Creating cohesive storage management

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

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Buyer Beware

6 Tough Questions

When choosing a storage orchestration tool, Greg Schulz, senior adviser at the Server and StorageIO Group, recommends asking the following questions:

1. Does it enable the setup and scheduling of snapshots, replication, backup and other functions that ensure data availability?

2. How does the platform coordinate with other technologies, such as dynamic path management, that provide load management as application loads change?

3. How will the platform's performance and price be affected as your company adds more servers, storage and networks?

4. Will it be easy to install the vendor's system and integrate it into your company's environment?

5. How well does the vendor's platform integrate with your existing service catalog?

6. Can the platform recognize and comply with your policies on security, regulatory compliance and quality of service?

- Robert L. Scheier

Meanwhile, open-source vendor Red Hat claims that its Red Hat Storage Server, based on its GlusterFS file system, provides better scalability than rivals because it doesn't rely on a metadata server, more effectively distributes data and uses parallelism to maximize performance. Nutanix combines storage and server management, along with its own storage and performance management software, in a physical package that includes three to four x86 server nodes. Cisco takes a similar approach to combining computing, storage and networking with its FlexPod products.

Bridging Differences

One approach to cross-cloud storage management uses gateways that mask the differences among the APIs used by various cloud storage providers. TwinStrata's physical or virtual CloudArray (bundled with SANsymphony), for example, makes storage from any of 13 cloud providers appear as iSCSI devices to customers and applications. This allows connectivity and the use of a common management platform for functions such as disaster recovery and replication, says CEO Nicos Vekiarides.

Benefits plan administrator RxStrategies uses the TwinStrata gateway for cloud-based backup of its virtual machines and data. "On the outside, it looks like a SAN, which is old technology, but on the other side, it was actually part of the cloud, which enables us to transparently push our backup to Amazon or Rackspace," says senior developer Rick DeBay. In the future, he says he would like to be able to store data on more than one public cloud and easily move compute workloads to Amazon's EC2 public cloud and Amazon's S3 storage platform.

Other orchestration offerings are, however, limited to certain products or certain parts of the cloud.

CA Server Automation and CA Automation Suite for Clouds integrates with NetApp's OnCommand storage management software to provision NetApp storage for various classes of servers.

Caringo's CloudScaler virtualization layer provides automated, policy-based management -- but only of storage, not virtual machines. Like many other orchestration platforms, it doesn't currently support the block-based storage used in low-cost, multitenant public storage clouds such as Amazon S3, but Caringo is working to offer that in the future.

Storage Automator, a storage service catalog and policy engine from iWave, currently supports only selected EMC and NetApp arrays, although broader support is due this year.

While it's the leader in server virtualization, VMware is working to differentiate itself from competitors such as Microsoft and its Hyper-V offering by "pushing to include more orchestration," says Reichman. With VMware vSphere 5.0, for example, it introduced storage profiles that let users map the capabilities of a storage system to a storage profile, helping to ensure each virtual machine uses the appropriate data store.

This summer, VMware acquired DynamicOps, whose architecture will allow vSphere and infrastructure administrators to model infrastructure services. This will enable the policy, governance and self-service management capabilities in vSphere to be extended to other hypervisors, hardware and clouds, according to a blog post by Ramin Sayar, VMware's vice president and general manager for cloud infrastructure and management.

Storage Management Portals

Don't Try This at Home

Customers pay managed services providers such as NaviSite to mask the complexity of the technology they use. That's why it was worthwhile for NaviSite to devote a "significant amount of work and time" to building its AppCenter portal, says Chris Patterson, a product manager for NaviSite's cloud and hosting services.

NaviSite expanded its R&D team "significantly" to integrate its underlying platforms with AppCenter, he says. The project included coding to the APIs of vendors such as Actifio, which is one of the "disk-to-disk" platforms that NaviSite uses for backup and recovery. "We worked with Actifio to create simple menu options," says Patterson. "So the customer says, 'I want to back up using either this profile or that profile,' and they can see what they've done."

NaviSite has a staff of 30 to 40 people who continually revise AppCenter and add new features to it. "Anyone could write this," Patterson says. "But unless you're a service provider, unless this is something you [must provide], I wouldn't recommend it."

- Robert L. Scheier

Function-specific Offerings

Many vendors' offerings are focused on areas such as data protection and disaster recovery, which were the most common needs cited by VMware users in a July 2012 survey conducted by the Wikibon technology analysis website. Again, many tools are limited to specific vendors' products or storage protocols.

Actifio, for example, tackles backup, disaster recovery and business continuity with its Protection and Availability Storage (PAS) appliance, which virtualizes both storage and storage functions such as copy, store, move and restore. But the PAS appliance supports only Fibre Channel-attached storage, such as SANs, and only disaster and recovery, not the dynamic reprovisioning required to maintain the performance of production applications.

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