Storage Management: Choose the Top Solutions
Storage is a computing term that means many things to many users. The term 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 (SANs), which tie together servers and data stores using sideband networks, to network attached storage (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 large role in helping enterprises implement full-scale 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 from $150,000 and up. Because they’re essential to help companies or organizations that invest in large-scale storage solutions maximize the return on their investments, management tools are an important element in the overall mix of components. Here, I examine storage management tools that fall into two broad categories: storage management consoles and other more focused types of tools.
storage management consoles
The first category includes what are called storage management consoles. These are large-scale toolsets–most of which even include application program interfaces (APIs) and development environments to support on-site customization and tailoring–that typically cover a broad range of management tasks and capabilities. These range from the typical 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 all kinds of administration 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 that the various consoles included in “Top Storage Management Tools” mention. What makes things interesting is that not all such consoles cover the same set of functions, so that different add-ons become necessary in different situations.
Storage Management Tools
That’s what makes the items in the second category so worthwhile. These are specific storage management tools with more limited and focused capabilities. They may be either used as stand-alone tools or in conjunction with a console of some kind to provide additional capabilities that companies or organizations may find necessary (and even essential) to manage their storage solutions to their satisfaction. Tools in this category fall into the various domains that are often found in a well-rounded console (or, as is often the case, a console along with a carefully chosen collection of add-on modules).
In particular, the tools that receive mention in the “Top Storage Management Tools” table 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 offline 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 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 the ability to establish and test “what if” storage implementations).
Choosing Storage Management Tools
There’s one more very important concept to consider when it comes to shopping for storage management software, be it either consoles or tools—this is 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 be limited in the consoles and tools that are compatible.
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 or repeated implementation attempts. That’s where working with qualified value-added resellers (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 them to include the right set of tools in that mix, including their 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 will be needed for those not already in the know about this busy IT industry niche. That’s why I include pointers to key storage information resources in Table 1. They’ll not only help you learn more about other storage management consoles and tools that are available, but about the entire galaxy of other hardware, software and application support that so often 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.8
Ed Tittel is president of LANwrights Inc. and is technology editor for Certification Magazine. You can e-mail Ed with your questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Table 1: Storage Information and Resources