Making sense of storage

Today's storage management software does more than just help agencies operate better

Storage management software has traditionally focused on helping agencies use networked storage wisely by avoiding waste and maximizing availability for mission-critical applications. But in the past year, the catalysts for storage management software appear to have shifted dramatically. Now the emphasis is on using storage management as a type of insurance policy for regulatory compliance, privacy and security, and for ensuring continuity of operations.

COOP, in fact, is the buzzword for most storage management solutions these days as agencies must work to make data and applications available in the event of such catastrophic events as terrorism or natural disasters. It also represents another IT mandate for agencies. Office of Management and Budget Circular A-130, Federal Preparedness Circular 65, and Presidential Decision Directives 63 and 67 require agencies to have COOP plans. 'You really need to protect not only the data, but the backed-up data,' said Michael Pusson, senior software engineer for IBM's Tivoli Software division.

Into the bramble

'In the government sector, I see security being a significant driver, and I [also] see compliance,' said Jim Franklin, group product marketing manager at EMC Corp., a leading storage hardware and software vendor. The regulatory bramble has made storage management a top priority of government CIOs and other executives.

Data reliability issues have even breathed new life into the seemingly sleepy world of backup and recovery software. One of the hottest storage trends is the addition of backup reporting features to high-level storage resource management and storage area network management software.

'Backup products in general haven't been very good at reporting,' said Ray Paquet, managing vice president of market research firm Gartner Inc. 'Backup is more of a pain and more of a problem than has been publicly admitted.'

Sea change coming

'There's a significant sea change that's getting ready to occur in the recovery market,' Paquet said, noting that more enterprises are keenly interested in backing up to disk drives, rather than the usual magnetic tape. In addition, more management products are adding strong support for server clustering and failover, two common measures against data loss. And soup-to-nuts storage vendors, especially IBM Corp., have gradually integrated their high-level storage tools with their other server- and network-management offerings, which makes for a more airtight continuity solution.

Tiered storage, which lets you move older data to cheaper storage media, is another increasingly popular strategy supported by storage management vendors. 'Many agencies are trying to close the gap between the amount of storage that needs to be managed, and the number of people who need to manage it,' said Sean Derrington, senior group manager for Veritas Software, which recently became part of Symantec Corp. Derrington said that by encouraging the movement of some data to lower-cost media, tiered storage also helps IT departments re-spond to management pressure to cut unnecessary expenses by consolidating their hardware.

Up until recently, enterprise storage normally comprised a motley mix of old and new storage and network hardware from numerous vendors. A fast-growing industry standard should help boost the cross-vendor interoperability necessary to make disparate parts work together. The Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S) is now supported in more than 200 storage devices from 17 hardware vendors. In April its sponsor, the Storage Networking Industry Association, announced that nine software vendors had passed a new certification test for software, called SMI-S Client. A 10th vendor, CreekPath Systems, says its software will be tested later this year.

Simpler toolkit

Proponents predict the extension of SMI-S testing to software will minimize the need for platform-specific management tools, thus allowing IT departments to simplify their storage toolkits. Longer term, it could make storage-management software more aware of the business applications that run on the hardware, said Ray Dunn, chair of SNIA's storage management forum. Cross-platform management strategies such as tiered storage would also work better, Dunn said. Storage software 'will be much more capable of delivering storage to those applications. The applications can become smarter because they don't have to worry about the hardware.'

The chart on Page 42 includes both SRM and SAN products for monitoring, managing and designing all kinds of storage infrastructures. All the vendors shown'including storage hardware heavyweights EMC and IBM'claim support for multiple vendor platforms. Many sell highly modularized software families of SRM or SAN packages that include separate, mix-and-match applications for key tasks such as provisioning, which automates the assigning of storage resources for specific applications; SAN design; and archiving, backup and recovery.

When it comes to shopping for storage management software, take the long view, even in the face of today's compliance and continuity pressures. 'Try to keep an eye toward the design and how you're going to make use of the software in the future,' said David Freund, practice leader for information architecture at Illuminata Inc., a research firm in Nashua, N.H. Storage architecture decisions are like Japanese mortgages: They can extend for generations, Freund said. 'If you lock in, you'll be buying that vendor's platform for a long time.'

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

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