"Storage Strategies" by Jon Toigo
Thursday, December 19, 2002
THE TWO TOWERS OF STORAGE PAIN
As the year draws to a close, the "Two Towers" of pain in storage
administration -- capacity provisioning and backup -- remain largely
unsolved, despite considerable activity in the industry around these
problems. Will vendor efforts yield blockbuster solutions in 2003 or
are they just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic?
According to psychologists, the unprecedented success of the film
adaptation of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy bears testimony to a
long-held tenet of Hollywood movie making: during periods of economic
uncertainty, people often turn to fantasy for a temporary respite from
By all accounts, the current installment of the Tolkien epic, The Two
Towers, delivers on its promise to provide a few hours of distraction
for the small price of a ticket. Unfortunately, however, once the
closing credits have rolled and the house lights come up, the problems
of the real world remain.
And so it is with data storage administration. While recent marketing
campaigns by some vendors have proven entertaining, their claims to
have found solutions to the "Two Towers" of storage management pain --
storage provisioning and data protection -- do not hold up on close
In the pale light of day, storage administrators are still plagued by
the requirement to provision applications with the storage they require
"the old fashioned way" -- that is, manually. Doing so requires a
complicated set of skills and knowledge about both the internal
elements of the application itself and their storage requirements, and
of the current disposition and rate of utilization of the various
storage devices in their charge. The process can be aided through the
use of automated tools -- up to a point.
As previously reported in this column, 2002 saw several announcements
by storage management software vendors that they were adopting an
"application-centric" focus in their products to enable managers to see
what storage resources were associated with each application in their
environment. In other words, they were following the trail blazed
three years ago by BMC Software, with its application-centric storage
management (ACSM) initiative.
Veritas Software, Computer Associates, EMC, and others newly embracing
application-centrism as the metaphor for storage management are still
lagging behind old BMC in their implementation of the approach. It is
not enough merely to relate storage to applications. The next step is
to provide tools for manipulating datasets associated with an
application to optimize the performance of the application itself. BMC
does this for SQL and Oracle databases, for example, by providing
additional software products for manipulating the locations of indices
and datasets so that read/write contention on specific volumes can be
minimized and input/output performance can be improved.
While it is likely that the newbies in application-centric management
will eventually catch up to BMC's lead in this area, once they do, they
will likely discover that the Houston software company has jumped ahead
of them once again. Given its recently announced relationship with
Invio, BMC is well on its way to upping the ante once again in the
realm of storage management by moving from inherently manual-
provisioning management to process-oriented management. If process
management is a new concept to you, think "operator procedures" --
standardized playbooks used in the mainframe world to instruct the
night operator in the actions that should be taken in response to
specific events, messages, or alarms from the system.
Process management is Invio's cup of tea. Combining their technology
with the basic "view your storage by application" technology in BMC's
PATROL storage management framework, augmented with BMC's steadily
improving suite of rich application-specific management tools, paves
the way for the centralized certification, management and control of
local or remote storage management processes, including storage
migration, topology management, provisioning, data replication
management, and backup.
Basically, the system will "learn" the manual processes that are
currently performed to provision and manage storage an application-by-
application basis and create automated versions of those processes for
use by operators when the situation requires. This is different from
developing management task "wizards" a la Veritas SANPoint Control.
Until storage automation is perfected, human intervention will still be
required to perform certain tasks. Process management provides the
best approach for integrating manual and automated tasks so that you
don't need a degree in rocket science to do the job. Were it not for
process management in mainframe shops, every operator would need the
skills of a systems programmer.
Process management is the next logical step in storage provisioning.
BMC will likely get there first. I say this because most of the other
vendors that I am tracking are chasing their proverbial tails trying to
come up with a virtualization-based scheme that will enable on-the-fly
modifications to storage volumes -- their idea of storage provisioning
automation. This approach is flawed for a number of reasons and will
not bear fruit until we have developed a universal technology for
carving and splicing LUNs across heterogeneous, proprietary storage
platforms. I, for one, am not holding my breath in expectation of that
solution any time soon.
In the realm of data protection, the other Tower of pain in storage
management, vendor claims also fall somewhat short of reality. I can't
tell you how many shops I have visited over the past year that do not
have a data backup strategy beyond prayer. I'm all for prayer, but I
doubt that many of the IT professionals with whom I have spoken believe
they will have one if their servers, which have never been successfully
backed up, have an encounter with a smoke-and-rubble disaster.
In fact, 2002 will be remembered by many vendors of backup solutions as
the boom year that wasn't. Despite the lip service paid by
organizations to disaster preparedness following the tragedy of 9/11,
the much-anticipated surge in sales of data protection solutions never
materialized. The market analysts failed to factor in the down economy
and the tendency of business people to forget risks and exposures as
events receded into the horizon in their mental rear view mirrors.
Most business managers can think of a hundred things they would prefer
to do with their money than to spend it on a data protection strategy
that in the best of all possible circumstances would never need to be
Going forward, there are many technologies that may facilitate various
aspects of data protection. I will cover one of these, cache-based
file backup from Tacit Networks, in a future column. For now, the
interim conclusion must be that data protection can no longer be
conceived as a "bolt-on" to applications and their supporting IT
infrastructure. Data protection requirements need to be considered at
the time of application design and development and facilitated in
software and platform architecture.
More on this later.
Copyright 2002 101communications LLC.