During the past year, innovations and emerging technologies have made storage more accessible, powerful and inexpensive (from a cost-per-megabyte point of view) than ever before. Despite these improvements—and, to some degree, because of them—storage networking and management have become two of the biggest headaches for IT managers.
The problem with storage today can be summed up in one word: complexity.
The emergence of ATA-based RAIDs has increased capacity at reasonable costs, and the recent release of iSCSI products such as Cisco Systems Inc.s MDS Series has made storage accessible at a block level over IP. However, storage management tools to adequately rein in the ever-increasing stockpiles of storage have not come fast enough.
End-to-end storage management solutions are difficult to create because applications from different vendors typically dont work well together. As a result, storage and network administrators need to learn how to use several interfaces just to perform simple daily storage management tasks.
End-to-end solutions from a single vendor are available. EMC Corp., for example, offers such a system with its Control Center, which uses the network (IP and Fibre Channel) to manage and monitor storage hardware and servers. However, Control Center can manage only a small number of the storage hardware devices available.
The current climate makes a single-vendor storage platform sound extremely attrac-tive. Once invested, however, it could take several years to break out of the proprietary technology trap, so we advise that IT managers shop around long and hard before settling on a single-vendor solution.
Intelligent switches such as Maxxan Systems Inc.s Maxxan MXV329 may also help ease storage management. Software developers will be able to write management applications that run on these switches instead of on stand-alone application servers. By moving the management within the network, administrators will be able to see all storage elements from a central position.
What Can You Do
Before doing anything, IT managers need to know what resources they have in their environment and how these resources are being used.
SRM (storage resource management) products are available now from a wide variety of vendors. By using these products, IT managers can see how much storage they have in their network and find out who is using what resources.
Most SRM packages have report generation tools that allow IT managers to determine key facts such as how many duplicate files are stored on a network or which files have not been accessed in a while. Using this information, managers can cut out a fair amount of clutter from their environments and make sure that storage they have already purchased is being used as effectively as possible.
Long-term management of storage will depend on the policies managers create for their users. Close contact with users will help determine storage needs (in terms of performance and capacity) and, thus, effective data retention policies.
Data classification policies should also be implemented so that users will be more aware of the costs of data storage and management. Users should know how much money it costs to store and protect data, and users who overestimate their storage needs should be informed of the amount of money their miscalculations waste.
Standards are coming, and they should make management of heterogeneous storage infrastructures far easier than it is now.
The Storage Management Initiative Specification, which is being driven by the Storage Networking Industry Association, will build on Common Information Model and Web-Based Enterprise Management to boost storage management capabilities.
The problem, however, is that storage technologies continue to evolve at a rapid pace, and it will be hard for standards to keep up with innovation. Furthermore, interoperability tests are needed to make sure that storage vendors are adhering to standards.
However, although standards will prove useful in the near future, dont expect to see true plug-and-play capabilities for heterogeneous software and hardware on a single management console any time soon.
Senior Analyst Henry Baltazar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.