Special Report

Improved enterprise storage management tools are needed, especially for data backup

The explosive growth of data storage is causing IT organizations to consider, even if only wistfully, making a case for the purchase of new storage resource management (SRM) tools.

A TechTarget survey completed this month showed that nearly a quarter (22%) of the 374 respondents plan this year to increase spending on storage management software. The main drivers cited were the need to manage more storage with existing staff and the hope of simplifying the management of different storage environments.

Read our 5-part series on storage management tools
Enterprise data storage capacity management tools still found lacking

Storage configuration needs go beyond SRM tools

Enterprise data storage performance monitoring goes beyond storage arrays

Remote site monitoring often missing from disaster recovery plan

Many storage administrators continue to get by with homegrown tools or the element managers that ship with the storage devices they buy. But, the built-in element managers are designed to manage only a specific device, and the homegrown approach can be challenging to sustain over time, especially if the staff member who wrote the scripts leaves the company.

Determining which of the commercial management tools will be most beneficial depends in large part on an organization's size, infrastructure design, and the degree to which the IT environment changes.

In this special report, we look at the storage tools that can assist with the management, monitoring and reporting of potential trouble spots in five major areas: data backup, capacity, configuration, performance, and disaster recovery.

Watching your data backup's back

The built-in reporting and monitoring features that ship with data backup applications are adequate for many IT organizations. But an independent backup reporting tool can become a critical add-on purchase for anyone using more than one backup product or overseeing an especially large environment.

GSI Commerce Inc., for instance, uses Aptare Inc. StorageConsole Backup Manager for a single-pane view across multiple data centers. StorageConsole Backup Manager's reporting engine helps the storage team meet audit requests for compliance purposes, said Tim Malfara, storage architect at the King of Prussia, Penn.-based e-commerce technology and services provider.

GSI uses Symantec Corp.'s Veritas NetBackup to provide critical and detailed information, but the data can be overwhelming and difficult to review, Malfara said. The Aptare software allows the storage team to customize reports based on key criteria that the business units need, he noted.

"Prior to having that tool," Malfara said, "we would have to spend a significant amount of time going through the backup product, pulling information out and putting it in a format that was easy to read."

Stan Horwitz, a senior systems manager at Temple University, said the school's EMC Corp. NetWorker software offers no obvious way to filter failures and successes or warn his team when a successful backup takes too long. He said he wants alerts only about problems.

"I get loaded with reports," said Horwitz, "and it's damn near impossible to read through them every day."

Until now, cost has kept Temple from buying a backup reporting tool. But, in connection with the replacement of its oldest tape library, the university is evaluating EMC's Avamar data deduplication device in a bundle with the vendor's Data Protection Advisor (an EMC acquisition from WysDM), which would help to solve not only the reporting/alerting issue but also pave the way for a potential chargeback system for backups.

Specialized reporting and monitoring tools for backup environments also include Bocada Inc.'s Enterprise, NetApp Inc.'s Protection Manager, Rocket Software Inc.'s Servergraph Data Protection Expert, Symantec's Veritas Backup Reporter and Tek-Tools Inc.'s Backup Profiler.

Enterprise Strategy Group senior analyst Lauren Whitehouse contends this class of tools is strategic, not simply a utility. She claims that's especially true for organizations delivering backup as a service, whether internally to the business or externally as a service provider, since the specialized reporting products assist with setting expectations, auditing and understanding budgets. The built-in reporting features of the major backup applications from vendors such as Symantec, EMC, CA Inc., CommVault Systems Inc., Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co. and IBM Corp. provide administrators with error logs, built-in reports and dashboard views into backup/recovery job status. But, they "don't always take the information provided to a level of problem solving, or problem avoidance," Whitehouse wrote in an email interview.

Whitehouse said that many of the specialized tools provide details that can help to resolve the issue, and they also assist with "predictive analysis," such as gauging when more storage needs to be provisioned or when a tape drive requires maintenance.

Improved features in data backup applications

Ed Delgado, the storage architect at RiskMetrics Group Inc., cited capacity planning as the most pressing issue in his data backup environment. He said he wants to be alerted days in advance when a backup could fail due to a lack of tapes or disk space. He claimed the company's backup application is no help, and he has yet to find a special tool to meet his needs.

Organizations with more basic needs will find improved features in the backup applications. IBM, for instance, in February released a major upgrade to its Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM) backup software that adds reporting and monitoring capabilities and revamps the database to streamline administration. Richard Vining, a product marketing manager of IBM's TSM portfolio, said the goal is to eliminate the need to purchase extra tools.

"When we see customers struggling with reporting and monitoring of their environment, we build that into the product," Vining said.

One thing missing from all but a few early tools is the ability to manage and forecast data deduplication systems. That absence is felt more strongly now that deduplication is an intrinsic part of backup systems, said Valdis Filks, a research director in Gartner Inc.'s storage management and strategies group.

"In the old days, we had one tool to monitor the disk system, one tool to monitor the tape system, one tool to monitor the file systems. Then we pulled it all together with SRM dashboards," Filks said. "Now deduplication comes along and we're back to the old days where we have a separate tool to monitor data dedupe systems. You have to use the tool that comes with the hardware to monitor it."

The second part of this report looks at managing capacity.

This was first published in October 2009