November 06, 2003
Out Of The Abyss Of SRM
By Jon William Toigo
Companies continue to be buried in information, but they no longer can afford to
just throw more disks at the situation. In the current do-more-with-less
economy, storage management takes on growing importance, not only to cut costs
but also to help IT managers make better use of the heterogeneous mix of
products and topologies they created over the past decade.
IT managers cite two primary pain points: provisioning, or allocating the right
type and amount of storage to each application as application data proliferates,
and protection, duplicating data so that a copy is always available should the
original be lost to a virus, software malfunction, user error or an outright
Managing storage typically means using a collection of point-management software
tools. Point management consists of a combination of product management
configuration and monitoring software provided by equipment manufacturers and
single-purpose utility software for performing tasks such as backup. But point
management has many drawbacks. Among them: high training and maintenance costs.
Enter storage-resource management, an approach Legato (now a division of EMC),
Tek-Tools, Veritas and several other vendors tout with their various suites and
frameworks. SRM comprises a collection of software tools for discovering where
storage is located and how its capacity is being used. The more sophisticated
products monitor storage hardware capacity utilization and other storage-related
software processes, such as data replication, volume management and backup, to
provide alerts about potential problems in near real time.
At the turn of the century, SRM was touted as a silver bullet. The software was
to enable fewer managers to oversee more storage and to provide ample warning so
that steps could be taken to solve problems before they created downtime. By
2001, however, SRM came under attack for being too platform-focused to address
the real goals of storage management. Critics said you couldn't manage storage
by taking the temperature of various infrastructure components; you needed to
look at what effect storage was having on application performance. BMC Software
spearheaded efforts to deliver an application-centric, policy-based approach to
storage management that could drive labor costs out of storage investments.
Many SRM vendors seized upon this idea to create complex products typified by an
automated, application-aware storage-management software stack. These stacks
comprised a policy engine riding atop a storage-virtualization layer (virtual
volume managers for block storage and global namespace products for file
systems) that automated certain tasks, such as growing virtual volumes to meet
burgeoning application data storage requirements, and improved single manager
productivity. Work continues in this area as many brand-name management-software
vendors begin porting their technology into storage-switching platforms or
multifunction storage-management appliances.
But the story doesn't end there. Over the past year, vendors have started
chanting yet another mantra: data life-cycle management. In this approach,
information about applications and storage platform capabilities and costs is
used to create a knowledge base that lets policy engines create rules for
automating the smooth migration of data across different storage devices.
Instead of focusing on the application or storage infrastructure solely, this
model makes data its centerpiece.
According to EMC's Legato and others embracing this vision, the data life-cycle
management revolution will be more effective at automating management and
reducing costs than any hardware or software innovation to date. It will create
the optimal storage-utility infrastructure, in which capacity is allocated
dynamically and automatically to applications that need it, and data will move
from platform to platform automatically, based on its usage characteristics,
retention requirements, platform costs and other factors.
But there are limitations in the life-cycle management products now emerging.
One of the most nagging is the absence of an open standard for equipping data
with a self-descriptive header that would identify its requirements or
originating application. This header would help automated management tools move
the data around. Currently, all the approaches for data self-description are
proprietary and limited. However, work is under way at both NASA's Jet
Propulsion Laboratory and the
International Standards Organization to create a
standardized naming convention.
The difficulties don't end with the header issue, though. Life-cycle management
confronts much the same set of problems that every other management scheme
faces, except point management. Specifically, hardware products have not been
designed for common management within a heterogeneous environment.
Management-software vendors are at the mercy of hardware vendors for access to
their APIs and other configuration and monitoring controls, and many hardware
vendors simply are not interested in supporting anything that would enable
competitive products to share space within the customer's shop.
The storage utility remains an airy vision without much substance--more
"marketecture" than architecture--and storage management in a heterogeneous
environment continues to be a work in progress. To gauge the progress that has
been made in delivering the various functions that make up the utility
storage-management stack, Storage Pipeline created an RFI featuring a
hypothetical company with some real-world storage configurations. We sent the
RFI in August to about 20 of the industry's leading storage-management software
vendors. Fictitious Minuteman Mortgage presented its storage-management
conundrum, and three vendors, Computer Associates International, Fujitsu
Software Technology Corp. (Softek) and Storability, responded with in-depth
In the end, it was a tough call. In fact, all three solutions earned a B+ (see
our Report Card). The solution from Storability scored solidly for well-designed
business views, intuitive operability, broad standards support and
well-integrated core components. But its solution overall wasn't the best fit
for Minuteman Mortgage.
