Storage Automation Nearer

 
 
By Henry Baltazar  |  Posted 2003-07-21
 
 
 

Storage Automation Nearer


With Softek Storage Provisioner 2.1, Fujitsu Software Technologies Corp. inches closer to the Holy Grail of storage automation. In tests, eWEEK Labs found that Softek Storage Provisioner 2.1, which was released earlier this month, can simplify storage management in ways that competing SRM (storage resource management) packages cant match. And its vendor-neutral status enables it to work with virtually any Fibre Channel storage system.

Of course, the field of storage automation is still in its infancy, and it would be foolhardy to expect a single product to eliminate the need for skilled storage administrators. Enterprise storage management will remain complex and time-consuming for some time to come.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Softek Storage Provisioner 2.1
Fujitsu Softeks Storage Provisioner 2.1 is an effective solution for automating storage allocation. This first release (despite its version number) gives IT managers the flexibility to pool and allocate storage resources according to need. At $50,000 for a clustered pair, its a good deal for organizations that need to manage large SANs. Fujitsu Softek is at www.softek.fujitsu.com.
KEY PERFORMANCE INDICATORS
USABILITY GOOD
CAPABILITY EXCELLENT
PERFORMANCE GOOD
INTEROPERABILITY GOOD
MANAGEABILITY GOOD
SCALABILITY GOOD
SECURITY GOOD
  • PRO: Eases SAN topology planning; useful for migrating storage; automatically assigns storage on demand.

  • CON: No performance analysis capabilities; COD feature doesnt work for databases.

  • EVALUATION SHORT LIST
    DataCore Software Corp.s SANsymphony
    Do not expect provisioning and other storage management tools to be simple plug-and-play upgrades to SANs (storage area networks). Before implementing these solutions, it is absolutely necessary to know how your applications use storage and at what rate they consume it.

    Without this information, its impossible to set accurate storage automation policies. In fact, setting storage policies inappropriately could lead to inefficient use of storage and reduce return on investment.

    Although Softek Storage Provisioner 2.1 doesnt eliminate all storage management headaches, it does simplify the all-important task of allocating and controlling the use of shared storage resources.

    Among storage provisioning rivals, EMC Corp.s Control Center includes some automation features, but they are for EMC hardware only. IBMs Tivoli SRM package is impressive, but Fujitsu is ahead of it in terms of automation capabilities.

    Softek Storage Provisioner 2.1 is targeted at large companies with complex SAN management needs, and its cost—$50,000 for a clustered pair—will put Storage Provisioner 2.1 out of reach for many organizations. But its a solid investment for large sites that need to consolidate disparate, far-flung storage arrays in a centralized pool of resources.

    Despite its version number, this is the first release of Softek Storage Provisioner, a descendant of Fujitsus Softek Virtualization product (built from storage virtualization software acquired from DataCore Software Corp.).

    The Softek Storage Provisioner engine software runs on Windows 2000 servers only. (Fujitsu has no plans to run it on other operating systems.) Its installed on a server that sits between the storage and the servers that need it, directing requests for capacity and allocating resources as needed.

    Because Softek Storage Provisioner 2.1 sits in the data path between the servers and storage devices, there is no need for IT managers to set up complex logical unit number masking and zoning schemes to prevent unauthorized data modifications and accidental data corruption from occurring.

    In our test scenario, we created two zones (one for servers and one for storage) and gave our provisioning Windows and Unix servers access to both zones. Normally, when setting up heterogeneous SANs with Windows and Unix servers, IT departments must design networks carefully because Windows and Unix systems have difficulty sharing resources. When both are put on the same SAN, each automatically tries to "own" everything on the SAN, which leads to resource conflicts. Once the network topology was configured, we ran a scan with Softek Storage Provisioner 2.1 to locate storage devices on our network. (Although Storage Provisioner 2.1 could be a single point of failure on a SAN, the software is sold in clustered pairs to eliminate this possibility.)

    After locating storage on a SAN, Softek Storage Provisioner 2.1 can allocate it to servers as static volumes or, using a $5,000 Storage Provisioner add-on, as COD (Capacity on Demand) volumes.

    One of the big problems in storage management is that most clients are inclined to request more storage than they need—an inclination that greatly lowers the utilization levels of storage hardware.

    COD volumes present themselves as large chunks of storage, although they actually occupy much less space. In tests, for example, we had a COD show itself as a 2-terabyte virtual volume when it actually took up only about 200GB of real storage.

    As storage utilization increases, the COD volume automatically takes in storage resources to fill server needs.

    The most notable limitation of COD is that it doesnt work with database applications because databases usually have their own file systems and need to see storage resources upfront.

    Mirror, Mirror


    Mirror, Mirror

    Softek Storage Provisioner 2.1s impressive mirroring capabilities allowed us to mirror data between heterogeneous storage systems. This is an extremely powerful tool, which, in addition to the obvious benefit of adding fault tolerance to a system, can be used to migrate data from older storage systems to newer ones. FalconStor Software Inc.s latest IPStor SRM system, which we will be testing at a later date, will have mirroring capabilities as well.

    In addition to mirroring capabilities, Softek Storage Provisioner 2.1 also offers a snapshot option. At $10,000 for each provisioning server, this isnt a trivial add-on, but it was handy in tests.

    Using the snapshot option, we could easily create static point-in-time copies of our volumes, as opposed to mirrored sets, which constantly update the data on the source and the target.

    Because snapshots are static, they are useful for backing up mission-critical applications. To back up mission-critical data without disrupting the application, an IT manager would simply take a snapshot of the data set and then use the snapshot to feed data to a backup solution, instead of bringing down the application server and backing it up.

    Currently, Softek Storage Provisioner 2.1 doesnt provide any performance analysis, although Fujitsu plans to release a performance tuner add-on in the future. (No price or release date has been set.)

    We should point out that no other SRM package that weve seen offers performance analysis, either. This will be an important feature in any effective storage automation system. The application performance of servers can suffer greatly when the wrong type of storage is assigned, and a fair amount of money can be wasted when expensive storage resources are allocated to noncritical applications.

    Senior Analyst Henry Baltazar can be reached at henry_ baltazar@ziffdavis.com.

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