Self-managing storage

If analysts are right, some vendors' smart storage systems are ready enough for prime time to start investigating them.

By "smart" storage, I mean the ability to virtualize storage into one giant pool, then provision physical storage and automate storage-related policies, among other things. These tasks can be done automatically, or with whatever level of manual intervention a shop needs to be comfortable that the system is indeed working the way it ought to. Longer term, the goal is for the system to detect and fix any problems, too.

Frank Gillett, a principal analyst at Forrester Research, says that Hewlett-Packard's product set is ahead of the pack right now, but acknowledges that Sun and IBM are also leaders here. He says that customers who get started on this path early stand to save, over a five-year period, up to 50% in expenditures on services and new products. Specific savings, of course, will vary by company, and any savings would be based on a company's ability to corral the four major systems in a data center, including servers, storage, software and wide area networks.

Implementing storage management products alone, for instance, may yield some savings, but not in the 50% range, Gillett explains.

Some products already exist. In Sun's case, its initiative is called N1 and it's intended to allow all the elements in a data center - servers, storage, software and networking - to be aggregated and managed as one. To date N1 has been focused primarily on servers, and is currently Solaris-based, but will spread to storage and include Linux as well.

For its part, HP's initiative is called Adaptive Infrastructure, and it's based on its industry-leading OpenView systems management software. HP is adding extensions that automatically and dynamically respond to changing business conditions. One such extension is the Utility Data Center. Software aggregates, virtualizes and dynamically allocates resources - including servers, networks and storage - within one or more data centers.

IBM's Tivoli systems management arm sells something called Storage Manager, which includes some "smart" functions like policy-based backup management, among other things. This package is essentially a backup and archive management solution, but it's one example of many that are coming from IBM and others.

These products, of course, are in addition to the dozens of "smart" wares being touted by independent software vendors and by hardware houses including EMC. It's interesting, though, that the big storage guns are starting to catch on. And it makes a lot of sense for data centers of any size to investigate the options afforded by their primary server and storage suppliers.

Start the conversation. Even if it takes five years to come to fruition, it's worth beginning the journey as soon as possible.

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