Solutions for Managing Storage
Storage is a computing term that means many things to many users. The word is used in conjunction with high-volume, high-bandwidth, high-performance networked access to media stores of many kinds, ranging from extremely fast solid-state devices to various types of disk arrays or similar devices to many kinds of near- or offline tape or optical storage. Then, too, there are many competing standards and technologies, all of which represent network storage of one kind or another, from various types of RAID technology to storage area networks (or SANs, which tie together servers and data stores using sideband networks) to network-attached storage (or NAS, which offloads storage processing and management from local servers and helps consolidate and centralize storage and access). When it comes to understanding the various technologies, networks and access methods involved, it’s easy to spend months or even years digging into this area deeply enough to make fully informed decisions. Perhaps this explains why system integrators and services companies typically play a big role in helping businesses and organizations implement workable storage solutions.
At the heart of any strong storage solution sits one or more related management tools designed to help IT professionals keep systems running at peak efficiency. It’s typical for a storage solution to cost anywhere from $150,000 and up—in fact, spending millions on an enterprise-class storage solution is almost too easy. Because they’re essential in helping organizations that invest in large-scale storage solutions maximize returns on hefty investments, management tools are an important element in the overall mix of components in any storage solution.
This article looks at storage management tools across two broad categories. The first category includes what might be called storage management consoles. These are large-scale toolsets–many of which include APIs and development environments to support on-site customization and tailoring–that typically cover a wide range of management tasks and capabilities. These range from conventional installation, configuration and allocation tools necessary to make storage available for all kinds of uses (large-scale applications like ERP, database-driven environments, data mining, data warehousing and so forth) to security and control modules where user authentication, access controls and other administrative tasks are handled. Throw in customary tools to help integrate backup, snapshots, mirrors, replication or other mechanisms to ensure high data availability and data integrity; some kind of support for hierarchical storage management to permit seldom-used data to migrate to slower near- or offline storage; plus various facilities for capacity planning, modeling, monitoring, and performance tuning and optimization; and you’re getting close to the entire range of capabilities of the various consoles mentioned in the Top Storage Management Tools table. (See Figure 1.) What makes things interesting is that all consoles do not provide the same set of functions, so different add-ons may be necessary depending on specific implementation choices and user needs.
That’s what makes items in the second category worthwhile and sometimes incredibly valuable—these are specific storage management tools with more limited and focused capabilities that may be used alone or in conjunction with some kind of console to provide additional capabilities that organizations deem essential to manage storage solutions to their satisfaction. Tools in this category fall into the various domains that are sometimes found in a well-built console (or as is more typically the case, a console with a carefully-chosen suite of add-on modules). In particular, the top tools that receive mention provide the following types of functions and/or services:
- Mechanisms to capture data contents or states related to specific applications, such as transaction-oriented databases where rollback and recovery may not just be mission-critical, but legally mandated as well.
- Multiple mechanisms for backing up and restoring data that include snapshot mechanisms, checkpoints, mirroring or replication capabilities to keep data around and readily available. If any single copy goes off-line for any reason, such systems can usually restore access both quickly and automatically, thereby limiting costs of downtime or lack of access to meet data access policy requirements.
- Tools for defining and applying security and other organizational policies to storage contents, particularly when various rules, laws or regulations mandate such compliance. In addition to the SecurityExpressions product mentioned in the Top Storage Management Tools, look to vendors like BMC, ADIC, CA, Tivoli and others to provide plug-in modules to handle this role within enterprise console environments.
- Tools to monitor storage and related bandwidth utilization to help in optimizing storage access performance, availability and response time. In addition, modeling, trend analysis and predictive tools help with capacity and growth planning (including modeling and testing of “what-if” storage scenarios).
There’s one more very important concept to consider when it comes to shopping for storage management software, be it either consoles or tools—compatibility. A fully integrated storage implementation is likely to include hardware components from one or more vendors (and more than one is the norm). Each hardware component, each switch, each server and all the other elements that go into a storage system’s composition will work only with a limited range of consoles and tools. Of course, this is another reason why it’s important to work with a savvy storage integrator or consultant. You don’t want to find yourself learning about compatibility issues through trial and error. Rather, you’ll want to work with somebody who already knows which hardware and software components play well (or at least work) together to avoid unnecessary backtracking and false implementation starts. That’s where working with qualified VARs or integrators can really save on time, effort and expense. Those with enough expertise and experience, such as long-time IBM partner Mainline Information Systems Inc. (www.mainline.com) offer complete, end-to-end, turnkey storage solutions that combine hardware, software, management tools and even application support for relatively painless storage implementations. Count on such vendors to design a set of tools that mixes. In Mainline Information’s case, this might even include the company’s own Mainline Enterprise Storage management console and toolset.
Finally, when it comes to navigating the thousands of components and hundreds of storage systems available in today’s market, a little market intelligence and a lot of product and background information are essential items for those not already in the know about this busy IT industry niche to research and compile. Figure 2 includes pointers to key storage information resources. They’ll not only help you learn more about other storage management consoles and tools, but about the galaxy of other hardware, software and application support that normally goes into a fully-realized storage implementation. Use this to dig more deeply into related hardware and software needs, and to learn more about the tools, technologies and capabilities involved.
Ed Tittel is technology editor for Certification Magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.