Sizing up your data

Sizing up your data

Think of it as a Sherlock Holmes tool for the IT world. Investigating the storage infrastructure, which means doing nifty jobs like trending, reporting and data analysis is all possible, and increasingly being sought after, by many a stressed out system administrator.

With data volumes continuing to multiply, supporting larger and more complex storage networks requires some fancy footwork. Indeed, companies need help determining efficient ways to manage storage systems.

Part of the fix for the ever-increasing storage angst: deploying storage resource management (SRM) tools, industry proponents say.

According to IDC, the SRM market represents the largest functional market of storage software, growing worldwide more than 30 per cent year-over-year. But lack of time/resources and organisational commitment are the major impediment to improving an organisation's storage management capability, a recent survey conducted by StorageTek found.

Enter SRM for some relief. Essentially, the technology monitors and reports on storage, offering heterogeneous support, centralized monitoring, alerting, trend analysis, and intelligent reporting capabilities. The goal is to help companies manage storage across multi-platform, multi-vendor environments, analysts say.

Ideal for system administrators that needed to know what they had and how it was performing (letting them peek into the life and times of servers, databases and applications), SRM was now being invited to the storage assessment table, Computer Associates, principle consultant andstorage practise leader, Jacob van der Eyk, said.

"The technology has been around for a while, but it's only now that companies are starting to talk about it and saying, 'maybe we could do something with it'," he said.

Understanding data (knowing where it sits and who's using it) was crucial, van der Eyk said, and an SRM highlight. "SRM is the tool that gets you the answers," he said.

StorageTek channel account manager, Mark Edwards, said companies were moving towards the SRM concept given its usefulness in the overall storage strategy, and storage architecture and design.

Storage and its management is an increasingly large cost component of managing the IT infrastructure.

"SRM helps because it delivers on compliance and operational efficiency, assesses the IT architecture; and determines storage administration and performance management," Edwards said.

Better yet, say goodbye to manually collecting data from systems - this was particularly useful for system administrators tasked with managing SAN/NAS or direct-attached storage environments, Edwards said. Storage managers today spent most of their time on tactical functions, he said.

By offering an historical analysis for budgeting, capacity planning, consolidation or problem regulation, Edwards said SRM improved SAN planning, reduced system downtime, improved troubleshooting, and pumped up performance by finding old files and migrates them to slower and less expensive storage.

IDC analyst, Graham Penn, said SRM tools were becoming increasingly important to organisations that needed to contain the bulging amounts of data, which was growing at an alarming rate. Email was a primary culprit, he said.

"You can't expect companies to manage twice the terabytes, with fewer head count, but that's what's happening," he said.

Penn said SRM was also proving vital as the total cost of managing storage grew substantially every year, while storage management expertise was becoming increasingly scarce.

"System administrators need a range of skills to manage complex infrastructures," he said.

In an effort to investigate the storage environment and ease the load, IDC software analyst, Meghan Dahlgren, said resellers/system integrators could go into an organisation with an SRM tool and offer assessment services.

"Many organisations don't need an ongoing SRM tool unless they are a very large company. But it's ideal in the mid-market to help them get on top of their storage problems," she said.

This will open up the conversation for other considerations including integrated backup and archiving.

"The big thing organisations want is to figure out how to get efficiency in their storage hardware investment," Dahlgren said.

IT service and solution provider, Dimension Data, can attest to that.

National practice manager for Data Centre Solutions, Ronnie Altit, said the company has had success offering SRM as a managed service. "Many organisations get it done as a service on a quarterly basis," he said.

Altit said SRM had a role to play in the overall storage audit, which involves data profiling; determining core projects, the IT strategy and operational issues.

In particular, Veritas channel manager, Archie Wilson, said partners were embracing the consulting and service opportunities associated with SRM tools.

"Partners can go in and start to model all of the company data, take into account the regulatory requirements, and look at all of the data storage solutions and storage capacity," he said.

On the storage infrastructure management front, partners can offer advice on capacity planning, problem and change management, along with backup and archive. Topics focused on include storage policies and service offerings, storage provisioning, procuring and building storage, and storage service delivery. With this in mind, CA's van der Eyk said to look for SRM action in the mid-market - historically the technology sat at the top end of town.

