Storage simplified

Demands for disk storage are growing rapidly given the number of devices and the ever-growing mountain of data available worldwide. Traditionally, many business leaders have just thrown additional storage resources at the problem instead of trying to manage the voluminous amounts of information.

Current economic pressures have business leaders tightly focused on budgets. Storage management solutions such as WQuinn Associates Inc.'s StorageCentral 4.1 help businesses better leverage their existing disk assets, minimizing the need to purchase additional storage.

CTOs and other IT leaders should keep a close eye on storage usage for two key reasons. First, strategists must be able to accurately forecast and budget for additional storage. Second, if your IT department charges back resource usage to internal departments, accurately measuring disk usage is paramount for billing purposes.

StorageCentral 4.1 is a useful storage management tool for companies that run Windows NT and Windows 2000 servers. The capabilities provided by StorageCentral are a big improvement over the tools that come with Windows servers. Windows NT administrators do not have access to built-in storage management capabilities. Windows 2000 server managers will find StorageCentral more comprehensive than the tools they're accustomed to using. Interestingly, WQuinn developed the basic disk quota tools that are included with Windows 2000.

Limitations

WQuinn's solution is, however, of limited use in the context of most enterprise settings. Companies that want to track server and end-user disk usage will not be able to do so with StorageCentral. The current version supports only server-side storage tracking. Management of disk usage on end-user desktop platforms, such as Macintosh and post-PC devices, is not yet supported.

In addition, StorageCentral's platform support and architecture is limited to that of Windows NT and Windows 2000. Therefore, companies that leverage multiple operating systems, such as Solaris, Linux, AS/400, HP-UX, and so on to support mission-critical data and applications, will not be able to use the WQuinn solution as part of a comprehensive storage-management plan. By contrast, StorageCentral's rival, Storage Resource Manager from Sun Microsystems, supports Windows NT and Windows 2000, NetWare, Solaris, Red Hat Linux, HP-UX, IBM AIX, and others.

Nevertheless, Windows shops will find that StorageCentral is more proactive than its competitor when it comes to enforcing disk usage quotas. Storage Resource Manager will send warnings to the user and alert a designated manager if a disk quota policy is exceeded. StorageCentral actually prevents the user from writing any more files on servers where their disk quota is exceeded.

StorageCentral proved very straightforward to set up on both Windows NT and Windows 2000 servers. In no time, we had set policies for disk usage and determined which users and groups we would monitor. We found that StorageCentral really excelled when we turned our attention to reporting.

Beefy reporting

This release of StorageCentral includes some 35 prebuilt reporting types. Server administrators can use included reports for tasks such as locating duplicate files on the server or determining how much space a particular user or group is using.

Administrators also can use the supplied tools to create their own custom reports. Reports can be created and run interactively or be scheduled to execute on a predetermined basis. New in this release is support for HTML report output via embedded ActiveX controls. Business leaders and users can receive and view reports via e-mail. Alternatively, the reports might be posted in HTML form to a Web server for retrieval via a Web browser.

Also included with this release is a utility called FileScreen, which helps administrators track the types of files that are stored on the server. We performed scans on several servers and identified files that were unacceptable. Being able to tell which user had stored which files was also useful.

Easy to beat the system

We used FileScreen's filter support to prevent certain file types from being written to certain server volumes. But here we found that we could easily circumvent FileScreen's filtering capabilities. We first tried to write 1,000 MP3 files to a server volume that we had restricted and FileScreen prevented us from doing so. But as soon as we changed the file extensions from .MP3 to .TXT, we were able to write the 1,000 files to the restricted volume. WQuinn plans to improve FileScreen's analytical capabilities in the next release.

WQuinn could provide greater value by supporting disk management of both servers and end-user devices and systems. And StorageCentral would be far more useful if it were compatible with a greater number of platforms. The company also needs to bolster the file-screening tool before it can fulfill its purpose.

WQuinn does have the right idea of what companies should be doing with regard to disk storage. For too long businesses have added more storage to the network whenever the need arose. Current economic concerns coupled with the volume of data present in enterprises today demand more precise management of existing storage assets to keep costs down. StorageCentral is a good solution that will help business leaders at Windows shops gain the upper hand.

THE BOTTOM LINE: CONSIDER
StorageCentral 4.1
Business Case: StorageCentral provides comprehensive storage management facilities, but it should not be viewed as a complete, enterprisewide solution.
Technology Case: Windows NT and Windows 2000 administrators will find StorageCentral superior to the disk management tools that come with those OSes. StorageCentral's useful disk-management reporting is extensive and can be sent via e-mail or published via HTML pages.

Pros:

+ Easy to set up and use

+ Has more than 35 built-in reports

+ Prevents users from writing files when disk quota is exceeded

Cons:

- Supports only server-based storage management

- Limited to Windows 2000 and Windows NT

- File-screening tool can be defeated easily
Cost: $760 for a single server license; $6,370 for a 10-pack license; volume pricing available
Platform(s): Windows NT, Windows 2000
Company: WQuinn Associates, Inc., www.wquinn.com

This story, "Storage simplified" was originally published by InfoWorld.

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