Remote Storage and the Human Condition

Storage engineering is growing slicker all the time, as a new alliance between STORServer and PLCS proves. But Storage Supersite Editor David Morgenstern cautions that the human element of storage must never be forgotten.

With a nod to the infamous moment in the 70s classic Soylent Green, there come times when we want to holler, "Storage is people, too!" Or so I was reminded this week when speaking to an enterprise storage vendor about a new product.

The genesis of this epiphany was this weeks announcement of an alliance between STORServer and Netherlands-based PLCS BV Storage Consultants to market the Media Manager package, PLCSs backup tape-management system for IBMs Tivoli platform. Each company will distribute the others products in its respective market, and executives said future versions of the software will feature greater integration with STORServers hardware lines.

The Media Manager system comprises a pair of barcode readers and software that integrates with the Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM) to better maintain disaster-recovery data sets and to track cartridges as they travel between the remote vault facility and the home servers tape library (and back again). The system expands TSMs base-level management and reporting capabilities. The package is certified for use with Tivoli.

Verification is one of Media Managers critical functions. While TSMs Disaster Recovery Manager can track the status of tapes, the barcode reader actually verifies that the correct tapes are logged into the system and received upon shipment. Its Audit function can catalog and verify hundreds of tapes in a hour or two, avoiding costly manual inventories, the companies said.

"Media Manager forces people to verify that all the tapes are there," STORServer Vice President Kelly Lipp said, adding that such verification gains importance for companies implementing requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). "The Media Manager audit can prove that [a particular data set] is stored in a secure environment."

The $5,000 package comes with two barcode readers and a license for one server. It runs on Windows 98 or greater and doesnt require the TSM client or the TSM ODBC client.

At the same time, during my discussions with executives from both companies I was reminded of the human side of storage.

Maintaining a disaster-recovery process necessitates a very human workflow. Dealing with offsite storage in the vault, a person must take the tape cartridges out of the library, pack them in a box and ship them. And someone on the other end must handle them responsibly, ready to retrieve them at some future on demand from their customer.

No matter the training and careful procedures, something can go wrong. I bet most sites have a stray tape or two (or more) hanging around that nobody wants to chance overwriting.

Media Manager recognizes this and pushes users to do the right thing. For example, the barcode reader makes it easy to log cartridges in and out in random order, but the software will stop a job if a cartridge is missing from a batch. Stop everything and look for it!

It also prints out a report thats sent with packages to and from the vault. The system is automated but recognizes the human side of the work.

Storage and storage systems showcase amazing electrical, mechanical and software engineering. We think of them as completely automated products. Still, someone must set them up, plug them in and turn on the power switch. And give a hard knock on the side of the enclosure every now and then.

Storage Supersite Editor David Morgenstern is a longtime reporter of the storage industry as well as a veteran of the dotcom boom in the storage-rich fields of professional content creation and digital video.