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Storage resource management: the next generation; elementary storage resource management graduates into business-centric, policy-based automation.

The promise of storage resource management (SRM) is that it can help storage administrators meet some challenging goals that ultimately reduce business risk: improve storage utilization, reduce storage administration costs, meet service level agreements, and ensure application availability. The concept of managing the availability, capacity, and performance of data-storage resource--whether that resource is direct-attached, network-attached, or SAN attached-- has taken on new significance this year. Why? Budgets remain tight so everyone needs to manage storage resources more efficiently. Plus, storage technology development has resulted in disparate storage resources, all needing to be managed with IT staff that will not be growing.

I hear about this from IT departments all the time:

"We're responsible for meeting service level agreements. We need to know how much storage we're using and how much is available so that we don't run out of space and risk applications going down."

"We need to get a grasp on how efficiently we're using our storage resources. Our IT budget has been drastically reduced and we can't keep buying disk."

"We have a multi-platform, multi-vendor environment, so storage administration is really complex. Is there a way to centralize management so that I can quickly detect problems and automate resolution all from one console?"

As you consider SRM solutions, keep in mind two important characteristics that can help you meet your business goals for reducing costs without compromising data availability. One characteristic is to look at storage resources from a "business point of view" and allocate, monitor, and manage resources accordingly. Another is to take SRM out of the static world of monitoring resources into the realm of automation. Together, these can help reduce costs and increase availability by focusing resources where they're needed most.

A Business-Centric View of Storage Resources

Taking a business-centric view of how storage resources are managed has the potential to provide a higher level of value and sophistication in SRM. Technology management from a business point of view-in other words, looking at how a customer application that is critical to a particular line of business depends on particular resources--is not a new idea, but it is new to SRM.

The goal is to understand which data and storage resources are important to which applications so that they can be managed accordingly. This allows businesses to ensure that service-level agreements are met based on a proactive understanding of storage-resource allocation and utilization for particular applications or lines of business.

Business-centric SRM is achieved by providing information, through monitoring and reporting, to manage storage utilization, availability and performance for particular lines of business or applications. SRM's monitoring component gathers information about how storage resources are being used by various applications, departments and/or lines of business.

By gathering data over time and producing historical trend analysis, the customer can easily discern the dependencies and ensure that resources are allocated appropriately based on growth and cost projections to certain applications or lines of business.

A graphical user interface or Web-based interface is used to view the current status of storage resources. This could, for example, enable an administrator to identify a storage network outage that might affect access to an online catalog. Since this is a customer-facing application, it would receive top priority in generating a resolution. On the other hand, intermittent failures on a tape drive that supports a back-end application might warrant a response to get a service representative out the next day.

Policy-Based Automation for Problem Resolution

Many SRM solutions are passive: They collect data and produce reports but require the customer to take action. A more impactful approach is automated and policy-based, so that manual steps are removed. Wherever manual intervention can be reduced in favor of automation, time and money is saved and the chance of making errors is reduced. Another benefit: If a response can be automated, there's no need to wait for a system administrator to find the time to address the problem.

For example, a common problem is that a file system runs out of storage capacity. Users and applications running on that file system are not able to expand their files, so in some cases, work will stop. With an automated solution that monitors the capacity of that file system, the customer has the ability to set policies to automatically add additional capacity and alert an administrator. This solves the immediate problem and protects against a work stoppage. It also deters the "just add more disk" approach, which could cause problems down the line.

An SRM solution can also help an organization recover from a disaster, whether it's a man-made situation such as a virus attack or a natural disaster such as a flood. Most organizations already have mechanisms in place for everyday backup and recovery and have plans in place to recover systems and data in the event of a disaster. But many are still overwhelmed by the complexity of the environment as well as the amount of data. An SRM solution can help prioritize and automate the recovery of data. The notion of a business-centric view of storage resource management allows customers to identify which data and storage resources have higher priority in a recovery sequence, which ensures critical application availability.

What Makes for a Solid SRM Solution?

A solid SRM solution provides an intelligent, business centric approach that supports management of resources across an enterprise. In addition to the characteristics I elaborated on above, there are additional considerations to keep in mind.

To better target and manage growth areas for storage demand, look for a solution that provides chargeback capabilities to track storage usage by department or large storage volume users. Scripting allows users to define actions in response to events. And an SRM solution with the ability to group reports by setting user-defined objects to comparatively monitor and report will improve business impact.

The solution should also provide policy-based automation to ensure the highest level of availability with minimal user intervention. Policy management capabilities can allow thresholds to be set for a number of resources, alerts generated and scripts invoked to perform automated actions.

Support for heterogeneous storage networks is another important capability to consider. The ability to gather and report information about virtually any storage hardware device in the network, regardless of vendor, allows for more extensive historical and forecast reporting.

Another feature to look for is tight integration with an overall systems and network management solution. Consider that IT managers are being asked to manage all their resources from a business point of view. In order to accomplish this, they must correlate between end-user experiences and where data resides, looking at how the data is used and how well resources are being applied. An SRM solution that works as part of a larger, enterprise management solution allows that correlation to take place from end to end.

Finally, make sure that the SRM solution you choose is not only robust in its functionality, but also easy to deploy. A strong SRM solution will deliver value immediately by helping you take immediate actions to improve your environment, and long term by enabling you to create a self-healing environment through policy-based automation.

I have had the opportunity to meet with representatives from large IT departments from all over the world and a large majority of them make the same comment: Understanding how fast storage needs are growing and where--in which lines of business, associated with which applications--is a significant issue today and for the future.

A storage resource management solution can help reduce cost and increase the availability of storage and data and thereby maximize return on investment. It can help you find out what data is most critical to your business success. It can help you pin-point areas of growth so that you can make sure the resources are there to enable further growth-and the success of your company's business.

Laura Sanders is vice president of Tivoli storage management software at IBM (Armonk, N. Y.)
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Author:Sanders, Laura
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2002
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