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Creating cohesive storage management

Storage orchestration software holds the promise of seamless management. But for now, enterprise customers are stuck with point tools.

By Robert L. Scheier
October 8, 2012 06:00 AM ET

Computerworld - For cash-strapped IT shops looking to get out from under manual storage management chores, storage orchestration software looks like a lifeline: It promises to let users choose from a catalog of predefined storage services and then handle the provisioning details behind the scenes.

It's a worthy vision, and one vendors are moving toward. However, there's currently no "single pane of glass" product that can automatically provision, resize, back up and recover storage across multiple public and private clouds, across systems from different vendors and for virtual machines running hypervisors from multiple vendors. Most orchestration tools support only a single product line, are optimized for certain functions or don't support the public, multitenant object-based storage services that provide the lowest cost and most flexibility.

It's even more rare to find orchestration tools that can manage both virtual machines and storage. Creating true global orchestration is an expensive, complex task usually tackled only by the largest enterprises or service providers that can spread the investment across multiple customers.

Today, storage management is "very fragmented, and things don't necessarily work well together," says Forrester Research storage analyst Andrew Reichman. "For the most part, [tools] are quite expensive, complex to use and have mixed results with [other vendors'] products.... The automation level of storage lags that of servers," especially when comparing storage management systems with server virtualization platforms such as VMware. With storage, "there is still a lot of manual, mundane work being done," says Reichman.

Despite some acceptance of standards for defining common storage and server functions, vendors are understandably reluctant to use them to make it easier for customers to move data from their products to those of their competitors. Some are also too busy integrating technologies they have acquired to focus on interoperability with their competitors.

Many of today's orchestration platforms are more like service catalogs that offer various service levels for different applications and use application programming interfaces (API) to storage and server management tools to deliver the services. HCL Technologies' MyCloud, for example, is "not like a management tool, but more like an aggregation platform [that] can integrate with the native management tools" from infrastructure providers such as VMware or Amazon, or existing management vendors such as BMC or CA, says Kalyan Kumar, associate vice president and head of cloud at HCL. Customers can request compute and storage services through it, but they must log in to each platform's management console to perform more sophisticated operations, such as archiving data, he says.

In the absence of universal orchestration, customers are using tools that support their hardware and software to solve problems in areas such as application availability, disaster recovery and quality of service. These products fall into several broad categories.

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