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A New Storage Management Architecture For The Next Millennium.

In a world where new software applications are causing an exponential surge in the storage requirements of virtually every industry, it is some hat ironic that most storage management solutions rely on software architectures that are more than a decade old. An entirely new generation of applications--including messaging, e-commerce, data warehousing, and Knowledge management--have evolved since the first storage management solutions appeared as a way to back up critical business data, but these early backup applications got stuck in time for some reason. True, vendors have added new features in an attempt to keep up with changing needs, but they've been adding them to an underlying architecture that is, quite simply, outdated.

With storage management so essential to business success, what companies need today are not band-aid solutions, but rather an entirely new approach to backup and restore based on an architecture, built from the ground-up, that reflects new storage imperatives. These imperatives are predicated on one simple fact: that storage has evolved into a logical function within an enterprise, not just a physical one.

This trend is most clearly demonstrated by the problems vendors are now facing with developing storage management solutions for Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices that are based on a physical view of storage. This view does not easily lend itself towards development of a technology to map data and resources across the NAS, but, by eliminating physical hardware mapping, configuration complexity can also be eliminated. In other words, a logical view of physical storage resources simplifies NAS deployment.

Furthermore, storage resources, backup devices, and applications are so numerous and diverse that it is difficult to physically keep track of them all. With a next generation storage management solution that has an architecture, which facilitates logical management of these devices, the tracking process can be simplified and expedited.

Another factor to consider: changing IT management styles. System Administrators (SAs), for example, are no longer always responsible for functional areas within IT as they used to be, but rather for specific applications--and the up time of those applications. While these SAs may be experts in Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Notes, or some other applications, they may not be as highly skilled in managing backup and restore processes for these applications. Coupled with the fact that the SAs have little involvement in where the storage facilities for their applications reside, this means that SAs now need a storage management solution that enables them to easily create the logical connections between the physical facilities they deal with on a daily basis.

To meet these objectives, the new architecture should be modular so it can easily adapt to rapidly changing and growing storage environments and offer a completely intuitive interface that eliminates human errors and ensures the integrity of backup and restore processes. In addition, with a decade of storage management experience, the new architecture should take advantage of hindsight, leveraging what IT managers say they like and do not appreciate in existing storage management products.

To date, only one vendor, CommVault, has risen to this architectural challenge. Their resulting product, called Galaxy, addresses the concerns of the marketplace today, as well as the skyrocketing storage requirements of tomorrow. Galaxy's architecture was developed to make sense of the complexity of today's storage environments with a logical presentation of the physical elements associated with data protection--including tape drives, disks, and all the various databases and applications running on the network. The architecture relies on three separate modules: one to manage storage devices; another to manage specific applications, file systems and databases; and the third to centrally control the management of data and storage resources from a logical viewpoint. These modules can be combined into CommCells that can, in turn, be placed into a hierarchical structure where they can act independently, but are linked by logical policies to provide effective enterprise wide data protection.

Another key differentiator for this architecture is its user interface. Predicated on the simple truth that keyboard-based data entry increases the probability of errors and that errors are unacceptable when it comes to backup and restore processes, the Galaxy interface is highly intelligent, context-sensitive, and completely mouse-based. In fact, 85 percent of the functionality available at any given point in the solution is available within three mouse clicks and the furthest path down a dialog box to complete any required action is only five mouse clicks.

This approach enabled developers to present an interface where all objects displayed on each screen represent either logical or physical objects. Through the interface, these objects can be easily manipulated, allowing the end-user to quickly associate logical actions to physical entities. As a result, with a few mouse clicks, the end-user can create a logical object such as a backup schedule or a table of security rights and associate it with data for a specific application that gets backed up to a specific storage device.

There are several architectural attributes that enable this type of interface to work successfully, not the least of which is an auto-discovery capability that automatically identifies the physical elements associated with the storage environment, including host names, host IDs, DNS names, and domain names of network cards for devices such as tape libraries. By comparison, with the existing generation of storage management product architectures, this information must be manually uncovered, outside of the storage management application, by using native, operating system tools.

Although application configuration is dramatically simplified with auto-discovery, no configuration is actually required with the new architecture because the application configures itself upon installation and is immediately available for backing up data with no further action. The interface is only needed when tailoring the application to a specific environment.

Another benefit of the auto-discovery capability is the protection provided as new resources that need to be backed up are added to the enterprise network. Since the architecture is based on an opt-in policy that automatically includes new data, users are always protected--even in instances where they have chosen to modify the original configuration. With storage environments changing so rapidly, it is difficult, if not impossible, for administrators to keep track of all resources that need to be protected, and this adaptive deployment eliminates the risks that might otherwise accrue if new resources had to be manually added to configuration set ups. Also, with auto-discovery, companies never have to modify their networking environments to adapt to the storage management solution. Instead, the new architecture automatically adapts to whatever environment it is confronted with.

Another architectural imperative for the next generation storage management architecture is the ability to present information in a way that is easily understood and manipulated by the end-user. Reaching this objective requires application-sensitive management, providing the storage management solution with the same look and feel as the underlying application being protected. This means that a SA responsible for Lotus Notes gets to use an interface that displays documents and views, while the Exchange SA's interface instead presents folders, mailboxes, and messages.

Reliability is another issue for next generation storage management solutions, primarily because decade-old architectures could never effectively deal with unexpected occurrences such as interrupted backup jobs. When a job exceeded the pre-set backup window, for example, the entire job failed and would not be run again until the next scheduled time slot--at which time it would fail again. By comparison, Galaxy offers a feature called re-startability that allows an interrupted job to be completed, from the point of interruption, before the next job is run. As a result, in the scenario above, the job would be completed in the next scheduled backup window, even though the job scheduled for that window would not complete. This ensures that the data is always protected, even if a little late, until the underlying problem can be resolved.

With these capabilities--especially the ability to link logical and physical elements of the storage management process--the new architecture can easily adapt to networks relying on conventional storage environments or newer Network Attached Storage (NAS) scenarios. In fact, with the ability to logically segment storage on the basis of application, device, and path, the architecture is also ideally suited to evolving Storage Area Networks (SANs). In these environments, storage management vendors are now struggling to find bolt-on products that can physically segment the new storage pipe, but, with an underlying architecture that is outdated, these systems are doomed to suffer problems due to the complexity of managing multiple devices. Only an architecture that provides logical views of the environment can offer the centralized control that is so essential to effective management. In addition, only the new architecture can support the features end-users want, including script-free interfaces, application-sensitive management, and complete reliability.

Now that storage has become so integral to corporate success, companies need to pay closer attention to the products they are relying on to protect their critical processes. With new business paradigms, new applications, and new demands for storage, the time for a new storage management architecture is now. Remember: some things in life improve with age, others, like software architectures, just don't.

Chris Vanwagoner is the director of marketing at CommVault Systems, Inc. (Oceanport, NJ).
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Title Annotation:Technology Information
Author:Vanwagoner, Chris
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Date:Jan 1, 2000
Words:1517
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