Fujitsu Softek's solution also had some impressive strengths. It showed strong
policy support, excellent environment support and strong topology discovery and
All three were viable, and all three vendors are qualified to do the job. But
Computer Associates' BrightStor proposal--with its emphasis on policy-driven
data movement, without a requirement, at least initially, to add unfamiliar
technology layers like virtualization--stood out. We agreed with Computer
Associates that improvements in capacity allocation and utilization efficiency
could be made quickly and permanently if Minuteman simply implemented the
disciplined management of its storage. To summarize, Minuteman Mortgage sought
comprehensive management for its storage infrastructure, which contained a broad
mix of platforms and topologies. With 30 TB of heterogeneous storage, primarily
in direct-attached configurations, and a Fibre Channel SAN fabric, obtained
through an acquisition of another company and which had reached its maximum node
capacity, Minuteman's management problems were multiplying.To make matters
worse, it had maxed out the node capacity on the SAN.
Minuteman's problems also featured a few extra twists that we hoped would help
differentiate the responses we received. For example, some of Minuteman's
storage was shared within a server cluster, and as some companies have
discovered, many storage-management products do not handle this configuration
well: They treat as unique the storage that each server sees. This, in turn,
introduces a flaw in capacity and usage calculations, because each server in the
cluster sees the same storage.
Minuteman also used many storage platforms capable of native management solely
via a self-articulated Web page. We wanted to see how vendors would consolidate
this data so that managing storage wouldn't feel like surfing the Web.
Our savvy IT manager at Minuteman also sought a solution that wouldn't charge
him for functionality he didn't need or use. This is a common complaint; with
some SRM suites, managers are forced to license many modules they don't use to
obtain the few that they do.
Finally, though our fictional IT manager was open to suggestions about
infrastructure revisions that might improve his environment, he preferred a
storage-management recommendation that wouldn't require a forklift upgrade of
his infrastructure. With many storage-management products, limitations in device
support (array, switch or server platforms manageable via the product) or
topology support (for direct-attached, network-attached or SAN-attached) may be
unclear from vendor-supplied literature, forcing the customer to shelve the
software or make costly infrastructure modifications. A perusal of the responses
from the three vendors revealed common themes and messages regarding some
principles of storage management. For example, all three vendors stressed
support for heterogeneous storage platforms, server operating environments and
topologies. In CA's case, we had to visit a Web list to track the constantly
changing set of target devices, firmware revisions and host bus adapters, for
instance, supported in its BrightStor suite.
Fujitsu Softek promised to support
whatever servers and storage platforms users chose to deploy. Storability's bid
listed the platforms it supports--a brave move but perhaps foolhardy because it
revealed its lack of support for some of the devices deployed by Minuteman.
Storability provided no explanation for how it would support nonlisted devices.
Only Computer Associates showed clear support for all the platforms listed in
The three vendors also rallied around the battle cry of automated provisioning.
There were subtle differences, however. For Fujitsu Softek, whose solution set
includes an in-band virtualization engine (a customized version of DataCore
Software's SANsymphony product), provisioning seemed to mean creating a pool of
unallocated physical storage capacity from all managed arrays, whether connected
in direct-attached storage, network-attached storage or SAN topologies, and then
parsing it out as virtual volumes that could be scaled on command behind
Storability also suggested this approach. Its proposal referenced "an optional
Catalyst module" that might be used in connection with its Global Storage
Manager SRM product to create scalable virtual volumes via array "LUN masking."
Storability would also support certain third-party LUN (logical unit number)
masking products or virtual volume managers, like Veritas Volume Manager, if
they were already in use at Minuteman.
Declarations about the necessity of storage virtualization for effective
provisioning were notably absent from the Computer Associates proposal, however.
