Last year storage vendors were pushing technology known as storage virtualisation — forthcoming software that would allow administrators to manage storage functionally rather than physically.
But Sydney-based EMC marketing director Clive Gold reckons it’s all hype.
Vendors such as Compaq and IBM say storage virtualisation will provide a way of taking full advantage of storage capacity, which in a typical company spans a multitude of devices, ensuring difficult access and less than seamless backups.
However, the idea that adding a whole layer of abstraction will solve everything seems far-fetched, says Gold. “You need tools. The end game is to simplify.”
Meta Group analyst Kevin McIsaac describes virtualisation as “another panacea for growing complexity”.
EMC’s answer to the problem of managing increasingly complex storage environments has been its AutoIS programme, which it announced last year. The vendor rolled into Auckland last week to spread the word with analysts Graham Penn of IDC and McIsaac in tow.
Automation technology and APIs are central to AutoIS, as the former frees managers from time-consuming difficult tasks, and the latter allows EMC’s software to manage other vendors storage products.
Under AutoIS EMC will unify all its management software into a single management framework.
“A lot of management stuff is totally unintegrated,” says Gold. “We are combining it so it will all work off one central database.”
EMC’s flagship Control Center storage management product will remain as the umbrella but will have automation tools added. As existing Control Center customers roll out the next maintenance release they’ll obtain the next version.
Gold says the amount of information that people are looking after is growing but the number of people to look after it is stagnant or shrinking. “This is creating a big gap so last year EMC came out with a strategy to bring out automated tools.”
Another part of the strategy is to be “completely open” says Gold.
“Historically EMC has been accused of being proprietary. Although we work on a variety of platforms we only managed EMC storage. We have 30% of the hardware market so 70% of the stuff out there is not ours.”
So as part of AutoIS EMC has come out with WideSky, free middleware, which will ship in all future EMC software products and will allow AutoIS products to manage storage systems from other vendors.
EMC has asked the other vendors to provide programming interfaces to their systems, but so far Compaq is the only other major storage vendor to comply. HDS and IBM are yet to sign on and EMC will probably have to reverse engineer the APIs.
McIsaac says he actually has a problem when people talk about openness.
“I typically see proprietary tools providing leading-edge functionality in a more robust way, earlier than other products. Open technology usually offers more common, lower common denominator functionality, later, at a lower price. I think that open being better is a myth,” he says.
“People often say they want a product to be open and I ask them what for, and they can’t come up with a business reason. Often proprietary is better and although more expensive, it can save money further down the track because it works better.”
Both analysts say the real issue with storage management is getting enough people to do it. Penn says you can manage up to nine times the amount of storage if you do it using automation software rather than people.
“Hardware costs usually come out of the capital budget while people costs come out of operations and most organisations don’t match the two. Usually people who manage storage don’t do it full time and there can be many people doing it only some of the time so it’s difficult for organisations to work out how much it is costing them.”
Forthcoming AutoIS tools such as Storage Scope promise to make arduous tasks easier.
“Every customer has a heterogenous storage environment if you think that every notebook and most desktops have disk in them,” says Gold. ‘If you say to someone how much storage is allocated to your CRM and how much are you using, it would take them everything from a week to a month to work it out.
“We are coming out with a product called Storage Scope — at the click of a button you will know what storage is allocated to CRM applications, how fast it’s growing, how much is used.”
Penn says storage can be a revenue driver not just an organisational cost. For example, a good storage strategy enables data mining which provide new sales leads. “But you have to have your data stored in a way that you can do that.”