"It's now being recognised as a value-based tool in the mid-market," he said. "It gives companies a lot more analysis and control around policies." Calling SRM one of the biggest storage opportunities out there for a reseller today, van der Eyk said the technology could lead a partner into other discussions about consolidation (users might be looking into deploying SANs), as well as virtualisation. The technology improves SAN planning by cleaning up the unnecessary files and migrating them to the new SAN.

"This is one of the most exciting opportunities for resellers," van der Eyk said. "It's not just flogging the software, but pushing the associated services and consulting. It may help partners sell other software like backup and recovery and could see additional hardware sales."

Data goes under the microscope

Part of the ILM package, which managed data from creation to obliteration, SRM monitored and then reported on storage, StorageTek's Edwards said.

As part of the SRM pitch, he said companies needed to start with the data that was causing the most pain, then determine how long the data should be kept, how quickly it should be retrieved, how often it needed to be accessed and when it could be deleted or removed to other storage.

"It's not a one-size fits all approach. Important elements are monitoring, provisioning, trending, reporting and impact analysis," Edwards said.

StorageTek has stepped up its efforts in the SRM arena by rolling out solutions that cater to small implementations up to the large enterprise level. It has also hosted nationwide seminars promoting the technology benefits.

"The opportunity for resellers is multifaceted," Edwards said. "They could sell SRM as a standalone product or set up a managed service business and offer professional consulting and assessment to analyse the data environment and network infrastructure."

He said users needed help initiating effective SRM practices and procedures in order to keep tabs on what was happening with the data. And while many organisations were starting to use tools to improve the day-to-day management of their storage, he said the adoption rate was slower than molasses.

Under the storage management banner, the most commonly deployed tools were performance management and monitoring tools, while the more powerful technologies such as SRM and content analysis were less prevalent, he said.

But account representative for FalconStor Software, Steven Bragg, said that was because SRM, as it is traditionally known, was dead. On the flipside, the new kid in town was data resource management (DRM).

Bragg said many vendors were providing this functionality within their software.

He said data resource management took a broader approach and looked at solutions across disparate server and storage infrastructure along with disparate network topologies.

Key DRM functionality includes: site to site memory replication (copying data between multiple sites/multiple disk infrastructure); creating point-in-time snaps of the data; and creating WORM capability.

"With the SRM concept, you put some innovative tools in place to help organisations manage the infrastructure more efficiently," Bragg said. "In an idealistic world it offers heterogenous storage, but it's much too complex for that."

He said the Australian market hadn't taken a shine to SRM, in part because it was typically sold as a bundled solution.

But Wilson said SRM was holding its own as an emerging product category, and did operate across any environment independent of the operating system or hardware - and a top feature of the company's software.

The software could monitor, plan and provision resources across tiered storage environments, he said.

Another top benefit was increased storage utilisation, he said.

Thanks to online file migration, unimportant or rarely accessed files could be transferred, through policy-based distribution, from expensive storage arrays to inexpensive storage devices.

From a hardware perspective, Quantum's A/NZ national country manager, Craig Tamlin, said SRM helped organisations identify which data could be moved into a lower cost storage medium, thereby ensuring companies were deploying the most effective and cost efficient form of backup and recovery.

"This helps to identify aged data on many servers and can lead to huge savings on equipment and maintenance," he said.

Technology teasers

So what can SRM users expect down the road? Wilson said tighter integration with other applications was the top technology advancement to watch.

"We are developing much higher levels of integration - for example, mixing it with backup software," he said.

"We need tighter integration between the various toolsets. This would eliminate redundancies and inefficiencies. Only backing up certain documents once eliminates redundancy."

Dimension Data's Altit agreed. He said the industry was moving towards integration for some time.

"We're working towards a model of having one tool manage multiple different applications," he said. "So it's not just about servers and storage, but about backup and recovery."

Enhanced reporting functionality, where users can improve on slicing and dicing the information, along with automatic provisioning would be areas to watch, StorageTek's Edwards said. "The trick is to present the data in a way that makes sense," he said. "How do you deal with data that's critical to the business. Which applications are important, and which business units are costing the most?"

And while managing information is one of the top IT priorities for the majority of businesses, expect to hear more about storage management tools like SRM.

"It's all about analysing a customer's needs and making the storage management piece more intelligent," Wilson said.

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