Being an IT Hero

Too many IT shops are deploying supposed technology solutions without fully understanding the complexity and collateral effects introduced into other parts of a dynamic system.

Visiting Ken Barth, CEO of storage management software vendor Tek-Tools in Dallas, TX, is always refreshing. Barth is one of those rare leaders of a smaller vendor who is keen to run his business like a business, rather than hoping to sell the company to a bigger firm when offered the right price.

Tek-Tools cut its teeth on storage resource management (SRM) a few years ago with its Storage Profiler product. Capitalizing on Barth's past experience with network management software vendor MicroMuse, his team built a lightweight SRM platform that deployed simply and delivered value immediately. He was highly focused on eliminating the perception of SRM as "shelf ware" -- too difficult , expensive, and time consuming to actually install after purchase. His software can be downloaded and put into service within a few hours using either agent-less or agent-based data collection modalities.

Innovative thinking led Barth to optimize Storage Profiler to become a monitor of tape backup operations. He helped define a "sub-market" within the SRM market that earned him both customers and competitors, including Bocada, among others.

Barth's product also served as the initial Storage Management Initiative (SMI) management console when the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) first demonstrated its concept of universal storage management, which he concedes is still an unfinished story. This was a significant coup when considering that core SMI developers included Sun Microsystems, IBM, HP, and pre-Symantec Veritas, all of whom were established SRM vendors with consoles that could readily have been used for the demonstration.

Over the last seven years, Tek-Tools has improved its product and diversified its capabilities. Storage Profiler is the darling of leading storage analysis service providers, who deploy it to discover the storage topologies in their consulting client shops, then use it to drill down into how data is laid out in the infrastructure.

Recently, Barth has been working to build an extensive set of capabilities into his flagship product that will enable greater visibility into storage and data protection in VMware-virtualized server/storage environments. Although Tek-Tools is part of an extensive community of vendors courting the VMware opportunity, Barth perceives the opportunity in terms of customer requirements rather than simply hitching his wagon to the VMware star.

Barth points out that VMware (and other server virtualization approaches) resonates with a lot of IT managers who see it as a way to consolidate hardware and centralize management of applications, but quickly adds that too many are deploying the technology without fully understanding the complexity and collateral effects that the technology introduces into other parts of a dynamic system -- especially when it comes to storage management and data protection. He is positioning Tek-Tools with capabilities that, in his view, will cushion the potential problems that too often arise in storage operations following a virtual server initiative.

More than anything, he wants to equip IT administrators with the tools they need to become "heroes" within their companies. Noting the current front-office preoccupation with cost containment, compliance, continuity, and carbon footprint reduction (green IT), he says that better management is what will define a business savvy IT admin going forward.

To become a hero, Barth offers, start by downloading a copy of Tek-Tools Storage Profiler from the company Web site. A fully functional copy is available for a 30 day trial -- more than sufficient, in Barth's view, to deploy it and begin snooping around the storage infrastructure. Using predefined and customizable reports, the heroic admin can survey virtual or physical environments to identify topology and capacity allocation characteristics. Other reports enable a quick assessment of data that may be suitable for archive or deletion based on characteristics such as date last accessed/date last modified, file extension, and ownership.

Using the report data, it is comparatively easy to make a few recommendations for storage optimization using simple archive and data hygiene. Says Barth, "If you find an opportunity to save 30 to 50 percent of the space on hard drives just using the most basic data management techniques, you will buy yourself instant credibility with the CIO, who is currently in the mood to save money wherever possible."

With this information in hand, the IT hero can recommend a permanent deployment of infrastructure management and on-going processes for capacity tuning and rudimentary data management to buy time until formal policies for management can be developed. Eventually, a full-blown data classification scheme and policy for data archiving will be needed.

Finally, the new IT hero will be able to champion the assertion of a "storage management standard" for his or her organization that can be used as a key criterion when evaluating and selecting new hardware technologies. Barth acknowledges that management is currently a bolt-on to infrastructure, partly because of the way that storage infrastructure has evolved -- from a few homogeneous platforms when firms were small to large and sprawling heterogeneous infrastructures as business growth occurs over time. It is time to get strategic about management, he argues, and that means determining how things will be managed, then buying only gear that can be managed using that standardized approach or product.

Smart guy that Barth. Tek-Tools Storage Profiler is worth a look. Your comments are welcome: jtoigo@toigopartners.com.