Managing the information store

Computer World –

When UPMC Health System wanted to better manage storage and backups for a diverse array of computer systems across the company, the Pittsburgh-based health care provider decided to consolidate by building storage-area networks (SAN).

The SAN arrays and StorageWorks management software from Compaq Computer Corp. have helped ease management headaches, says Joe Furmanski, UPMC's manager of systems and planning. But in a multivendor-system environment, the new Compaq management tools still can't do it all.

"[StorageWorks] isn't across the line, and it isn't one robust tool," Furmanski says. "We're looking at [other] vendors to provide us true management software so it isn't little point products here and there."

Bringing in enterprise-class -- and often single-vendor -- storage subsystems helps bring order and manageability to growing storage requirements, IT managers say. But while the management software sold with these systems serves many key functions well, some tools may be lacking, and no tools are yet available that provide truly centralized control across all enterprise storage resources, say users and analysts.

"They're testing it out and finding that a lot of the storage management issues are still to be worked out," says Anne Skamarock, an analyst at Boulder, Colo.-based Enterprise Management Associates Inc.

Mix-and-Match Management

UPMC built its Compaq SANs around legacy computers and storage, including Windows NT file servers, Digital Equipment Corp. VAXs with OpenVMS, Sun Solaris systems, IBM systems running variants of Unix, and OS/390 mainframes. The new system includes StorageWorks Enterprise Storage Arrays and Enterprise Modular Arrays.

The health care company originally introduced StorageWorks management software five or six years ago, when it added SCSI-attached storage devices to OpenVMS and NT systems, says Furmanski, who oversees 55 mixed-vendor Unix servers and several minicomputers and workstations. Jim Vellella, associate director of technical services and Furmanski's counterpart on NT systems, manages 240 Compaq ProLiant servers, most of which still use direct-attached SCSI storage.

The new SANs also play a role in managing backups. Two data centers in Pittsburgh hold 30TB of data between them, and UPMC uses 300 digital linear tape drives to fill nearly 8,000 tapes. The data center staffs (about 20 people in total) spend 40% of their time on storage management issues. "Most of the things we do are 24/7, so there aren't a lot of backup windows," says Furmanski.

"It's getting to be a lot of work for our people to do," Vellella adds.

The company also uses StorageWorks for SAN configuration, monitoring and alerts, and Mountain View, Calif.-based Veritas Software Corp.'s Backup Exec for backing up the NT servers. Vellella also uses network performance monitoring software from San Jose-based NetIQ Corp.

UPMC is looking for a more comprehensive tool that will manage storage across the enterprise as it begins to tie the systems together. The company is investigating software that Vellella says will be more scalable. These products include backup software from Veritas and Mountain View, Calif.-based Legato Systems Inc. and broader products such as Houston-based BMC Software Inc.'s Application-Centric Storage Management modules; Islandia, N.Y.-based Computer Associates International Inc.'s SAN Integrated Technology Initiative framework, which includes its ArcServeIT software; and Austin, Texas-based IBM subsidiary Tivoli Systems Inc.'s Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM).

Planning for Growth

First Union Corp., the nation's sixth-largest bank, took a different approach to solving its storage management problems but faces similar issues. The Charlotte, N.C.-based firm saw its storage needs skyrocket because of increased internal use of data warehousing tools and a move into e-commerce that added nearly 400 servers. First Union now stores 120TB of data in its Charlotte and Jacksonville, Fla., data centers, and a planned custom-built check-imaging system will add to the total later this year.

"It's been at least a [200%] growth, from a storage perspective, every year," says Gary Fox, First Union's vice president of IT.

First Union considered using SANs, which off-load storage systems to dedicated high-speed networks controlled by Fibre Channel switches. It instead went with network-attached storage, putting cross-platform storage devices directly on the company's production network.

Fox maintains approximately 1,000 NT and 1,000 Unix servers attached to 67 storage systems supplied by Hopkinton, Mass.-based EMC Corp. The Control Center software that comes with the EMC hardware is Fox's primary management tool, and he says the amount of time and effort required to support the Unix server storage has decreased. But management across all enterprise storage systems is still lacking.

