GUIs, reports and alerts (oh my!)

Let's assume you are about to invest in some storage resource management software.How an SRM product communicates with its user is important and could be used to help differentiate between suppliers. Today, we'll take a quick look at what you should expect from your vendor.

Typically, SRM applications provide output to users in three ways: via a user interface, event reports, and alerts.

The user interface will in some cases be a command-line interface (CLI), but most applications today offer a graphical user interface (GUI). You will find having both is useful.

CLIs are particularly valuable with programs that are addressed by other programs, but where an API is unavailable. In such cases, scripts can be written to interact directly with the CLI, exactly as if the programs were being invoked by hand. Experienced staffers often prefer CLIs although they are more challenging to use because they are inherently nonintuitive. Inexperienced operators could find CLIs very challenging indeed.

A GUI is typically available with all Windows-, Unix- and Linux-based systems and increasingly, mainframe systems too. GUIs offer a simplified method of interacting with the managing software, and are frequently referred to as a "management console." A GUI is the preferred interface in most cases, and is always the best option when a less-experienced staffer is operating the application.

Often such consoles fit within a larger management console of framework applications such as CA's Unicenter or HP's OpenView. Increasingly, storage management consoles are Web-based, offering IT the opportunity to manage all storage assets from any computer that has access to either the LAN or the Internet.

Reports, both on-screen and hardcopy, are the basic output mechanism of all monitoring and management packages. All vendors offer a set of packaged reports as part of their basic feature set.

The rule for reports used to be "the more, the merrier." While it's still true that having access to many reports is useful, more sophisticated managers also take a qualitative look at the data. In this case, the ability to design custom reports and aggregate data in different ways could be extremely useful.

Some vendors bundle a report writer (either their own or a third party's) in their software while others allow you to use your own tools. The important thing to remember is that the most useful reports are likely to be the ones that aggregate different data sets on the same page, helping you understand the interrelationship of various events and trends.

Reports will help you understand the status of your storage at a specified point in time, but will also provide you with history and, in some cases, trending analysis.

Alerts advise IT managers of current and impending storage events. Alert actions take several forms: most often they come via e-mail or through specialized system messages that may appear in the GUI. Many vendors add messaging through beeper systems and telephone alerts as well.

What I have listed above are just table stakes of course, and - because reporting and alerting are only monitoring rather than management functions - these items do not indicate the software's management capabilities. But management can't be done without monitoring, and the more effectively you interact with your monitoring software the better value you can squeeze out of your investment. So it's smart to pay attention to these issues as well.

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