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Building on Storage Management

To get a glimpse of how technology is born, listen to Bud Broomhead explain how he helped father storage resource management (SRM) for the open-systems world.

Back in the '90s, Broomhead, now director of new business ventures for network storage at Sun Microsystems, saw what was coming. Computer systems were evolving from monolithic towers to more distributed systems, and IT managers lacked the tools to manage these unwieldy environments. So Broomhead sat down and read through user manuals for mainframes,and discovered that engineers already had solved the problems of the future. Terms like storage-capacity reporting, storage allocation, provisioning and hierarchical storage management already existed in the mainframe world, and those same tools could be used to solve the looming storage problems.

"It was sort of like Back To the Future," he says. "I figured we would have to remaster applications from the old world to the new world. The tricky part is trying to figure out what the world is going to look like and what parts to remaster. That's the big bet."

At a basic level, SRM collects storage data and stores it in a central repository for analysis and capacity trending. That pool of data helps storage administrators analyze the health of the storage infrastructure. On a broader level, it can be used for strategic planning of resources,everything from provisioning to capacity planning to the Holy Grail of policy, automation and application-based management.

"The next generation of SRM is the umbrella for complete resource-path management," says Doug Cahill, vice president of business development for AppIQ, a Burlington, Mass.-based SRM developer. "Complete resource-path management has to go from application objects all the way down to the spindle and subsystem."

Executives at AppIQ, along with Broomhead, are careful to make the distinction between data management and storage management. The first market is populated by products involved with client-server backup, archiving of hierarchical storage management, replication, file systems and volume managers,pieces that are right in, and affect, the data path. The other part of storage management, the resource path, is considered an immature space populated with only point tools and early-generation products.

"Most storage managers walk around with what I call a quiver of arrows,a bunch of point products they have collected over time that they use to manage their storage," says Jon William Toigo, an independent consultant and storage expert. "What SRM vendors try to do is aggregate a bunch of point products under one shrink-wrap and give it a common interface so you don't have to learn a bunch of different tools. That is a good objective."

It's a welcome start, especially for customers who might be confused about how much capacity they have and how much is actually being used. Imagine an IBM enterprise storage system as a big container loaded with disk drives, says Scott Kennedy, vice president of business development at Fujitsu Softek. Most IT managers think if 80 percent of their capacity is allocated to servers and applications, then only 20 percent capacity is left before a new subsystem needs to be purchased. What they don't realize is there's plenty of unused storage within that allocated 80 percent.

That's the scenario Kennedy put forth to a recent customer, whose shop was handling a 60-TB SAN and running mostly Windows NT and Solaris operating systems on a McData fabric.

"I asked them, 'How much storage are you utilizing?'" Kennedy recalls. "They hemmed and hawed before saying, 'Oh, about 80 percent.' I said, 'No disrespect to you, but you're doing something that is absolutely impossible in the industry right now.' Their response was, 'Wait a minute, what do you mean by utilization?'"

That question hits the heart of the problem for IT storage administrators, who have, at best, a superficial view of their storage resources. If they were to look under the covers of their storage subsystems, they would see lots of unused storage. For instance, an administrator allocates storage by carving up the disk drives and connecting them to servers. But if a Unix server is only using 20 percent of what it has been allocated, there is no flexibility built into these systems to reassign the extra capacity to a more needy Windows NT server.

"We were at the same point in the mainframe world 10 years ago," Kennedy says. "We got to where storage farms grew, but we were at less than 50 percent utilization. So we came up with systems managed storage [SMS."

Now it's time to solve that for open systems. Thus far, most SRM tools on the market offer two levels of functionality. One monitors and sends alerts,via e-mail or paging,for day-to-day maintenance; the other compiles reports and trends of how storage is being used for long-term planning. Some integrators see SRM as a good way to leverage the growing services market.

"I have a list of prospects as long as my arm," says Phillip Hyde, an executive at integrator IntelliStorage. "And I am leading into them with CreekPath's Application Intelligent Management Suite."

Looking Ahead

Broomhead says the industry is at the start of a 10-year cycle. We have physically connected the storage devices. Virtualization and SRM are providing the logical connection. What's next? The hope is that SRM will lead to tasks like automation and self-provisioning.

For instance, it would be ideal for an intelligent repository to recognize a multimedia application and automatically write it on the outermost tracks of all the spindles in a disk array,the longest and most continuous space on the disk drive,to get jitter-free playback. But, for now, the industry is attacking the problem in small chunks at a time.

"We are already at the beginning of a 10-year trajectory when we are going to see lots and lots of automation," Broomhead says. "We are just taking it on by bits and pieces. It's the only way you can do it. Any other way would be mind-boggling."

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