"We will use this approach until we find a tool that will globally manage it," says Fox, who is reviewing products from Marlboro, Mass.-based HighGround Systems Inc., Veritas and Tivoli as alternatives.

Out With the Old

People's Bank in Bridgeport, Conn., migrated its storage to EMC drive arrays and switches and Tivoli's TSM software, retiring legacy storage systems from Milpitas, Calif.-based Storage Dimensions Inc. and Sun Microsystems Inc., as well as mainframe storage from IBM and Blue Bell, Pa.-based Unisys Corp.

"Primarily, we did it for the flexibility -- the ability to expand capacity quickly," says Lena Zoghbi, the bank's vice president of enterprise systems management.

Raju Palnitkar, vice president of enterprise server systems, says he saw the move to one homogeneous system as the best choice to get a handle on storage management. "We did not have to have IBM tools and Unisys tools and Sun tools to manage each of the different storage types," he says.

Most of the bank's approximately 500 servers run NT and Solaris, with a few IBM AIX and OS/2 servers and AT&T Corp. Unix-based servers. Each night, Zoghbi backs up 600GB of data on the servers and a mainframe to EMC Symmetrix 3430, 3830 and 5500 RAID arrays.

Six EMC Connectrix switches provide the interoperability among the bank's servers, according to Palnitkar. In addition to the TSM software's backup and monitoring features, EMC's PowerPath load-balancing/fail-over software and Symmetrix Manager monitoring software serve as the bank's primary management tools. Several people spend the equivalent of two full-time jobs managing storage.

"I think the combination of these [storage management tools] is sufficient for what we need," Palnitkar says. "But the EMC tools don't give us all of the flexibility we need. We still need to get EMC involved in some of the changes."

Consolidate and Conquer

A desire to consolidate disparate storage and server systems -- some inherited in acquisitions -- while implementing disaster recovery plans was the main reason behind a storage initiative at Louisville, Ky.-based Vencor Inc., a provider of long-term health care services.

"We've been in the process of trying to standardize," says Charles Wardrip, Vencor's director of IS operations and telecommunications. The company built what Wardrip describes as a mainframelike storage model.

"Everything that used to be distributed was now brought into the data center," including 28TB of data on 700 NT and Unix servers, Wardrip says. "We were concerned about interoperability. We felt like if we went with a single vendor, then they had some responsibility for what they sold. Our goal was really to have a single vendor who has some skin in the game."

Seven people manage Vencor's SAN, which is built around EMC Symmetrix disk arrays and Connectrix Fibre Channel switches. The new system replaces much of the legacy equipment, including older Fibre Channel switches, Compaq SCSI-attached storage systems and IBM Serial Storage Architecture systems.

Tivoli's TSM is the primary management tool -- the cornerstone of the new backup and recovery system. But Wardrip says he sees a need for broader control.

"Utilization and long-range capacity planning are big issues for us," Wardrip says, adding that he's considering software from both Tivoli and Veritas. He says he would also like to have better control of the SAN's Fibre Channel network itself, rather than rely on EMC guidelines, but he hasn't found software that will do this effectively.

Generation Gap

Manageability may eventually improve if the next generation of servers and storage devices are better able to work together.

That's the goal of ongoing industry standardization efforts. For example, the Mountain View, Calif.-based Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) has a working committee that's hammering out a Common Information Model that will let storage devices report themselves to software in a standardized way. Meanwhile, storage system vendors continue to push their own de facto standards.

On a positive note, hardware compatibility took a big leap last year with the arrival of SAN switch interoperability, says Dave Anderson, director of strategic management at Seagate Technology Inc. in Shakopee, Minn. Anderson chairs an SNIA working group focused on object-based storage devices, an emerging technology that could enable storage to manage itself.

Users primarily want to bring some sanity to their increasingly complex storage systems, says John Webster, an analyst at Nashua, N.H.-based Illuminata Inc. "Unfortunately, I don't think they're going to get it right now," he says. "There are so many approaches in the market."

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