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IT Infrastructure Insights

Five Categories of Storage Management Solutions: Which is Right for You?

May 12, 2022

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Enterprise storage management gets more complicated by the day. Set aside the explosion of data growth that is endemic to modern IT management. Infrastructure professionals have to contend with data scattered across multiple data centers, storage manufacturers, and hybrid on-prem / cloud / edge environments. 

Seemingly every new storage fad simultaneously creates new options for enterprise teams (good) while introducing greater complexity (bad). 

And to top it off, job descriptions for storage & infrastructure administrators are constantly expanding. For you, that means:

  • More responsibilities
  • More work
  • More moving pieces
  • Same old time and budget limitations

Today’s IT infrastructure professionals are asked to 10% more with 10% less every year – forever. 

Fortunately, there are also more solutions than ever before. If you need some help managing your enterprise storage – and let’s face it, who doesn’t? – there are plenty of options. 

Whether you need the most help with overall visibility, capacity planning, monitoring, or any other infrastructure management task, here are five types of enterprise storage management solutions to choose from – as well as costs, pros and cons, and sample vendors for each.

Native Tools

Storage management is important enough that most storage sellers provide their own reporting tools as part of the purchase. These tools are usually applicable only to the devices they came with, but they are cost-effective and a good starting point.

Examples: NetApp Active IQ, PureOne, EMC Cloud IQ, HPE InfoSight, IBM Storage Insights

Cost: $

Benefits: 

  • They’re designed specifically for the device they came with, so you can set it up and go straight out of the box.
  • As supplements to the storage itself, native tools are usually free. 

Drawbacks:

  • They’re usually designed only for the device they came with. If you use any other kind of storage, you’ll need a different tool to gather and analyze that additional data. And you’ll need to find a way to look at both sets of data together. 
  • If you use multiple different vendor tools, chances are they will collect and display different kinds of data (or at least use different terminology). This makes it harder to compare your storage data.
  • Because native tools are designed by the storage vendors themselves, the data they show you may be selective. After all, it’s in their best interests to show you (or not show you) data in a way that encourages you to keep buying more of their storage.

Spreadsheets & Visualization Tools

Perhaps the most commonly used tool for data management of any kind, spreadsheets are a standard “blank page” enabling data recording and sorting. Like a swiss-army knife, spreadsheets can do many things with enough time (and patience – troubleshooting can be a bear).

Recently, both open-source and paid visualization tools have sought to build on this kind of generalized data customization, providing unique visual and organizational elements.

Examples: Microsoft Excel, Grafana, Splunk

Cost: $ – $$

Benefits:

  • The “open book” nature of a spreadsheet or open source tool allows users to build anything they can imagine. It should be possible to build a spreadsheet or visualization that will calculate any data point you’re looking for.. 
  • Similarly, spreadsheets can serve as the “connective tissue” between storage devices. For example, if you rely on native tools to report data from the devices they came with, carefully built spreadsheets can combine those data sets into one place.

Drawbacks:

  • Combining data sets is easier said than done – especially since many native tools and SRMs report different kinds of data (or use different terms for similar things). Infrastructure teams may need to hire or assign one or more employees to focus exclusively on data reporting.
  • With spreadsheets, data comes with a delay. Even a custom-build spreadsheet can only answer the exact questions it was designed to answer. What happens if the boss asks something you can’t answer without different data? You can ignore the question, or you can spend days building a whole new report – all just for one question! 
  • Often, knowledge of spreadsheet design is limited to the one or two employees who built and manage them. What will you do if those employees leave? The Great Resignation has accelerated “brain drain” within enterprise IT departments. Unfortunately, spreadsheet management is not easily passed on from one employee to another.

Management Software-Defined Storage (MSDS)

Gartner predicts that “By 2024, 50% of the global storage capacity will be deployed as SDS on-premises or on the public cloud.” 

As infrastructures increasingly turn to hybrid environments and software defined storage, management software-defined storage (MSDS) is positioned to step up and “connect the dots” in disparate environments. 

