Magazine Article | March 1, 2002

Storage Myopia

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

When you look for more capacity, is your entire storage infrastructure as clear as the nose on your face? As familiar as the back of your hand? If not, it may be time to strap on some thicker lenses.

Integrated Solutions, March 2002

A memorable cover of The New Yorker magazine from several years ago offered a cartoon map of the United States. Prominently depicted in the foreground is the island of Manhattan. Landmarks such as Times Square, the Empire State Building, and the Statue of Liberty are easily discerned. Less detailed yet still identifiable in the near distance are the Hudson River and metropolitan New Jersey. Once the view recedes into Pennsylvania and beyond, however, the rest of the country - all the way to the Pacific Ocean - is sketched as a relatively short stretch of flat, vacant space, with only a handful of place names indicated. Nearly everything beyond the Big Apple is rendered as insignificant and unknown - perhaps not worth knowing.

Most enterprise IT administrators could draw a similarly skewed map, particularly if their intention is to represent the server and storage infrastructure as seen from corporate headquarters. Many of the dozens, if not hundreds, of servers and storage devices scattered across the enterprise might as well be Ransom County, North Dakota, for all anyone knows about them. Furthermore, if the storage infrastructure is managed with less than adequate software tools, some servers and devices are likely to be as sparsely populated as Ransom County (at 6.8 people per square mile), while others are packed like a rent-controlled apartment building on the lower East Side. That's why enterprises should look to storage management software that can not only locate their current resources but also facilitate the transition to centralized storage monitoring and allocating.

Clear Away Barriers To Efficient Storage
A cloudy view of current storage resources brings real consequences. First, the typical response to a perceived storage shortage is to buy more hardware rather than reallocate current usage. Dan Hoffmann, director of marketing for storage products, BMC Software, Inc. (Houston), sees problems in that approach. "Emergency or panic buying is a very poor way of approaching your storage supplier," Hoffman insists. "You're at an economic disadvantage when you go to your supplier and say, 'I need a box right now.' When the sales rep comes to your door with an offer, it would be much better if you were able to say, 'You know what? We've been monitoring our systems, and we're okay right now.'"

Another consequence is a too heavy reliance on direct attached storage. That common scenario is easily understood in terms of why it happens. Companies begin by dedicating servers to particular applications. As the servers' internal storage capacity runs out, companies add direct attached storage devices to those servers. Then they add more servers, then more storage units. Quickly, storage management chaos emerges. Tom Isakovich, president and CEO of SAN (storage area network) management software developer TrueSAN Networks, Inc. (San Jose, CA), points out that many companies built their storage infrastructures without any long-term vision. "You'll find companies that have hundreds or even thousands of servers with storage devices attached to each of them. We know of one leading company that has hundreds of TBs of storage directly attached to its servers. That means trying to manage hundreds of iterations of storage."

Even when companies make the move toward centralized storage management - by implementing SANs, for example - they are often unequipped to handle the networking complexities. Their IT staffs may have tremendous experience and expertise in building and managing corporate LANs and WANs (wide area networks) but may be relatively unfamiliar with SANs. "Analyst groups are pointing to the emergence of a storage architect, a person who understands storage networking issues such as worldwide name zoning and LUN (logical unit number) masking," Isakovich explains. "However, storage management software can help you get over that hurdle and enable your existing IT administrators and network managers to build and run your SAN."

Map A Route To Centralized Management
In making the move toward centrally managed storage, companies should consider a step-by-step approach that allows them to migrate storage for one department's applications before moving to the next. Todd Deveney, VP of U.S. operations for storage management software provider QStar Technologies, Inc. (Ft. Walton Beach, FL), notes that various departments need to store different kinds of data from different kinds of applications. "Get one project working for one department - for example, handling departmental e-mail archiving. Test the ability of the centralized storage system to accommodate one group's data before you test its ability to be the data repository for other departments," Deveney advises.

The same one-step-at-a-time approach can be applied to migrating storage generated by differing operating systems. When a company realizes that its ratio of storage demand to managed storage assets is getting out of hand, it usually considers server consolidation. But the company often won't go ahead with the project because it can't yet manage various operating systems from a single point. According to Augie Gonzalez, director of product marketing for DataCore Software Corp. (Ft. Lauderdale, FL), that hesitation can be overcome. "In order to move forward, companies can use software to facilitate incremental server and storage consolidation," Gonzalez says. "They can consolidate their Windows storage, then move to Solaris, then to NetWare, and so on." Nevertheless, Gonzalez cautions companies not to move forward without a strategy for a graceful retreat. "Be thoughtful about where you are most vulnerable. Have a way to reverse the consolidation process if something doesn't work out the way you anticipated," he advises.

Make Sure Data Is In The Right Location
The first key step in using software for centralized storage management is asset discovery. As Hoffmann puts it, "Until you know what you have, you can't make accurate decisions about where to put your data." Storage management software can locate and identify all of the devices that make up the storage infrastructure - for example, servers, switches, disk arrays, and backup drives. Software can also determine the rate at which applications are consuming space, and it can tell where that space is located. The resulting clear view of resources and usage enables administrators to do accurate capacity planning. "If you are budget strapped and need to cut disk consumption, you can find some noncritical data and put it in slower storage," says Hoffmann. "That's why knowledge of application use is important. If, for instance, a particular application can survive a two-hour outage, then its data probably doesn't have to be done via remote mirroring. Traditional tape backup may be enough."

Deveney agrees that utilization-monitoring tools enable companies to make better decisions about which devices and media should house which data. He advises the use of management software to optimize a basic storage design - using front end magnetic storage, such as RAID (redundant array of independent disks), backed by optical and/or tape storage. "We find that the 80/20 rule applies to data access. Users access 20% of the data 80% of the time," Deveney explains. "So, there's no sense filling up RAID array after RAID array with information that isn't going to be frequently used. If you have an application that can manage both nearline and offline storage, you can use one RAID box simply as a front end cache for data accessed from other storage. It's a simple, effective solution."

Once companies get fundamental allocation issues under control, they can use management software to tap into advanced applications of SAN-based storage. "Many companies forget that SANs provide excellent platforms for doing disaster recovery and disaster tolerance," Isakovich explains. "Without adequate software, however, customers won't quickly see those benefits." Gonzalez offers the reminder that doing snapshots or checkpoints for recovery purposes requires coordination, which management software can assist in. "You have to know when all of the necessary data has been pushed to where it needs to be in order to take the snapshot. You have to know whether or not the snapshot represents an image on which you can base recovery," Gonzalez says.

Of course, before companies can move to advanced uses of storage management software, they have to at least have software in place. Otherwise, their storage isn't simply clouded from their view. It's not even on the map. "When I talk to customers about what software they're using for storage management, many say they haven't yet invested in it," admits Hoffmann. "They might know how many EMC boxes they have, but they often have no idea how many RAID arrays they have attached to their servers around the world. I'm still shocked."