Dashboarding Diverse Storage Infrastructures

The previous blog in this series outlined the advantages of a diverse storage infrastructure; flexibility, workload specific performance, and hard-cost savings. The challenge with a diverse storage infrastructure is how to manage it. In prior blogs, we’ve looked at several methods, including going all in with software-defined storage (SDS). Most of these approaches are too heavy handed and they displace all the good work that the original hardware vendor accomplished in managing their specific solution. Instead of replacing existing storage management consoles, most organizations will benefit more from a management overlay or dashboard that can leverage the existing storage management consoles to provide IT with access to all the capabilities and features of their storage hardware.

Respecting the Hardware Vendor’s Software

One of the primary advantages of a diverse architecture is workload specific performance and features. The vendors that create these solutions have all—for the most part—created excellent management portals for their products. Those portals are designed specifically to interact with the vendors’ storage hardware and bring to the forefront every feature the vendor intended to use with the solution.

Many storage management solutions try to completely replace the vendor’s software instead of leveraging it. This can create an operationally heavy (and expensive) solution that never seems to quite tap into all the storage hardware’s capabilities. It also seems there is always a capability or two that the storage management solution doesn’t reveal, forcing the customer to launch the storage hardware’s management GUI anyway.

Software-defined storage, as discussed in our entry “The Problem with Software Defining Consolidation,” can be an even more heavy-handed approach. SDS forces the customer to sacrifice almost all the storage system’s unique features to a single management software solution. While there are exceptions, most SDS solutions do best in adding capabilities to bare metal hardware, not in bringing to light the capabilities of advanced systems.

However, organizations can’t just give up and assume that the cost of a diverse hardware infrastructure is an increase of management time and IT staff.

Dashboards of Excellence

A potential solution is found in taking a more lightweight approach to solving the problem. Instead of replacing the software that comes with storage hardware, dashboard solutions like SolarWinds® Storage Resource Manager, complement it. The dashboard creates a central collection point of storage system status, which can capture performance and capacity metrics, as well as centralize alerts and error conditions. From there, instead of trying to be the storage software, it can launch the specific console the administrator needs to manage the hardware and take corrective action.

The dashboard approach has several advantages. First, it is, almost always, significantly less expensive than a management solution that tries to replace the vendor’s storage software. It is also less of an “all-in” commitment than SDS.

Second, it enables IT to get a centralized view of all of the storage systems in their environment. The dashboard can bring problem areas to light, and it can help IT gain insight into where to best place the next workload. Understanding new workload placement makes sure that current storage systems are used to their fullest potential and diversity only occurs when it is absolutely necessary.

Third, because the dashboard vendor isn’t trying to replace the hardware vendor’s software, the dashboard can more quickly support a broader range of storage systems from more vendors. Heavy management solutions only support a handful of systems.

StorageSwiss Take

A diverse storage infrastructure not only has its advantages, it is simply the reality for most organizations. Try as they might to consolidate storage, eventually an alternate storage system makes its way into the data center. A dashboard approach can address the key problem with storage diversity, a central point of insight and control, while enabling the storage systems to all perform and be managed as advertised. It can also slow down the rate of diversification by providing trend analysis and insight into new workload placement.

The average data center has over six different storage systems and each has its own storage management interface. Instead of trying to stop diversity, many organizations can be better served by controlling it and maximizing its advantages in the simplest way possible.

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Twelve years ago George Crump founded Storage Switzerland with one simple goal; to educate IT professionals about all aspects of data center storage. He is the primary contributor to Storage Switzerland and is a heavily sought after public speaker. With over 25 years of experience designing storage solutions for data centers across the US, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS and SAN, Virtualization, Cloud and Enterprise Flash. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland he was CTO at one of the nation's largest storage integrators where he was in charge of technology testing, integration and product selection.

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