Novell Storage Manager Strikes Data Management Gold

If you’re serious about cutting storage costs by better managing users’ “junk file drawers,” a demo of Novell Storage Manager will be time well spent.

As noted in a previous column, we are looking at ways to manage data assets more effectively. Sorting out the data junk drawer is a prerequisite to planning cost-efficient data hosting, information governance, data protection and preservation, and disaster recovery strategies. Put another way, without an intelligent, policy-driven, and business-focused data management scheme, companies have no chance of tackling the 4 “C” issues we all confront today: cost-containment, compliance, continuity, and carbon footprint reduction.

Automated discovery and classification approaches that examination of the contents of files to provide a granular understanding of their business-context, such as the one we spotlighted from start-up Digital Reef (see http://www.esj.com/articles/2009/03/31/Discovery-Tools.aspx), are still very much in development. However, IT folks don't need to wait for "deep blue math" fixes to the problem of sorting, classifying, and placing data on infrastructure in a more thoughtful way than exists today. Not with the availability of Novell Storage Manager (NSM).

Several weeks ago, we invited David Condrey from Novell Storage Manager Engineering to visit our Tampa, FL labs and show us what is probably the best kept secret in the industry: NSM. What we saw was a robust and smart approach to corralling user files, which constitute more than half of the data being generated in companies today, into an organized and efficient management scheme.

Condrey started with a company scenario much like ones we encounter in our storage assessment work: lots of distributed files with no sense of order or reason in their placement across our imaginary infrastructure. Data was hosted on a mix of platforms sporting a mix of interconnects and interfaces, all of which was irrelevant from NSM's standpoint. Despite the confusing moniker, NSM does not manage storage, but data.

In about an hour, Condrey picked through unmanaged files and applied management policies based on the role of the user within the company (one of many methods for classifying data implemented by NSM). He showed how some basic policies were provided with the software that could be deftly modified to meet most business requirements for retention and deletion, accessibility, migration, and replication.

Policies were also available to spot contraband files occupying space on expensive gear so they could be brought to the attention of user managers and handled through human resources-sanctioned procedures. With contraband files consuming on average between 5 and 15 percent of storage capacity in most shops we visit, and with the costs to host these collections of bootleg music, picture, and video files topping $300 per GB when spindle costs, management costs, strain on backup processes, and many other ownership cost components are factored in (not to mention financial risks to the company from the MPAA, RIAA, and others), we could readily see how NSM would pay for itself virtually on installation just from the standpoint of file system cleanup!

NSM also proved adept at spotting orphan data, whose user or server "owner" identified in file metadata no longer exists in the organization. Orphan data consumes between 10 and 20 percent of total disk capacity in most businesses today, again representing a huge waste of resources and money. It usually accumulates because (1) no one knows it is there or (2) if it is recognized as orphan, nobody in the back office is qualified to review the files in question or to decide what to do with them. Spotting orphan data is the first step to moving it into a coherent management scheme or deleting it altogether, which requires a more granular process than NSM alone can provide.

Condrey also demonstrated how his product could be used to apply time- or access-frequency-based data migration schemes to user files so that sleeping data need not occupy your most expensive disk arrays. Adding further value, he demonstrated how the storage equivalent of moves, adds, and changes could be applied to user data in response to changes in user roles, new hires, and employee reassignment or redaction.

This capability also found a novel application to project-oriented groups. Collaboration among employees can be facilitated on the fly using NSM, which can allocate shared file access to certain documents, maintain the separate documents of each project team member, then correlate and archive all project documents into an archival folder once work is complete. I have yet to see a general purpose data management software package that can do this with the alacrity of a specialty project management groupware and archiving solution -- until NSM, that is.

Given the power and potential of the NSM toolset, I am surprised not to have heard about it. Fortunately, Noemi Greyzdorf, one of the few bright lights over at IDC, brought it to my attention. In her two-page assessment, she observed that NSM is powerful on its own, but comes into full fruition when deployed in conjunction with Dynamic Storage Technology (DST), also from Novell.

DST is a data mover that can re-provision older, less frequently accessed data between expensive and less-expensive storage tiers based on its own policies. I can think of a number of products that do just this and call it "lifecycle management" or "archive management." What they are missing, of course, is the goodness of NSM, which takes an effective swipe at sorting through the junk drawer and classifying (or at least segregating) data based on user roles ahead of data movement processes. Given its user focus and business workflow orientation, NSM is the must-have adjunct to any data mover you choose to deploy.

The functionality I saw demonstrated was keyed mostly to Novell eDirectory services. Although NSM does support Microsoft Active Directory, the full capabilities of the eDirectory-oriented implementation do not map completely to Active Directory or SharePoint. Condrey says to watch for announcements in the coming months on this score.

NSM is a great product both in terms of its functionality and its simplicity of use. For anyone serious about sorting out the junk drawer, bringing down storage equipment, management, and energy costs, ensuring that information is properly hosted for compliance, and building in data protection and continuity, demo-ing Novell Storage Manager is a good place to begin.

Your comments are welcome at jtoigo@toigopartners.com.

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