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Storage Strategies - Thursday, October 30, 2003
By Jon William Toigo

More Than Provisioning, Invio Strives for Workflow Management

Invio Software's goal is to create tools that aid storage
administrators in defining workflows around commonly performed tasks
and enable automation so you focus your attention on the more
recalcitrant aspects of your infrastructure.

Somewhere in the typical SAN business case, the details of the proposed
solution become a bit blurry. Typically, this happens at that part in
the vendor's PowerPoint presentation when he or she is about to explain
how the morass of cables and switches and arrays the company is trying
to sell you all suddenly become smart -- that is, capable of
automatically provisioning storage resources to applications.

You can almost anticipate the slide entitled "Moment of Magic" in which
some mystical power is invoked to provide the SAN with an intelligence
of its own, capable of fulfilling that promise of the "storage utility
infrastructure" to enable you to operate your storage with just a few
staffers whose previous jobs consisted of convincing customers to
super-size their burgers and fries at the corner drive-thru.

In truth, getting to such intelligence requires two things: (1) a
stable infrastructure (which is no mean feat in itself given the
constant infighting of vendors and the lack of standards that guarantee
interoperability) and (2) software. And I'm not just talking about
storage resource management (SRM) software that issues an alert message
when a drive is overheating or a switch port is malfunctioning. I'm
talking about a whole storage management software stack.

Such a stack begins with the characterization of data generation,
access requirements, retention requirements, and protection
requirements on an application-by-application basis. Next, it provides
functionality to translate these requirements (together with
information about platform assets) into policies for lifecycle
management. Next, it supplies ways and means to apply the policies,
actually working with the data to migrate it to appropriate platforms
and protective processes (e.g., replication and backup). Finally, it
disposes of the data when it is no longer necessary.

Along the way, it should identify any platform problems and rectify
them to the greatest possible degree without requiring any operator
intervention. The entire stack should operate human-free because true
utility storage performs all of these tasks more or less automatically.

Needless to say, such a comprehensive stack does not exist today, and
it is pretty safe to suggest that it won't exist anytime in the near
future. All of the vendor-speak around utility storage, on-line
storage, real-time storage, and the like cannot conceal the fact that
even the most rudimentary prerequisites of such an infrastructure a
stable platform with guaranteed interoperability of its components
are no closer today than they were five years ago when SAN was just a
dream in a white paper.

This doesn't mean, however, that management software cannot be fielded
to help reduce the burden on storage administrators. The goal of Invio
Software is just that: to create tools that aid storage administrators
in defining workflows around commonly performed tasks and enabling
their automation so that attention can be focused on the more
recalcitrant aspects of their infrastructure.

This week, at the Fall Storage Networking World in Orlando, FL, Invio
released version 2.0 of its Storage Practice Manager, and a new
addition to its product family: Storage Practice Modeler. As the names
suggest, the company seeks to define or model common storage
administration tasks that affect the delivery of storage as a service.

The product is unique in its application of workflow process
methodology to storage administration. Unlike traditional policy
management tools, Invio's software doesn't seek to tell the IT
professional how to do his job, but instead enables him to model how
repetitive and time-consuming tasks are typically performed so that
they can be handled instead by the Storage Practice Manager.

The difference between policy and workflow may strike you as a subtle
one, but that is its strength. Consider the time-consuming
communication that must go on between a database administrator, server
administrator, and storage manager to coordinate the provisioning of
storage to a growing database. What if this process could be described
as a multi-domain, multi-administrator workflow with appropriate sign-
offs and approvals? Invio talks a good game about the benefits that
would accrue.

Once a workflow is defined using the Modeler, a cool Microsoft Visio-
based visual modeling tool, and approved by all parties, it can be
published to the Invio Practice Manager server and put into action.
When the workflow process is launched by a request, the request
transits to each approval authority for sign-off. Then, Storage
Practice Manager initiates sessions between its own server (which is
hosted on an AIX, Sun Solaris, or Windows server) and "adapters" that
interface to storage software applications, host server operating
systems, and select storage platform firmware, thereby performing the
approved and predefined function.

Invio's technology first came to my attention a couple of years ago
when the company announced an alliance with BMC Software to support
their evolving application-centric storage management software. In
that context, it seemed to provide another layer of intelligence to
help further the cause of the storage utility. After BMC's departure
from the open systems storage management world, the company's name
surfaced occasionally in press releases about agreements signed with
other industry notables, such as McDATA in the SAN switch market.

According to company spokespersons, the latest generation of the
product currently interfaces with "those platforms that really count:
the vendors that you see in most enterprise storage environments."
However, they reassure me that their solution is "customer-driven" and
that support for additional storage arrays, switches, and the like will
be added to meet the needs of specific customer deployments.

The product deploys incrementally -- another plus since this prevents
Invio from becoming just another piece of "shelfware," awaiting
sufficient time, resources, and budget to be put to work. Companies
can start by building one service path thru the infrastructure, then
follow up with others to create continuous extension and improvement.

Invio certainly has me curious about their product. I am currently
tracking the implementation of the product by one of their customers
and will report on the results received in a later column. For now,
you may want to try their on-line test drive at
http://www.inviosoftware.com.

Copyright 2003 101communications LLC.

Questions or problems regarding this web site should be directed to abeckman@outdoorssite.com.

Copyright 2008 Art Beckman. All rights reserved.

Last Modified: March 9, 2008