Automated storage: Educate yourself

Automation is the next big thing in storage. Also called policy-based storage, this is where the software does things behind the scenes that have traditionally required manual intervention.

In this scenario, the software automates whatever business policies you have in place. (It also forces nonexistent policies to be formulated or squishy ones to be strengthened.) If you want to enforce a strict storage limit on your end-users, this is one way to do it.

Take provisioning, for example. InterSAN, one of the oldest players in the automation space, claims to shave almost an hour off the time it takes to provision one LUN on one server, and says any business user can do it. Assuming that's true, it's an enormous time savings.

Literally dozens of vendors are in this space, all claiming to automate something or other. (Next week's column will talk more about specific vendors and what they're doing.) A few words of caution, though. Most of the automation software currently on the market works only with SANs or, at most, with NAS devices. Such limitations mean that most automation software assumes all or a significant portion of your storage is already networked. Only a few of the established players have storage-management software that also works with direct-attached storage.

Also, there's going to be a huge cultural learning curve involved here. Remember when PCs became all "user friendly" and ditched their DOS command lines for a prettier front end? Well, that was fine for folks who didn't know much about PCs, but it ticked off some of us who knew enough commands to get done what we wanted to, and without having to go through 15 menus to do so.

There's going to be a similar issue with storage automation. The real experts might be annoyed at having to step through a bunch of windows and "suggestions" about how to do things they already know how to do, and they will need to build trust that the software really does work with little or no intervention. Most of the packages can be set up to have a live person okay a decision before the software is allowed to go onto the next step, but it still requires a leap of faith.

All this said, please keep in mind the theme in the headline above - education. I'm not proposing you make a major investment right now, necessarily. I'm just suggesting you find out if it's applicable to your situation - it may be. And it may make you a hero to your management if you can bring in something that helps save time and money in the long run.

Also, policy-based software to automate many IT functions, not just storage, is going to be where the industry is heading long-term. With so much to do and not enough techies to do it all, companies are going to have to adopt this as a survival mechanism. It may be a good career move for you to be the resident policy-based software expert in your company and to be ahead of this curve.

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