Storage resource management tools for SMBs

Storage resource management (SRM), has long been considered just for larger enterprises, but new storage resource management tools are making SRM affordable for SMBs.

In 2008, the IT group at the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), Newtown, PA, came under pressure from its Board to improve service reliability and continuity. LSAC provides technology-based services to more than 200 law schools.

The pressure resulted from a change in business strategy. "The Board wanted us to be 24/7. We were now considered mission-critical," said Jerry Goldman, LSAC director of technical services.

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To meet its new mission-critical role, LSAC needed to upgrade its storage area network (SAN) infrastructure. After reviewing available products, LSAC opted for an Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co. SAN based on the StorageWorks Enterprise Virtual Array 8100. Bundled into the package was HP Storage Essentials, the vendor's storage resource management (SRM) tool.

With a storage resource management tool, Goldman's team could perform storage optimization through event monitoring, performance management and reporting, and capacity planning. "We strive for 99.999% uptime and 80% to 90% utilization," said Goldman, which is only possible through the use of SRM.

What are storage resource management tools good for?

Storage resource management has long been considered a large enterprise strategy. Also, it is not unusual for an SRM implementation to cost millions of dollars, attempt to handle a dozen or more tasks and take years to implement. "That's what I describe as SRM 1.0," said Rick Clark, president and CEO, Aptare Inc., Campbell, Calif.

SMBs, however, can benefit from SRM, too. "Administrators at midsized organizations need to know how full their disks are just like at big enterprises," said Greg Schulz, senior analyst, StorageIO, Stillwater, Minn.

What they don't need is the heterogeneous automated provisioning and other advanced features often built into storage resource management 1.0 tools, which drive up the cost and slow implementation. "What I call SRM 2.0 tools focus on the critical pain points; how much storage is being used, where, by whom and how quickly they'll need more," added Clark. They can leave automated provisioning and device management to the storage array vendors.

Using storage resource management today, storage administrators can see how much disk capacity is used and what applications use it. Through reporting and trending, SRM shows managers how quickly storage capacity is being consumed and when to acquire more.

Yet many organizations still feel they can get along adequately without SRM. "At the low end, Windows Explorer is their SRM tool," said Schulz. Windows Explorer is cheap, but hugely inadequate for effective storage resource management.

Storage resource management tools today

Many storage resource management tools exist, but not all are labeled SRM, and not all are suitable for SMBs. For example, every storage vendor offers a tool that does basic SRM, allowing you to find, see and work with capacity on the array. These tools, however, may not see beyond the immediate array, and their capabilities may be rudimentary.

Big storage vendors such as EMC Corp., HP, IBM Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. (recently acquired by Oracle) all have sophisticated SRM tools. Many, like HP Storage Essentials, EMC Control Center, and IBM Tivoli Storage Productivity Center are very sophisticated, but may be too expensive for SMBs. LSAC, however, found it could get a good deal by bundling Storage Essentials as part of its overall HP SAN purchase.

Specialized data storage vendors also provide SRM. These include Aptare Inc., Tek-Tools Software and Symantec Corp.; these vendors may be more in line with the expectations and budgets of SMBs.

Whichever tool you have, you need to identify its storage capacity, track the actual utilization and have it alert you before you need more. "At a minimum, you want it to do three things: 1) automatically map the storage from the host to the back-end LUN, 2) provide utilization metrics, such as how much and which host, and 3) perform proactive monitoring, alerting and reporting," said Mark Teter, chief technology officer, Advanced Systems Group, a systems integrator based in Denver.

The new generation of storage resource management tools is reasonably priced. Typical SRM deals run $50,000 to $100,000. Entry-level SRM starts at $20,000 or less, according to Clark.

Storage resource management for data backup

"We're using Aptare for its backup reporter functions," said Tim Malfara, storage architect, GSI Commerce Solutions, King of Prussia, Pa., an e-commerce software vendor. The company faced a complicated multiple data center backup challenge combined with retail PCI compliance auditing issues.

Aptare's storage resource management tool gave GSI a consolidated view and reports across all its backups. "Otherwise, it was too onerous to deal with. If we have to show proof of backup it just takes too much work to collect it all manually," said Malfara. The tool also tracks how many backup copies they have and how much media they're using.

SRM was hot technology around 2000, but has cooled since. However, the latest storage resource management tools, more focused and less costly, are reviving the market.

Looking ahead, "SRM could get hot again in a new form," said Schulz. That form will be systems resource management aimed to drive both higher storage and systems utilization in increasingly virtualized IT environments.

About this author: Alan Radding is a frequent contributor to SearchSMBStorage.com.

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