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Storage portals: raising storage to a higher plane. (Internet).

Imagine a world where the endless array of laborious storage administration tasks is fully automated. Instead of carrying out as many as 15 manual steps to add new storage to a SAN environment, policy driven intelligence would automatically discover new storage capacity, configure it appropriately and move data accordingly. Related backup processes would be updated and policies adjusted, as required--all without an administrator having to involve him or herself in the details of where the capacity is physically located or its low-level configuration.

How about a storage system that can withstand the ravages of constant change? Instead of manually updating all applications, processes, systems and components for each change made anywhere within the storage environment, the system automatically modifies its behavior based on an understanding of the storage infrastructure and technology, thus effectively separating the business of storage from the underlying technology.

To take it to a less exalted plane, how would life be without the continual struggle of staying on top of enterprise storage reporting? Instead of accessing multiple screens for different backup and SAN products, and then having to unify a wide range of reports using different storage terms and data structures, consolidated reporting would pull data seamlessly from within a heterogeneous environment to provide an instant view of enterprise storage. These are just a few of the benefits of Storage Management Portals.

In this article, we take a look at the elements of a true Storage Management Portal. While the functions mentioned above may seem far away, they are actually closer than most people realize. Centralized reporting and basic storage management automation functions, for example, are present in several storage management portal applications. And advanced storage automation and provisioning features will be the next area of development in improving the efficiency and reducing the complexity of storage operations.

Storage Portal Elements

The essential elements of a Storage Management Portal are:

* Single Point of Access

* Vendor Agnostic

* Operating System Agnostic

* Open, Standards-based Architecture

* Leverage Existing Management Tools

* Laptop Support

* Enterprise-Wide Reporting

* Automated Operational Workflows

* Dynamic Provisioning

Single Point of Access

A Storage Management Portal must be the doorway to all storage assets. It removes the need to access multiple screens, consoles and systems by offering one interface for replication, utilization, backup, restoration and library management. The best way to achieve this goal is by Web-enabling the portal.

Vendor Agnostic

The diversity of vendor hardware and software systems that currently exists must be accommodated by a Storage Management Portal without the need to upgrade applications or retire hardware. Most companies already have a hefty investment in storage solutions so it is vital that a portal be able to integrate and inter-operate across different vendors, applications and technologies.

Operating System Agnostic

Whatever the OS (Windows, UNIX, Linux, NetWare, mainframe OS, etc.) the portal must offer a unified view into cross platform storage assets. While some management products give visibility into one operating system, a true Storage Management Portal would encompass the entire range of current and legacy OSs.

Open, Standards-Based Architecture

The architecture of a storage portal must be open and based on industry standards. The Storage Networking Industry Association's (SNIA) Storage Management Initiative (SMI) is a good example. Previously called the CIM (Common Information Model)/WBEM (Web-Based-Enterprise Model)/Bluefin specification, the SMI standard allows the discovery, collection of data and management of multi-vendor devices within a SAN environment.

Without an open architecture, any Storage Management Portal would find it impossible to adjust to new storage management products, not to mention the innovative technologies that are sure to appear. Such portals must also include open application programming interfaces (APIs), as well as open and easy-to-use software development tools.

Leverage Existing Management Tools

It is important to note that a Storage Management Portal should not attempt to replace existing management tools. Rather, it should embrace proprietary management products built, such as Compaq Insight Manager, Hitachi High Command and Dell OpenManage. Why? Vendor developed applications typically are the best ones to use to operate specific hardware resources as they expose a large volume of information from within the device, much more than can be recovered by attempting to bypass the proprietary management tool. The portal, though, consolidates these proprietary tools into one console in order to obtain maximum performance out of each device.

Remote Management Support

According to some studies, laptops now account for as much as one third of client-side machines in many enterprises. To add real value, then, a storage portal must support connection via laptops as well as from fixed management stations. Ideally, the storage administrator would be able to utilize a laptop from anywhere within the enterprise to manage the network.

Enterprise-Wide Reporting

Storage management is plagued by report integration woes. Information exists on different systems and components. In many cases, multiple servers for the same application may lack integration of their storage components, necessitating the consolidation of multiple reports. A Storage Management Portal would combine information from multiple products and applications to provide a single integrated report.

Automated Operational Workflows

By defining the best storage practices that map out the key processes and procedures and incorporating them into a workflow engine, the attention of storage administrators can be freed up from backup/restore. Workflow technology makes it possible to consolidate sequences so that the many steps of a complex task can be automated. Thus, administrators can focus on true storage management and troubleshooting.

Dynamic Provisioning

Dynamic provisioning offers policy driven intelligence that automatically discovers new storage capacity, configures it and takes care of moving the data. This removes much of the drudgery involved, for example, in such tasks as adding new storage to a SAN environment. Dynamic provisioning will enable a storage management application to conduct error-free, timely and automatic processing of storage needs without the administrator having to involve himself in the details of where the capacity is physically located or its low-level configuration.

Storage portals are already on the market that offer many of the features covered above. Within the next one to two years, everything in the above list should be realized and fully available. CA's BrightStor Portal, for example, offers a single point of access to storage resources, is vendor and OS agnostic, and has an open standards-based architecture. It includes features that enable it to consolidate reports from disparate storage systems, regardless of platform or data format. BrightStor Portal includes SMIcompliant middleware and, via the CA Smart program, integrates completely with a wide range of storage systems and storage management tools. It also offers support for remote connectivity. In the very near future, automated operational workflow features will become available.

The day is near, then, when new storage devices, platforms and systems are automatically discovered, allocated against enterprise-wide policies, provisioned based on best practices and deployed where most needed. Data will be balanced across storage volumes, back-up/recovery tasks performed and storage paths optimized according to bandwidth availability and storage loads--all without hour-by-hour administrator involvement.

Phil Treide is a storage executive at Computer Associates (Islandia, NY)
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Author:Treide, Phil
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2003
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