Storage management: Battle of the bulge

Storage management software can help agencies get a handle on their ever-expanding data

An old computing adage says that software lags behind hardware. In the case of storage, the gap has widened'hardware has left software eating its dust.

First, the exponential growth of Web content spiked demand for high-powered storage technologies such as RAID arrays, storage area networks and network-attached storage. In more recent years, data-archiving requirements of new regulations, such as the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act, and a trend toward using e-mail servers as file stores have sent agencies rushing to buy still more terabytes of storage.

'Storage requirements are growing exponentially as data volumes continue to increase, yet there is no additional administrative resource to manage the growth,' said Nancy Marrone-Hurley, a senior analyst at Enterprise Storage Group of Portland, Ore.

What's more ...

'Where a single administrator in the past may have been responsible for 1T of storage, they now need to manage 40T,' she said. To make matters worse, a lot of hardware experts walked out the door'either because of attrition or the lure of the dot-com craze'just when agencies needed them most, one vendor said.

This has created the need to more efficiently manage new, often incompatible storage devices for greater reliability and performance while reining in runaway costs.

Storage resource management software exists for just that purpose, and demand is booming along with the 'Management software has overtaken application software as revenue drivers in the industry, and the reason that's happened is the changes in the hardware,' said Jim Geronaitis, vice president of BrightStor product marketing at Computer Associates International Inc.

Efficiency is perhaps the greatest motive, as government IT managers increasingly realize the answer to a storage shortage is not always a new, shiny piece of equipment. Storage management software can spot underused capacity and get it where it's most needed.

With Storability Software Inc.'s Global Storage Manager, for example, 'you can push out the purchase of storage by two or three quarters,' said Hemant Kurande, the company's chief technology officer.

The still-immature SRM software industry needs better reporting, device support, file-level analysis and automation, according to a June report by market researcher Gartner Inc. of Stamford, Conn.

Integration between SRM and lower-level utilities is minimal. 'Vendors may claim integration, but there is little tangible integration that solves real storage management problems,' the report said.

The vendors with the broadest product portfolios'Computer Associates, EMC Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp. and Veritas Software Corp.'share one big ambition: to create so-called on-demand 'utility' computing.

Besides utility computing, an important trend in storage is information lifecycle management, a buzzword for managing information based on its value. 'It means the value of information can and does change over time,' said Ken Steinhardt, EMC's director of technology analysis.

Armed with an ILM analysis, you can decide, say, to invest in a hierarchical system that moves lower-value information to cheaper disks or slower tape storage. ILM has given new life to hierarchical storage management, one of the oldest storage technologies.

'Information lifecycle management expands on that concept by saying that information value cannot only decline, it can [also] actually increase,' Steinhardt said, citing the recent need of the intelligence community to sift historical data related to homeland security.

Other government trends drive interest in ILM. Kem Clawson, director of advanced technology solutions for EMC's federal division, said managers view ILM as a key strategy for aligning IT assets with business processes and agency missions, an approach mandated by the President's Management Agenda and the emerging Federal Enterprise Architecture.

IT managers in the federal government are desperate for this capability, he said. 'They seem to be struggling with getting a handle on their information assets'their storage assets.'

Just-released FEA requirements address the data-level underpinnings of agency business models, including techniques like redundancy and failover to ensure data availability.

Two of the main reasons for the FEA and other federal IT directives are budget constraints and the movement to improve constituent service, and these are causing agency CIOs to look to storage management as a partial solution.

'Consolidation is always at the forefront of government IT needs,' said Marc Padovani, manager of entry SAN product planning at Dell Inc., which sells storage hardware and co-brands management software from EMC, Veritas and others. 'Federal IT organizations face the tough challenge of trying to deliver more and better services, while simultaneously controlling or reducing costs.'

Further promoting enterprise architectures is the Storage Management Initiative Specification from the Storage Networking Industry Association. It should make storage software more interoperable across hardware platforms while driving innovation, as developers spend less time on custom interfaces.

SMI-S was frozen last July, and hardware vendors have spent the year proving compatibility in SNIA-sponsored labs. By April, more than 100 products from 14 vendors were certified for interoperability among hardware platforms. Storage management software'SMI-S clients'undergoes no such test, so SNIA coined the lesser term 'SMI-S-enabled' for it.

'The only thing that can claim compliance to SMI-S is [a hardware platform],' said Phil Kemp, marketing chair of SNIA's Storage Management Forum and an HP product manager. He said a software certification process could come this year.

David Essex is a freelance technology writer based in Antrim, N.H.

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