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

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.