Move Past Tape Backups and Clean Up Your Network Storage
As the mountains of enterprise data keep piling up, network managers need to do more about storage than mere tape backup. Disk-to-disk storage, for instance, often gets overlooked, in UNIX and Microsoft environments alike. Meanwhile, since some storage still leaves a lot to be desired, administrators should look to net management as well as storage tools for optimizing storage.
"Network managers know network management, and storage managers know storage management," noted industry analyst Jon William Toigo. Enterprise closets tend to be littered with "walls of unused systems, striated with dust and dirt." Before jumping into new solutions, administrators in either group should run network diagnostic tools to dig out the true locations of bottlenecks.
New or existing NAS (network-attached storage) devices can then be deployed (or redeployed) where they're really needed most, for instance. "Storage management (changes) may not even be the answer. Sometimes, companies can get relief instead by moving from a hub to a switch. I've seen that happen," Toigo added.
"People should be architecting network management around storage, instead of the other way around," advised Eric Bezek, VP of the southern region for Accris, a data infrastructure solutions provider.
"To a lot of companies, storage still means just backing up to tape. That approach is great for us, but it isn't necessarily great for them," admitted Deborah Littlefield, Spectra Logic's manager of professional services, during Spectra Logic's recent VARcon conference in Denver.
Enterprise network and storage managers need to share knowledge with each other, according to Littlefield. "In large numbers of organizations, you have the Windows people over here, doing NT, the UNIX people over there, doing UNIX, and the storage people over there, doing storage. There isn't a whole lot of communication."
Net management tools than can be useful in storage include OpenView, along with products from SunGard and IBM Tivoli, Littlefield said.
"People already know how to back up data. Companies have always talked about backup windows. It's only now that companies are talking about recovery windows."
The tape vs. disk-to-disk decision should revolve around "how quickly you need the data," she pointed out.
"For some applications, you just can't take the time to go to tape," concurred Bezek, who cited one of his customers as an example. Bezek's customer is combining a traditional tape solution with disk-to-disk storage through a NetApp filer. The filer, which uses "cheap disks," is deployed for "image files that need immediate access, but are accessed only once a year." Backup is done daily to tape, but just once a week to disk.
However, administrators working with disk storage should familiarize themselves with various alternatives, according to Bezek. This means learning about the ins-and-outs of topics like when to use striping in RAID storage, for instance.
"If you have over 1 TB of data, you really need to optimize your hierarchy," recommended storage pro Fred Moore, who heads up Horison Information Strategies.
For some applications, Moore advocates the use of HSM (hierarchical storage management systems), which automate storage on to tape or disk based on rules.
"UNIX vendors are starting to pay a lot of attention to HSM tools," according to Moore. As a few examples, Moore mentioned Veritas, Legato, and Sun. He declined comment, though, about Microsoft's HSM approach.
For her part, Littlefield cited "built-in HSM tools in Windows 2000, which we use internally at Spectra Logic." UNIX, on the other hand, "tends to be more a la carte," she said. "In UNIX, tools come separate from the OS. So, you can make the OS do what you want."
Littlefield exhorted administrators to develop tape and disk policies that are geared to the storage needs of their organizations. "Traditional HSM policies were about migrating data to offline storage after 90 days. That kind of policy doesn't always make sense. Now policies need to be more specific to the data. You might set rules based on volume, or by classes of data, for instance."
Yet right now, most companies still aren't moving to disk-to-disk. "Disk-to- disk is still more expensive, although the gap is narrowing. Disk really hasn't caught on in the mainstream yet - on the West Coast, anyway. Tape is more 'proven' to people. There are multiple vendors, and multiple formats," according to Michael Finelli, a senior VP for solutions provider SSI.
On the software tools side, however, lots of administrators are interested in the convenience of suites. according to Moore. "Users are looking to buy tools all under one umbrella."
Vendors, though, often try to lock users into specific solutions, Toigo surmised. "Vendors want you to buy their suites for managing storage in 'heterogenous environments.' Just ask EMC, or any other storage vendor. The trouble is, their tools don't interoperate with each other's. Vendors tend to look at interoperability as another 'nail in the coffin' of commoditization."
Consequently, administrators should do their own interoperability testing, said Toigo, who is managing partner at Toigo Productions. "Administrators have to, because the vendors aren't."
Users complain, too, about inconsistent quality. "Vendors have made major improvements to some tools, such as backup. A lot of tools, though, are still half-baked, particularly tools for storage virtualization," according to Toigo. Veritas' storage virtualization software, for instance, can bog down networks, he contended.
"We need better (software) stuff for storage," Toigo urged. "It's only when users resoundingly demand a product that companies will give it to them."