In response to our question about how provisioning would be automated, CA
instead discussed data migration. The vendor seemed to be treading a thin line
between conventional wisdom about the need for virtualization and what its own
experience had taught it about the amount of storage lost to poor management in
general. Although CA refrained from making explicit statements, its response
implied that provisioning in most shops wouldn't be nearly the pain that it has
become if a system of policy-based data migration were applied rigorously and
capacity managed properly in the first place.
One might interpret CA's response as an effort to deflect attention from the
fact that the vendor has no virtualization solution of its own. However, it's
reasonable to assume that CA's BrightStor will support most any third-party
virtualization approach, so the decision not to mention virtualization in the
proposal seems deliberate. It is more likely a reflection of the vendor's belief
that disciplined and informed data management--including policies and procedures
for culling junk and stale data from primary storage--is a more effective route
to capacity allocation efficiency than is the addition of complex virtualization
Although Minuteman's problems might be addressed in the short term by a dollop
of virtualization technology, such a strategy might not solve its capacity
conundrum in the long run. In the final analysis, we preferred a strategy
focused on policy-based provisioning without virtualization.
If virtualization were determined to be required at a later date, a
best-of-breed product could be selected and deployed with full support from the
Computer Associates also parted company from the other vendors by making it
clear that Minuteman needed to begin evolving its infrastructure toward a SAN.
Given Minuteman's heavy emphasis on database-centric applications and its
experience with the vicissitudes of Fibre Channel SAN technology, the company
seemed to possess the hard-bitten realism that might make it a good candidate
for expanded use of the topology. This would also facilitate CA's preferred
enterprise-focused data protection and data life-cycle management solution by
providing a multi-pathing off-LAN interconnection between storage platforms.
There were weaknesses in CA's proposal. For one, the company was fuzzy on the
details of its support for capacity reporting on server-clustered storage. Both
Storability and Fujitsu Softek gave explicit answers that demonstrated they had
encountered and understood the problem. Computer Associates also demonstrated a
lack of willingness to commit to a final price for the solution--or even a
ballpark estimate--without a fact-finding mission. By our calculations, CA's
solution would cost in the neighborhood of $52,000 for software, plus $5,000 per
year for maintenance. The price for implementation services, which could require
several weeks of on-site consulting and training, was undisclosed. Its bid also
omitted pricing for server hardware that Minuteman would have to buy to host
BrightStor Portal, SAN Designer, SAN Manager and Enterprise Backup software.
Taking these costs into consideration, the price would be near or greater than
the price of the Storability solution, which totaled $249,120, with maintenance,
installation and training. Of course, Storability's pricing does not include
some prerequisites, like deployment of Microsoft's Internet Information Server
and a SQL database. It was also unclear how much additional cost would accrue to
Minuteman's election to use the Catalyst Module with Storability's Global
Storage Manager solution.
In the final analysis, Computer Associates edged out Storability because of the
latter vendor's approach to the presentation of the storage infrastructure on
its console. We wanted to see storage presented from the application or business
process perspective to simplify troubleshooting and error resolution.
Storability instead presented storage according to the functions performed by an
administrator. Although useful when providing remote storage services to a
client with many data centers, this function-oriented approach seemed less
applicable to Minuteman's situation.
Compared to those solutions and prices, Fujitsu Softek looked like the "little
engine that could." Its solution was the fastest to deploy (on paper at least),
at two to five days--priced at $2,500 per day with implementation support
services. And it was the lowest priced from a licensing perspective, at $104,900
plus annual maintenance of 18 percent. We believe Fujitsu Softek's claim that
the customer would start to realize value as soon as the solution was up and
running. Computer Associates narrowly edged out Fujitsu Softek's solution for
several reasons, including Softek's lack of quantification of the cost or time
required to build "action sets," or policies, for managing the Minuteman
infrastructure, which we viewed as the heart of any real solution.
Fujitsu Softek offered a technological quick fix to Minuteman's management
boggle and at a comparatively low cost. Although it's still a young company with
a young product that lacks seamless component integration, we believe that CTO
Nick Tabellion can steer the products to fruition over time, as he did SMS
(Systems Managed Storage) at IBM. SMS is the granddaddy of open-systems SRM.
