IT Infrastructure Insights

What You Can’t Do with Your Excel Spreadsheet

Aug 07, 2019

Share this:

The most popular resource used by most IT departments to manage their storage environment is a single tool – spreadsheets.  In the following paragraphs we will answer the questions: Are spreadsheets really “good enough” to do the job?  If not, why do so many customers choose this tool to manage their environment instead of implementing advanced tools to manage their storage environment?

Typical Spreadsheet Implementation:

First we will explore the typical process and rationale for the use of spreadsheets for managing the fastest growing part of IT infrastructures today.

Step 1:  Create a spreadsheet with all of the storage devices within an enterprise and include data like the following for each storage arrays.

Typical Columns of Data

  • Usable Storage
  • Used
  • Free
  • Allocated
  • Optional Columns
    • Type of storage

Step 2:  Sign on to each array monthly and input the data from each array into the spreadsheet.

Step 3:  Automate the chart creation and produce PDFs to send to executives.

This process does work, but there are flaws that need to be considered, including – error prone, manual effort, data currency, limited to high level information.  Many consider this process “good enough” because they think:

  • Management products are expensive
  • Management products require experts to operate
  • There are no consequences to of missing lower level data

What if there is a product that is low cost, requires no expertise to use, can be deployed for everyone to use, and provides both summary and detail information all from a single pane of glass?  Would that change your mind?   It did for all of our VSI customers.

Visual Storage Intelligence – Provinding visibility. Creating efficiency.

Now this document is not going to be a large exposé on all of the features and functions of VSI – rather we will highlight 3 very specific storage management use cases that VSI provides that cannot be achieved using the typical spreadsheet methodology.

  • Usage tracking & Warnings
  • Orphaned Storage
  • Health Analysis

The summary above is from your initial VSI “enterprise storage summary” screen.  The data on this screen should look fairly similar to the data seen in the spreadsheet, but the columns highlighted in yellow are typically not found in manually generated storage spreadsheets– either because the data is impossible to collect manually (like performance data), or because it is too time consuming and costly to collect manually.  Either way, the data is not available when you are managing storage with the manually maintained spreadsheet approach.

So, how valuable is the data in the yellow highlighted columns?

The main use cases for this data can be put into 5 main categories:

  • Orphaned Storage
  • Fragmented Free Space
  • Storage Pools
  • Health Alerts
  • Storage Performance Trends

Not only is this data available for every period where data is collected, but it is also tracked over time so you can see your storage utilization trends as well  as your storage performance trends over time (at every level of your infrastructure (Array, Pool, Host, LUN).

Orphaned Storage:

This is storage that is showing as being used on the array that is no longer mapped to any resource consumer. This happens for a variety of reasons – projects start and are then canceled or the hosts are decommissioned, but the storage is not reclaimed.

This data is virtually impossible to get when using a spreadsheet to manage storage – however with VSI it takes less than 5 minutes to spot the orphaned storage and to find out what it is.

In the enterprise storage summary above we see the Array3 has 40 TB of orphaned space.  Before we reclaim this space lets see what this storage is.  The Orphan list is one click away and what we see in this particular case is this storage is a set of Oracle LUNS provisioned a long time ago so, the space can be reclaimed immediately.

In this case, reclaiming this storage space saved the customer over $100,000 by avoiding additional storage to be purchases – leveraging what was already available on the data center floor.  Identifying orphaned space with VSI took less than 5 minutes because you have the data readily available to see where the orphaned storage is and the details to insure it can be reclaimed. With the spreadsheet model you would have purchased additional unneeded storage because this data was totally invisible to the executive management or the storage administrator.

Fragmented Storage:

Just because an array says it has “free space” does not mean you can actually use it.  You can see from enterprise summary screen that the shared file arrays has 20 TB of free space – if I have a new set of projects to add to this array and my standard unit of allocation is 4 TB then this array could hold up to 5 LUNs of 4 TB.   But that is not true – this array only has 8 TB of free space available to this new application (40% of the total).  !

The detailed array chart on below shows the free space fragmentation on the array. You can see based on the pool architecture on this storage array that there are only 2 places where a 4 TB volume can be provisioned – and therefore only 8 TB of the 20 TB is “usable free space” for this project.

VSI provides free space data at the enterprise as well as individual device level. It only takes 2 minutes to determine in this situation if additional storage is needed or a complete pool storage re-architecture.

Storage Pools:

Typically customers may have 10-30 storage arrays but 50 – 250 storage pools depending on the customer.  The number of pools is what makes capturing data difficult and the business value of this information may not be known.

The business value of pool information – when pools fill up it can have the same effect as when storage arrays become full – everything stops processing and emergency lights go off, additional storage is purchased and all kinds of emergency events occur.

With most spreadsheet implementations the management of pools relies on the individual integrity of the storage administration team.

VSI adds a number of features in pool analysis to insure only the right pools are flagged.  For example, if a pool is thick provisioned and has a high utilization it will not be flagged – because there are no growth concerns due the the type of provisioning employed at the pool level. This portion of the VSI storage management application is helping storage administrators and managers “see and find the needle in the haystack that needs attention”– thereby improving everyone’s productivity, avoiding unplanned outages and keeping IT Infrastructure running smoothly.

Health Alerts:

VSI gathers all the information about the storage environment – including data on all the physical components. This includes all failed components, firmware level analysis to ensure consistency, and configuration analysis to ensure no single component failure will cause a storage outage.

This health analysis is performed for each storage array. Upload and error trends are tracked over time to help users become proactive vs reactive to their storage operational status.

The health alerts screen tracks and scores arrays in various categories on each and every upload and tracks type of error by device.  Detailed reasoning  for anything that is not a green light is listed under each arrays health status.  The intent of this analysis is to ensure customers are aware of the health of their storage infrastructure and can take action and resolve any issues quickly – avoiding outages.

Storage Performance Trends:

VSI gathers high level and detailed performance information to assist customers in managing all aspects of their infrastructure.  When you have only high level performance data trends at the pool, host and even volume are always missed

The chart here shows latency by pool within an array – you can see the trends for the VMAX Pool1 is trending up and not expected.  Seeing this trend early allows customers to take action in advance of users and application teams complaining to IT department.

Why Not VSI?

Most customers dismiss using storage management tools because: they think it is expensive, it takes too much time, they don’t see the business value/risk. None of these things are true when it comes to VSI.

VSI is cloud application. It is set up one time and then the data is automatically uploaded and analysis is performed and available on demand via a web browser or pdf file.  All levels of the organization can access the data from around the world if they have the proper security clearance to access your account data.

As one customer said  “We  use the data provided in VSI every week and we don’t have to do a thing. It shows us the important issues – we take action in advance and as a result we have  reduced our overall storage spend 18%, totally eliminated all unplanned outages and improved our overall customer satisfaction for our service delivery. ”

Want to know more about how VSI can work in your environment? Schedule a live demo with one of our specialists.