By separating the hardware from the software, MSDS creates ways of viewing, monitoring, analyzing, and sometimes even altering your heterogeneous storage without working directly in the storage itself. While the result might sometimes lack depth, it makes up for it in scope of insights.

Examples: Visual Storage Intelligence®, Hammerspace, Komprise, Data Dynamics

Cost: $$ – $$$

Benefits:

  • MSDS solutions offer a wide-ranging variety of abilities, with many product options for even narrow use cases. This is a win for enterprises looking for specific capabilities without the extra bells-and-whistles (and price tag) that might accompany other options.
  • The whole point of MSDS (and software-defined storage as a whole) is to cross traditional infrastructure “borders.” As enterprise environments expand out towards the cloud, edge, and other storage options, MSDS may be the best choice for hybrid and multi-vendor environments.
  • In general, customer service tends to be above average when the MSDS is the primary (or only) product being sold by the owning company. 

Drawbacks: 

  • Some MSDS products focus on specific functions. This is great for companies looking for a limited scope of service, but less great for teams who need more comprehensive storage management abilities.
  • Consequently, you may need to buy more than one solution to gain all the functionality you need. Even if MSDS solutions in general are more affordable than SRM tools, buying more than one can add up.

Want to cut your reporting time in half?

See how this capacity planning team did it using Visual Storage Intelligence®.

Storage Resource Management (SRM) Software

Longtime “heavy hitters” in storage management, SRM softwares are full product suites designed to help with numerous storage management tasks. They go beyond native tools in their scope and abilities – as well as their price.

With versions from nearly every major storage provider, there are many options – though most of them are just small fish in a much bigger ocean of products in the eyes of the companies that own them.

Examples: Dell EMC SRM (Viper), NetApp OCI / Cloud Insights, IBM Storage Insights, SolarWinds SRM, Veritas (Aptare), Virtana, Galileo

Cost: $$$ – $$$$

Benefits:

  • Like native tools and MSDS (below), SRM software’s comprehensive data reporting addresses capacity, performance, utilization, and problems / alerts – at multiple levels of stratification.
  • SRM’s high price point raises the expectations for the product. As a result, companies invest more into their design and upgrades.

Drawbacks:

  • Some of the biggest SRMs have separate products for cloud storage and on-prem storage. For the cost of their software, hybrid storage teams may wish they could track both sets of data on one tool.
  • Since many SRMs are created by storage vendors, their designs have an implicit bias towards their storage. The impact is subtle but can be seen in the information the SRM design does not emphasize or provide.
  • For many providers, SRMs are just a small part of a much larger business. This can leave something to be desired when it comes to customer service.

Custom-Built / Homegrown Tools

Especially ambitious teams can theoretically find the perfect infrastructure management tool by building it themselves. Although time-consuming and highly complex, this option can provide the most flexibility – if (and only if) your enterprise has the know-how and financial muscle to commit. 

Cost: $$$ – $$$$

Benefits:

  • You control everything. Need a certain capability? Just build it! Want it to look a certain way? Design it however you want! All the power and creativity are in your hands.
  • No need to worry about changing contracts, price increases, or product alterations. Because you’re building your own storage resource manager, nothing will change unless you want it to. Plus, you can dodge pricy subscriptions and contracts – just keep in mind that there’s still a cost (see drawbacks).

Drawbacks:

  • The very same distinctions that make this option attractive can also be drawbacks. Although custom-built solutions give you the freedom to build anything you want, you have to figure out how to build, well – everything. Nothing will be done for you, and anything you can’t build will not be an option for you.
  • Because you are building a solution in-house, the costs of a subscription get passed on to you. So although you might not have a six-figure vendor contract to pay, you will still invest significant salary and employee hours in the design, building, and maintenance of the solution. 
  • As your infrastructure evolves, you will likely need to continue building out your solution and troubleshooting new challenges. It won’t be a “build-it-and-forget-it” investment.

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