Stand By for More Storage Software

New storage software is in the works to automate and integrate storage, its management, and the enterprise.

Coming off two weeks of travel to industry trade shows in Phoenix, AZ (Storage Networking World) and Las Vegas, NV (Networld+Interop), and packing my bags for Storage World Conference in Anaheim, CA, it strikes me from the blur of input from end users and vendor marketeers that (1) several new storage software initiatives are ramping up in the industry and (2) few of them have anything to do with user requirements.

At the shows, there has been considerable talk about integrating “managed storage” with backend enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM) systems to facilitate better planning and the development of charge-back systems for storage services. On its face, this would appear to be a natural evolution of storage software.

Last week’s announcement by Storability that it had made a significant sale of its software product to customer Deutsche Bank seemed to validate the proposition that companies were waiting for a software product—a manager of managers—that could ride herd on distributed global storage environments. Storability, whose software offering derives from intellectual property developed to support its previous business as a Storage Service Provider, made a “seven-figure” deal with the German bank for the use of its Global Storage Manager product to manage more than 3000 terabytes of storage situated in hundreds of data centers.

Tim Leisman, CEO of Storability, said that large enterprises such as Deutsche Bank were increasingly seeking to simplify the management of complex storage environments and improve their ability to negotiate with storage hardware vendors. He positioned his product as “an independent resource that provides these companies with a consistent, precise picture of what is installed in their storage environment and how it is being used. This information helps reduce new capacity purchases by increasing utilization of existing systems.”

The Global Storage Manager product, according to Leisman, simplifies asset management and utilization with its topology mapping functionality. Deutsche Bank managers can quickly see logical volumes across all host platforms, utilization inside databases, utilization of raw devices, and much more. Administrators can analyze data paths, fan-in and fan-out ratios, connectivity details, and even navigate to a device to launch the appropriate management tool.

In addition to being a glowing recommendation for the future of enterprise storage management software, this deal has the potential for field-testing the real value of products such as Storability’s under enterprise-class workload. I, for one, will be interested in returning to Deutsche Bank in a few months to a year to get a report card on the actual performance of the product.

Another company that has great potential in this space is CreekPath Systems. At SNW, I had the opportunity to review the product architecture with the company’s CEO and to speak with one of his prospective customers. The informal chat confirmed the positive comments I had heard from many who had evaluated the vendor’s AIM suite, which comprises process automation modules (element management), scenario automation modules (volume management), and business application modules (to automate the service level requirements associated with business apps). The CreekPath offering, too, seemed so smart that I determined to monitor its actual performance once the company succeeds in closing a big deal with a customer. (They alluded to several such deals in the works.)

What these, and a few other firms (such as Fujitsu Softek), were promoting was a future world in which complexity would be replaced by simplicity via a software-enhanced intelligent storage infrastructure. Their collective pitch resonates with the technological positivist in everyone who believes that the right kind of automation will make problems go away.

Subsequently, however, discussions at N+I took a bit of the blush off the rose. At one session in the Network Storage Strategies Day track, Marco Coulter, Divisional Vice President overlording Computer Associates’ BrightStor, remarked that most companies had not developed a sufficiently comprehensive knowledge base of their business processes or their system support requirements, nor had they achieved sufficient baseline management of storage infrastructure, to fully utilize a storage automation engine.

Coulter’s view may have been somewhat darkened by the head cold he was suffering from at the time, but his Australian no-nonsense colors were flying full out as he critiqued the panacea mentality of many software peddlers in this space. He noted that until companies did substantial work on their own business processes and engineered them for maximum efficiency, it would be difficult or impossible to overlay an automation engine on them. He seemed to be extending the old axiom about outsourcing: you can’t outsource (or automate) your problems, just your solutions.

An even colder bucket of water was thrown on the notion that storage universe was moving steadily toward orderliness when various speakers at the event noted the “disruptive influences” waiting right around the corner:

  • Microsoft’s next operating system, Longhorn, would re-integrate storage management functionality with the server OS, rendering moot the debate over the proper approach to storage management

  • the alliance between Cisco Systems and EMC, announced at the show, would create a defacto standard approach for storage management

  • forthcoming announcements at this week’s Storage World Conference by IBM would introduce yet a third competing and compelling approach to disciplined data.

In the final analysis, an end user in the audience said succinctly what was on everyone’s mind when he asked the question of a panel on backup techniques and data protection, “Are any of you guys actually listening to what our problems are?” Instead of feeling encouraged by the good news of networked storage industry advocates, the fellow foresaw the beginnings of yet another round of infighting between industry stalwarts. I suppose I did too.

What do you think? Let us know; write to jpowell@101com.com.

About the Author

Jon William Toigo is chairman of The Data Management Institute, the CEO of data management consulting and research firm Toigo Partners International, as well as a contributing editor to Enterprise Systems and its Storage Strategies columnist. Mr. Toigo is the author of 14 books, including Disaster Recovery Planning, 3rd Edition, and The Holy Grail of Network Storage Management, both from Prentice Hall.