Orchestrating Apps

Vendors push to increase storage software's decision-making power.

Businesses thrive on critical, complex applications, which require people to administer them. Now enterprises are talking about the need for software that automates storage management decisions, and some companies, including BMC Software Inc. and Computer Associates International Inc., are working to meet that need.

It wont be easy. The software must make decisions based on the needs of the business application using the hardware, instead of the hardwares own needs. In addition, engineers must figure out how to turn designers dreams into realities because adapting the business-applications variable into the current hardware-to-control-software equation is difficult, experts say.

For now, all that exists is vendors such as BMC, of Houston, and CA, of Islandia, N.Y., dreaming up clever uses of the technology. Startups such as InterSAN Inc., in Scotts Valley, Calif., and AppIQ Inc., in Burlington, Mass., said they hope to be involved as well, but InterSAN admits to having just one customer, and AppIQ doesnt have a product yet. The products BMC and CA are shipping foretell of the future but also have few sales, officials have said. "Some people have parts, some people have nothing, which is the more common situation," said Gartner Inc. analyst Bob Passmore, in Northboro, Mass.

Keys to future products include global databases, interlayer communication and network intelligence, Passmore said. But the real work will begin in the next 12 months, after the trend of making storage software hardware-agnostic becomes more acceptable to users. Meanwhile, users are left pining for advanced functionality that doesnt yet exist. For example, with application-centric storage management, systems can prioritize which hardware gets backed up first—and to which kind of media—by first considering such issues as which program and user made the data, what kind of file it is, what the date is and which other programs will access it. Todays software considers only physical issues, such as which storage media is closest and currently empty.

The same conditions apply to application-centric management when data is being read or even when its doing nothing. In the latter case, the subset technology of HSM (hierarchical storage management) is considered. HSM, used today in some systems, moves infrequently accessed and noncritical data to less expensive, slower media, such as lower-end disks or tape, instead of forcing users to buy additional high-end systems when current ones fill up. "We do a lot of BMC implementations and customization, and we use it internally. Right now, the majority of people are just looking at the infrastructure itself; its not relating back to the applications or the business processes," said David Bristow, president of the Northern California Patrol Users Group. But, Bristow said, "I see a lot more activity in the last year or so," and thats driven by economic need and the availability of technology such as storage area networks, he said.

However, with BMCs Patrol Storage Manager, its easy for a user to go overboard when planning an application-centric implementation, said Bristow, in San Jose, Calif. "All the technical components of their products are just to support the application side of things," and although theres strong database support, tools for messaging and workgroup software are still primitive, he said. In addition, storage software companies need to work better with middleware vendors to improve support of large customers custom applications, Bristow said.

Application-centric management is part of what Gartner calls SAM, or storage area management, which involves best practices and business processes, not just smarter software.

"I think in the next six to nine months, youre going to see a couple of the vendors, including EMC [Corp., of Hopkinton, Mass.], make gains," Passmore said. "EMC has a lot of the rest of the suite and, interestingly enough, probably has more of the pieces than anyone else." Passmore said hes skeptical of BMCs delivery schedule, CA is only halfway there and the vision from IBMs Tivoli group "is at best incomplete." Storage Networks Inc. and Storability Inc., in Waltham, Mass., and Southboro, Mass., respectively, are storage service providers turned software vendors and are in a good position to get into this space, Passmore said.