Signal to Noise in Storage Management

Symantec Veritas CommandCentral is building a strong infrastructure monitoring and management approach that is worth a look.

Use the term "storage resource management (SRM)" in the headline of any article in the trade press today and the likely response will be "Ho hum." Despite efforts of both product vendors and trade associations, such as the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA), to increase the signal strength on SRM marketing, storage administrators tend to tune out the noise.

At the high end of the market, where EMC, IBM, HDS, HP and Sun Microsystems are household names, vendors tend to ship "all the management you need" with their products. Given the heterogeneous infrastructure in large enterprises and the lack of meaningful cross-platform management functionality delivered on a DMX, Shark, or TagmaStor, companies quickly discover that different boxes need different tools to manage their functionality and capacity.

The story for the middle tier of the market is roughly the same. Small IT departments and smaller IT budgets might compel the SME down one of two paths: either to a one-stop-shop solution from 3PAR, Compellent, LeftHand Networks, XioTech, or Dell (a single scalable array managed by on-board software), or to a grow-your-own platform set leveraging iSCSI, NFS/CIFS, or increasingly, UDP-based gear. Management in the latter case is usually done via Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) monitoring and/or a management tool kit cobbled together over time by a savvy administrator.

The reasons for using SRM at all are well understood. Ideally, SRM works across all storage platforms and provides the convenience of a single pane of glass to monitor the status, capacity allocation, and, in some cases, the configurations of storage components from arrays to switches to host bus adapters and driver stacks. If a universal SRM product could be developed, one that works on all storage arrays and peripherals regardless of manufacturer, it would be Nirvana.

Despite claims from SNIA, a standards-based approach such as its Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S), has not gained much ground. At last count, about 450 storage products were fitted by their vendors with SMI "providers"—enabling them to be managed under the scheme, a small number given that over 10,000 new products came into the storage market last year alone.

It is a credit to Robert Soderbery, senior vice president of the Storage Foundation Group at Symantec Corporation, who pre-briefed me last week about the 5.0 release of Veritas CommandCentral Storage, that he did not contribute to the SMI-S hype. Despite Veritas’ key role in helping to write the SMI specification at SNIA, Soderbery remarked, "SMI-S is one line in our press release about 5.0. It is relevant but by no means primary to our efforts."

With that refreshingly candid admission, Soderbery spoke at considerable length about the goals of the product developers and of Symantec with the evolving CommandCentral SRM play. He provided, as context, a fairly lengthy examination of how Symantec sees the storage market and its needs, and recalled the announcement of a strategic vision from a couple of months ago that goes by the moniker "Storage United." SRM is just one of three components of this vision.

In addition to managing the infrastructure and capacity used to store data, the goal of any SRM solution, CommandCentral was going to be enlarged with modules to help address other visionary goals: empowering the storage administrator and delivering storage as a service to the organization in an effort to make investments in storage more intelligible to the business side of the house. Release 5.0 of CommandCentral, he said, moves closer to these goals.

In this release you’ll find the usual and customary announcement of support for an assortment of storage products. According to the press release, version 5.0 offers "advanced support for VMware, HDS TagmaStore and IBM SAN Volume Controller"—necessary in shops where these products are deployed because of the lack of transparency into actual physical disk capacity utilization often imposed by virtualization wares.

We asked Soderbery about his views on thin provisioning technologies, already available on platforms such as Compellent and 3PAR. I was especially curious about Symantec’s take on this technology, which is helping the "newbies" in the storage world chip away at the market share of leaders, cajoling them to embrace the approach. (EMC recently announced that it will offer some sort of on-board thin provisioning on its DMX array by 2008.)

As readers of this column know, thin provisioning is a mixed blessing. It is proprietary technology, implemented differently by every vendor who offers it. It is intended to smarten-up your storage array so that it can use disk capacity that has been reserved by an application but not used. According to CTO Randy Chalfant’s analysis at Sun Microsystems, upwards of 15 percent of every disk drive in enterprise storage falls into the category of reserved-not-allocated, so we are talking about serious space in many cases.

Thin provisioning was pioneered at StorageTek (now Sun) on its tape products. In the virtualization world, DataCore Software did some groundbreaking work that made thin provisioning (though they didn’t use that term until last month’s announcement of the latest version of SANSymphony) de rigueur in SAN virtualization products since the late 1990s. 3PAR coined the term and integrated it into an array product a couple of years ago as a means to "add value" to its otherwise commodity collections of spindles.

Thin provisioning is now a buzz phrase and part of the product feature set of a number of storage array vendors. However, it also clouds the storage administrator’s view of how much real, physical capacity is available at any given time. Vendors of products thus enabled tell customers not to worry. The message is simple: "Trust your vendor. He has matters well in hand and will let you know when and if space is becoming an issue, so you can buy more trays of disk"—and only from the same vendor.

Like other automated management features, thin provisioning is appealing to smaller shops with limited administrative staff resources. That is why, according to Soderbery, CommandCentral 5.0 offers explicit support for 3PAR and Network Appliance (which is playing similar capacity management shell games) in this release of its reporting tools.

In fact, most of this release of CommandCentral is focused on the Enterprise Reporter module (which integrates technology Symantec obtained from Cognos), and the Process Management module (which integrates technology the company got with its $35 million acquisition of Invio in 2004). The Enterprise Reporter module plays into the Symantec/Veritas vision of storage as a service, providing different views of the storage investment and its utilization for both front-office and back-office consumers. The Process Management module plays into Symantec’s "Administrator Empowerment" play by enabling the automation of common management tasks.

All in all, Symantec Veritas CommandCentral is building a strong infrastructure monitoring and management approach that is worth a look. They claim that it scales management capabilities to 3000 servers and up to 6 petabytes of storage capacity.

And they didn’t mention SRM once. Your views? jtoigo@toigopartners.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.