purchased 12 licenses at $895 per server and has since updated the software three times. The tools allow system administrators to set storage quotas and to notify and lock users out of directories when they reach preset limits.

Next month, Northern Parklife is planning to release the next version of the tool, which will offer a chargeback feature. That tool is attractive to Malik: "We would be able to make individual departments pay for disk space they use. That way, we could use the money to purchase additional disk space," Malik said. "Right now, disk space is purchased on an as-needed basis, per server."

Gartner's Furlonger, however, cautioned that new business processes and workforce education must be in place before companies deploy monitoring software. Without preparation, political turmoil can result.

"It's kind of where do you draw the line? If there is a top-on-down decision making process -- this is the framework and what's been decided by various processes and everyone knows that -- that's fine. But often, that doesn't happen," Furlonger said. "Often times you find those lines of business hit with that chargeback get very upset. If you don't have education, a framework and a process in place, the software is less than worthless," he added. "Those issues need to be in place."

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