For the last nine years, I have been discussing storage management with clients. One lesson I’ve learned from these conversations is that each storage manufacturer has adequate tools to manage their storage. What data center, however, has only one storage vendor? The tools that storage vendors supply with their storage systems provide necessary information like utilization, performance, and health.

These tools show what we at VSI call “vendor-down” views, which means that the information is from the point of view that the vendor and contain only the information they feel you need to see. The included tools are focused on that particular storage system or at best that manufacturer’s storage systems.

The problem is we find that an average client has over seven storage arrays representing three or more different manufacturers. A diverse storage environment makes storage management difficult, and “vendor-down” views useless.

Multi-vendor storage infrastructures are not a new phenomenon, all though the number of storage vendors in data centers is clearly on the rise. Years ago, most of the major vendors started initiatives to support them. Some vendors developed a multi-management software solution organically but most purchased a software vendor that specialized in multi-vendor storage management. The problem is, in most cases, the original developer of the software left the large companies as soon as they could, and most of the solutions have languished. They hadn’t had the benefit that we had when we developed Visual Storage Intelligence (VSI). We were able to start with a clean slate and leverage new technologies like the cloud.

As a result, most of the vendor storage management tools are expensive, difficult to deploy, and complex to operate on a day to day basis. Their complexity often requires an army of consultants to overcome the implementation challenge and then typically a full headcount to administer. In reality, the storage vendors didn’t have their “heart” in making a competitor’s product easier to use or manage. Most of these products turned into shelfware and lead to Excel being the storage management tool of choice.

Excel is a very inexpensive tool; however, it too is very labor-intensive. It is a financial model tool, yet for storage management, most organizations use it as a database. Using Excel forces the storage administrator to manually pull the data from their storage arrays into Excel. Then, because each array provides data differently, they have to scrub and format the data into a standard format and terminology. This process is very time consuming, which suddenly makes an inexpensive tool costly. The manual collection and formatting of data also introduce the opportunity for errors.

As an example of faulty reporting VSI was working with a client that took the Excel approach to storage management. In reviewing the data they were pulling from the arrays, we found they were placing usable space in the wrong column, which leads the customer to believe that they had more free space than they had. The erroneous reporting wasn’t a problem until they started to reach the capacity limits.

Using vendor-provided storage management tools versus using excel are the two ends of the spectrum that we saw clients leveraging to manage multi-vendor environments. Neither gets the job done efficiently or effectively. We saw a gap between these two approaches that we decided we could fill with a cost-effective, simple to use solution. The hole in the two plans was our motivation to start the development of Visual Storage Intelligence (VSI). VSI focuses on providing a single view across all storage systems. Our views span across all of the block and file storage arrays in the environment. It also extends to the virtual environment, hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI), backup solutions, etc.

Our process is simple; VSI collects data from each array using a standard nonintrusive method. We then parse the data for you into a common format for visualization. Finally, we present the data in a consolidated view so the IT team can start to make quality decisions to improve efficiency and reduce costs.