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Storage area management: the next generation. (Storage Networking).

The first part of this article that appears in June CTR discusses Gartner's official definition of SAM as "the centralized management of resources and data across a storage domain(s), providing shared services to a group of servers and their applications." Gartner analyst Nick Allen added that he preferred another definition. "SAM is managing the relationship between applications and their storage and everything in between. It's also a practice performed by storage administrators. What we're really embarking on is automating the practice."

Automating SAM

Karen Dutch, marketing director at InterSAN, said that automated configuration helps relieve huge SAN manageability headaches such as making chargebacks and monitoring service levels. "The customers that have SANs today and deployed them one or two years ago, they're starting to buckle under their spreadsheet management techniques."

With this kind of buzz around automation, many data storage customers are inquiring about what automation really means. The benefits are compelling: Automated intelligent software could relieve IT staffs of tremendous burdens around backup and recovery and storage provisioning, and allow organizations to effectively inventory and manage myriad storage resources. But Hoffman points out two major issues that storage automation vendors must face squarely before automation becomes generally available in the storage management market: 1) People need to solve basic storage management issues before they can use sophisticated automation tools, and 2) customers rarely trust vendors to fully automate storage.

Basic management issues: Dan Hoffman, BMC's director of storage solutions, believes there's a serious, growing need for effective SRM tools right now, because storage customers simply do not know what they have. Larger companies often have hundreds to thousands of storage assets across the enterprise, and remote and over-burdened IT departments have no way to inventory them all, let alone manage them. This situation keeps organizations from fully utilizing their existing storage assets or reporting accurate ROI figures. SRM packages are available today that can help relieve the situation, and SAN customers should be taking full advantage of them.

Customers don't trust full automation: Hoffman believes that even if a company delivered a fully automated storage management suite today, most companies wouldn't trust it. The SSP business model is struggling largely because of this fact--customers have remained highly skeptical of outsourced or automated efforts to manage their precious stored data. Sun's Staten agrees that customers do not generally trust vendors to automate. He finds that they are willing to work with SSPs and storage automation vendors on what data is safe to automate, but they want to control the process. "You want to put mechanisms for automation in place, but you don't want to force automation," said Staten.

One of SAM's claims to fame is trying to eliminate a lot of the manual work that has to be done by storage administrators today to keep applications running. Many developers are trying to do that today, and are approaching the problem from many different angles. For example, Commvault is coming at it from a data movement and application life cycle and adding device discovery, while InterSAN approaches it from the opposite direction. Larry Cormier, vice president of marketing and business development at Commvault and a SNIA board member said, "There is no SAM product today. There are many products that could fit the definition, but out of the dozen or so things listed [in Gartner's SAM tools definition], no one is likely to find a. product that 'does more than four of them today."

Since the first generation of SAM tools is still in active development, talking about a second-generation toolset may seem immature. Allen is aware that the SAM concept is a giant stride beyond today's SAN management tools, but sees the concept as establishing evolutionary guidelines for storage automation vendors to follow now in their development [efforts. He recently published a follow up research note called "Automating SAM: A Manifesto" that details the automation development path for second generation SAN-management tools, which he calls ASAMS. Allen contends that storage administrators will have to initially administer SAM tasks, but the increasing size and complexity of application-centric storage networks will make manual management incredibly challenging and in some cases near impossible. In the report, Allen notes. and prioritizes 23 SAM functional elements (ASAMS) in a top down order of automation development. See the Table for his Top 10 ASAMs.

Ken Steinhardt, EMC's director of technology analysis, agreed that in the current economic environment, developing, automating and integrating these elements are key. "Vendors that pro- vide real functionality to address the segments that Nick Allen describes in his note, and more importantly a full strategic initiative to address integration of all of the key areas that he describes, will have a drastic competitive advantage in the market by providing significant customer impact."

According to Steinhardt, discovery, monitoring and reporting are particularly important in multi-vendor implementations' and "are necessary (and not trivial) foundation building blocks which must be well established prior to deploying advanced multi-vendor functionality for automation and provisioning."

BMC's Hoffman concluded that storage area management tools and automation should be "related to the fundamental concept that IT needs to have a closer alignment to business, and software needs to recognize that. Managing technology in isolation doesn't have the payback that people need. You must align infrastructure with the company's value, and make sure that IT can deliver all the value it can. Storage is an important piece, but it is still a piece."

www.gartner.com

www.intersan.com

www.sun.com

www.bmc.com

www.commvault.com

www.emc.com

RELATED ARTICLE: TOP 10 ASAMs

Manage Other Tools

Most storage hardware today ships with element managers, software that enables storage administrators to configure the devices. Many also ship with APIs that automate device configuration. ASAMS should have the ability to launch both types of device-configuration software from central domain consoles.

Manage Backups and Recovery

Various storage service providers (SSPs) and storage management vendors offer some degree of backup and recovery automation, but the critical and never-ending backup process is still largely manual. ASAMS should automate backup and recovery operations.

Failover/Fallback Automation

Although challenging to develop, automated failover is an important part of disaster recovery procedures in complex storage environments.

Storage Area Discovery

Device discovery is already a basic part of SAN management tools, but ASAMS should be able to both automatically discover and manage all storage devices and applications across a storage domain. Discovery should take place in real time.

Path Management

Path management refers to managing all data and control paths running from applications all the way into the storage subsystems Load balancing and failover software are particularly important since they can ensure that services will still operate in the face of software or component failures.

Provisioning

Provisioning an application's storage needs is fundamental to SAM. The process is demanding, since it must drill down through multiple layers between the application and the disk drive. Automated provisioning takes advantage of other ASAMS such as path management.

Policy-Based Administration and Enforcement

Policies will be crucial for reducing manual storage administration so ASAMS must be able to create, administer, and enforce policies in terms of end-user applications.

Storage Area Security Administration and Enforcement

Security is critical to storage networks and automated provisioning. The first level of fabric security is administrative, granting or blocking access to fabric devices. Secondly, security should use such techniques such as port spoofing in order to plug holes, and eventually should interface with enterprises' existing security infrastructures. Role-based access control is necessary to grant or block access for various levels of users.

Reporting and Billing

With users requiring fast ROI, resource accounting and reporting are becoming increasingly important Reporting and billing ASAMS will automatically account for resources by application, recording and reporting events, and should also be able to monitor performance. Chargeback mechanisms will be important as customers attempt to control growth by charging for storage and related services.

Asset Management

Once storage resources can be discovered, they can be tracked. Asset management exists not only to maintain storage asset inventories, but for financial asset management.
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Author:Chudnow, Christine Taylor
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2002
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