Magazine Article | February 1, 2003

13 Ways To Avoid Storage Management Chaos

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

In combating hardware sprawl, you can easily make a bad situation worse. Here are a baker's dozen tips for managing your storage resources even as you scale them.

Integrated Solutions, February 2003

Chances are that, over the years, you've built (intentionally or not) a heterogeneous storage environment. No matter how many servers or disk arrays you have, it's unlikely they all come from the same hardware vendor. And, even if all of your servers or all of your disk arrays are from the same vendor, other devices help create heterogeneity - routers, switches, and so on.

And, chances are you'll soon (if you haven't already) be moving some or all of your storage resources from direct attached configurations to NAS (network attached storage)-based and/or SAN (storage area network)-based designs. Your goals will be to bring flexibility and scalability to your storage infrastructure - and relative simplicity to the management of that infrastructure. But to achieve those goals, you'll have to overcome the inevitable panic attack. You'll no doubt discover that moving your storage resources to a shared (rather than direct attached) environment has ratcheted up your storage management complexity. To deal with that complexity, you'll need automated storage management software tools.

1. Don't Indulge In The Single-Vendor Pipe Dream
Storage comes off lease in staggered cycles. Plus, the can't-turn-it-down great deal means you'll occasionally buy from vendors not yet on your floor. "As you grow, you wind up having all kinds of 'antiques' from various vendors sitting around your data center. They still work, so getting rid of that equipment is not an option," says Bob Rogers, chief storage technologist, enterprise storage management, BMC Software (Houston). Put simply, you'll always have multivendor storage, and you'll always have to manage it.

2. Don't Make Storage An Island
Storage management doesn't occur in isolation. According to Mark Sorenson, VP, storage software division, HP (Cupertino, CA), "You need to make sure that your storage management tools and policies integrate well with those for server management and network management."

3. Don't Believe The Cheap Disk Hype
Sure, hard disk prices are dropping sharply, but that does not mean they're inexpensive to deploy and manage. "The notion that disk is cheap is shortsighted," says Steven Toole, VP of marketing and business development, Precise SRM (Reston, VA). "Before you buy that cheap disk, consider the cost of backing it up."

4. Don't Live In Fear
Yes, it's true that your current capacity will one day run out. But, instead of just waiting for the crisis to emerge, use storage resource management and reporting tools so you can predict and avoid a system meltdown. "The absence of fear is a clear sign your storage management policies and tools are working," says Marco Coulter, VP, BrightStor brand, Computer Associates (Islandia, NY). "You're not afraid of running out of space because you know what kind of time frame you're on for adding capacity."

5. Don't Migrate Your Data Without Server Consolidation
It's futile to centralize your servers for SAN access if you're pulling in boxes you don't need. "If you're moving to a new house, you have the yard sale first. You don't put your junk in the moving van, unload it in your new domain, and then have the sale," says Toole. "The same goes for server consolidation. Do it before you connect them to a SAN."

6. Don't Try This Alone
Few people launch into a home-building project without input from a professional builder or architect. Somebody with experience has to come up with a blueprint that can be executed. The same goes for building storage networks. If you build it wrong, you can't easily manage it. "To save themselves a couple of nickels, some companies make the mistake of trying to figure out the deployment all on their own," says Sorenson. "Early on, bring in the experts. Rely on them to get your folks trained on SAN, NAS, and storage management software technologies."

7. Don't Tackle Too Many Tools
Most storage hardware, from a switch to a disk array, comes with its own device management software. But, if you rely solely on those tools to manage your infrastructure, you'll force yourself to master the functionality of a brain-draining plethora of software tools. "The average medium-sized account has 10 or more different hardware vendors on the floor. Keeping up with the features and upgrades for all of their device management tools can be a full-time job," says Rogers. Instead, pull those hardware-specific tools into an overarching software virtualization interface (commonly referred to as "the single pane of glass"). Then, limit their use to occasional access for firmware patches or low-level device maintenance activities. The broader suite can then be relied on for higher level resource monitoring and provisioning tasks.

8. Don't Ignore Your Storage Users
Building and managing a storage network is, of course, primarily intended for the convenience of storage and network administrators. Networked storage gives them the flexibility they need to handle rapidly escalating performance and capacity demands from applications and users. To understand those demands and map management strategies that effectively address them, however, IT and business teams must plan together. "If your storage managers aren't talking with business users, your storage management implementation will give you only an IT benefit, not an overall business benefit," says Coulter. "One company we know of assigned IT people to the management teams of various business units."

9. Don't Disregard Storage Management Politics
Moving to networked storage means that storage management begins to cross formerly distinct IT lines. Questions about storage management territories and responsibilities follow. "Suppose the company decides to deliver storage over IP [Internet protocol]," Sorenson ponders. "Who should manage that kind of service? Is it the network administrator? Is it the storage administrator? Do you even have a storage administrator? And, what about the operating system managers - the UNIX team or the NT team? Or, what about the line-of-business applications managers - the SAP administrator or the mail-and-messaging team? Many of these people are going to have to interact in ways they may not have in the past."

10. Don't Move Forward Without Storage Policies
The fundamental purpose of networking storage resources is to allow administrators and, hopefully, automated software tools to provision and re-allocate storage for optimal utilization. But, guaranteeing availability is impossible if parameters aren't placed on the amounts and types of data particular users and apps can put on networked storage. "Your goal in setting up utilization limits is not to restrict users; it is to protect them," says Toole. "If you put a fence around people, it not only keeps them in, it keeps other people out. A quota protects users' disk space from being consumed or abused by peers, potentially bringing all users to a standstill."

11. Don't Back Up What Should Not Have Been Stored
Speaking of policies, don't let users waste disk resources by storing files that don't support their business functions. Otherwise, you'll struggle to reduce backup windows. "If you're backing up MP3 files and pictures of people's kids, then your backup is taking longer than it should," Toole says. "We've seen organizations reduce their backup windows by as much as 30% simply by having software tools prevent non-business-related files from being written to storage devices."

12. Don't Sidestep Your Role In 'Automation'
Just because out-of-the-box software can automate many of your storage management procedures, that doesn't mean you should install the tools and go to sleep. You'll likely want to customize the extensions and wizards. "Ideally, you'll want to configure the wizards so they follow monitoring, alerting, provisioning, and re-allocating procedures in the sequence you need them to," says Rogers. "Automation doesn't mean you can just point the tools, flip the switch, and walk away. If you do that, you may end up merely taking careful aim at your own foot."

13. Don't Suffer From Storage Obsession
As the storage industry continues to resolve issues surrounding device interoperability, automated software tools should keep companies from having to vigilantly monitor resources. Says Coulter, "Storage should be like the desks in people's offices and cubicles. You count how many people you have, figure out how many desks you need for them, and have a security guard to make sure nobody steals any. That's about as much thought as you should have to give to your storage resources."