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Commentary

Standalone SRM

In a recent briefing with a Storage Resource Management Software manufacturer I heard the quote that I have now heard 1,001 times; "Excel is the No. 1 Storage Resource Management software." People are using Excel to do SRM work more often than specific SRM tools. They are manually inputting storage capacity, storage used, and other storage information into Excel spreadsheets.
In a recent briefing with a Storage Resource Management Software manufacturer I heard the quote that I have now heard 1,001 times; "Excel is the No. 1 Storage Resource Management software." People are using Excel to do SRM work more often than specific SRM tools. They are manually inputting storage capacity, storage used, and other storage information into Excel spreadsheets.The problem is that it is all manual, gets out of date very quickly, and doesn't typically capture all the information you really need to understand your data assets. Despite all this, Microsoft Excel remains the most used tool for SRM... Why?

First of all, it's cheap, at least compared with other SRM tools. Some of these tools cost more than the storage they're managing. That's a problem. I don't care what analyst study you cite, if you're a system or storage administrator hoping to get your boss to sign off on a storage management application that is more than the cost of the physical storage you just bought, that is a very tough sell. While they don't need to be anywhere close to the cost of Excel, SRM tools need to be reasonably priced and probably be less than the cost of the storage they are managing.

The second reason is, ironically, it is independent of storage manufacturers. It is a standalone tool. What has really hurt the SRM market is as each of these utilities began to build a customer base, many of them were acquired by storage hardware manufacturers and then their appeal faded. To be universally accepted, these tools need to be under the leadership of a company that has no allegiance to making their support of one hardware platform better than another. They need to be as free to exploit the full reporting and monitoring potential of the storage platform as possible. Standalone companies such as Tek-Tools and Monosphere are two examples of companies that do this well today.

This causes competition not only between software vendors like Tek-Tools, Monosphere, and others, but it also will cause competition at the hardware level. Hardware suppliers will be forced to not only open their API sets to external software developers, but also to expand the capabilities of their API sets. An Open API set is good; an open API set that actually does something is even better.

Allowing these software vendors to focus on this market allows for better overall mapping of the environment as well. For example, these companies have added support for VMware, which allows you to see how storage is connected to the virtual machine or how many virtual machines are accessing the same LUN or Volume so you can be aware of potential performance traps. This additional mapping isn't limited to VMware. Support for databases, backup applications, and specific OSes is available.

SRM vendors spend a lot of time convincing us that their tools are needed, but really that is a given. That is why you are using Excel to track things right now. Right? The convincing needs to center on the value of not using a manual tool, albeit cheap, like Excel, to using an automated dynamic tool. These tools can make life in the multivendor data center worth living. Even if all your storage does have the same logo, getting an end-to-end view from the application through the virtualization tool to the storage has tremendous value.

George Crump is founder of Storage Switzerland, an analyst firm focused on the virtualization and storage marketplaces. It provides strategic consulting and analysis to storage users, suppliers, and integrators. An industry veteran of more than 25 years, Crump has held engineering and sales positions at various IT industry manufacturers and integrators. Prior to Storage Switzerland, he was CTO at one of the nation's largest integrators.

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