What nagged at us, however, was the lack of pedigree in the Fujitsu Softek
product. Though the proposal suggested that action sets could be developed to
automate provisioning functions in the solution, the document simply did not
convey the level of experience offered in the much lengthier and more heavily
diagrammed Computer Associates proposal. We were also concerned that Fujitsu
Softek's proposal emphasized the full faith and credit of Fujitsu Ltd. as a
guarantee of the company's future and ability to execute on its product road
map. Yet Softek is working to separate itself from its parent company. Softek
would have been better advised to stick with its strengths--Tabellion and his
team--to make the case for its technical solvency than to lean on the Fujitsu
connection. So we concluded that Computer Associates BrightStor was the best
fit. Our decision came down to three factors:
1. Computer Associates offered a conservative and carefully reasoned solution to
the needs of Minuteman, a financial firm subject to a broad range of explicit
and demanding government regulations with respect to consumer data. The proposal
suggested that disciplined policies were more important than gee-whiz
technology, and we agree.
2. The BrightStor proposal emphasized the need to understand business processes
and to map data access, protection and retention characteristics to platforms
via policies before making decisions about new hardware, deployment topologies
or appropriate application of technologies like virtualization. So much emphasis
was placed on situation-assessment tasks that must be undertaken before
deployment of the BrightStor software components that the proposal appeared more
like a consulting engagement than a product sales pitch. Usually, this would be
a negative, but in the case of storage management, a heavy emphasis on situation
assessment, gap analysis and pre-implementation design is required if the
solution is to deliver value.
In this respect, CA's proposal reflected hard lessons learned in the company's
past efforts to sell its UniCenter enterprise-management solutions and a real
understanding of business-technology nexus.
Bottom line: Computer Associates didn't view storage management technology
deficits as the root cause of Minuteman's problem, but rather the lack of a
management strategy. Although the customer might opt for a quick fix or a
technology silver bullet, Computer Associates was willing to risk losing the bid
with the proposition that the problem would not be truly resolved until IT was
harnessed to the business process via policies based on business reality. We
could find no flaw in that assertion. Storage management software is at best an
application tool kit that must be custom-built for each implementation.
3. The final vote for Computer Associates came down to integration. Components
of the BrightStor suite are more tightly integrated than are the components of
the Fujitsu Softek offering. CA has a knowledge base of best practices that
reflects its long tenure in enterprise management and a common services layer
that provides a kind of glue between its BrightStor components and their
management targets. Moreover, storage management via BrightStor could well
become a stepping stone for Minuteman into the bigger world of enterprise
management--evolving from a utility storage solution to a utility computing
In our view, Computer Associates wins this round, with both Storability and
Fujitsu Softek close. In the real world, the decision might come out another
way. Corporate culture might cast the deciding vote. Fujitsu Softek offers a
tactical and effective fix to an immediate problem with minimal disruption to
normal operating procedures. Some might see it as the path of least resistance.
However, in organizations willing to invest in a long-term solution, Computer
Associates would probably have the greater appeal.
Jon William Toigo is CEO of storage consultancy Toigo Partners International,
founder and chairman of the Data Management Institute, and author of 13 books,
including Disaster Recovery Planning: Preparing for the Unthinkable (Pearson
Education, 2002) and The Holy Grail of Network Storage Management (Prentice Hall
PTR, 2003). Write to him at email@example.com.
• BrightStor Storage Management Solution, as configured for this test:
BrightStor SAN Manager, BrightStor Storage Resource Manager, BrightStor SAN
Designer, BrightStor Enterprise Backup and BrightStor. Computer Associates
International Inc., (631) 342-6000, (800) 225-5224. www.ca.com
• Softek Storage Manager, as configured for this test: Softek Storage Manager
(with SANView), Softek Storage Manager Space Optimizer Agent, Softek Storage
Provisioner. Fujitsu Softek, (877) 887-4562. www.softek.com
• Global Storage Manager. Storability Inc., (508) 229-1700, (866) STRGMGT.
• "Building a Storage Management Strategy in 2003"
• "The Myths of SRM"
• "Network Storage Resource Management Secrets From the IT Departments of Major
• "Calculating the Business Value of Storage Resource Management Software"
• "Storage Resource Management: A Practitioner's Approach"
Check out Storage Pipeline's Interactive
Report Card, which lets you enter your
own product feature weights, then resorts and regrades the products based on
your criteria. Check out our original RFI and each vendor's responses at
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