The truth about monitoring and managing

A few years ago when the idea of storage resource management software first began to be discussed, few people were surprised when a number of companies jumped onto the SRM bandwagon. These vendors wanted to carve out a place for themselves as "early movers" in this new field but, alas, what most of them produced was not storage management software at all. Rather, they provided us with software that monitored rather than managed.

Now monitoring is hugely useful, but it is not the same thing as management, and anyone who doesn't admit to the distinction is being just plain silly. I've expressed my opinion on such nonsense many times in this column. Hopefully, at this point everyone understands that SRM means management, and management requires an ability to go out and "twiddle the dials" on the assets being managed. It is all well and good for a product to read SNMP traps, but reading traps no more gives you the ability to manage your storage assets than watching a football game can contribute to turning the Oakland Raiders into a decent football team.

That having been said, the ability to monitor well - and having the means to report accurately and cleanly on a set of events - is a capability that is not to be sneezed at. Monitoring is after all the first step in management, and it should be clear to us all that no one can do the second without doing the first.

When you look at a monitoring tool, what should you expect to get these days? Different vendors offer different things of course, but whatever tool you pick must help you improve the utilization and performance of your storage assets. Thus, if you have storage hardware from several vendors, as most of us do, an ability to look across a multi-vendor environment should be a given. Furthermore, you also have a right to expect automated discovery and mapping of most (if not all) assets.

Look for reporting capabilities that also capture data about servers, configurations, operating systems, storage attachment configurations (DAS, NAS or SAN), and in many cases database information, file system mapping, an ability to report on what business processes utilize which assets.

If you want more than reporting - automated provisioning capabilities, for example, or software with the ability to go beyond simply reporting on events and actually to provide some level of analysis - you are asking for more than monitoring. You want management.

Expect to pay for this added capability, but obviously only pay for what you will be using. Most packages out there today have been built modularly, so you should be able to buy just the capabilities you need.

These days there are lots of choices, and you have no reason for any confusion over terminology. EMC's ControlCenter, for example, does monitoring and reporting, but monitoring and reporting don't make it an SRM tool. What does make it an SRM solution is that it also discovers, provisions and manages devices.

Just having a management capability obviously doesn't solve all problems, but it is likely to get you a long way down the road towards whatever your goal happens to be, even if that is something as simple as a good night's sleep.

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