Patent Pending: Provision my Storage...Please

Jon Toigo

Has this ever happened to you? Just as you reach a critical stage in your work, your computer slows to a crawl because the server is overburdened or, even worse, a "disk full" error shuts down applications before they can write their results to disk. Both problems are the result of poor resource provisioning, an issue of increasing importance as organizations field more and more servers and storage devices.

Poor resource provisioning is a consequence of too many resources and too few personnel to manage them effectively, an increasingly common problem as the economy limits new hiring and IT managers are told to do more with less. It is also a reflection of the inadequacy of current system and storage management tools, which, according to many end users, are just "too passive."

That's the problem that drives Joe Maloney, president of ProvisionSoft in Andover, Mass. Current provisioning tools provide rudimentary tools for setting up rules or policies and for monitoring an environment to see whether a policy threshold is exceeded. "In other words, most management products warn you of a problem, but they don't do anything about it. Human intervention is still required," Maloney said.

Maloney said that ProvisionSoft's DynamicIT software is the first of a new generation of intelligent and proactive provisioning tools to address this problem. The software is described as a server managing a collection of "intelligent engines that sit above the base-level provisioning products provided on hardware from the hardware vendor."

DynamicIT performs "value-added discovery" of storage in a storage area network (SAN) or of servers in a network, then works behind the scenes, automatically adding more resources to support increases in demand. These additional resources might be more servers to help carry the load or more storage LUNs, short for logical unit numbers that describe physical disk drives where application data can be stored.

"DynamicIT can run in a completely automated mode, or it offers a push-button approach that tells the user that a resource constraint is approaching and asks permission to fix it by adding more resources," Maloney said.

In the context of storage provisioning, DynamicIT adds an intelligent service that was omitted from the Fibre Channel protocol, which provides the plumbing of most large enterprise storage area networks today, Maloney said. The product allows storage associated with a particular file system to be scaled dynamically in response to demand using available capacity from same-vendor arrays. EMC Symmetrix and Compaq StorageWorks platforms are currently supported.

In the server provisioning space, DynamicIT is a boon for Web server environments, he said. As more load is placed on one server, a second can be brought online to handle some of the excess.

Maloney goes to pains to distinguish DynamicIT from virtualization products that are currently flooding the market. "Our technology works with what you have. It doesn't try to change it into something else," he said. This explains the requirement for EMC storage volumes to be dynamically scaled using only other EMC storage with "like file systems." Heterogeneous volume scaling is not supported by the product.

Policy-based management tools have come and gone in the market, with consumers showing little interest. DynamicIT will succeed where the others have failed, Maloney said, because it makes a real difference in administrative work load.

"Passive approaches to storage and server provisioning in past products offered nothing compelling to consumers. It just changed the battle, but it didn't win the war," he said.

DynamicIT was created by a cadre of developers drawn from EMC, Microsoft, Cisco and Sun Microsystems "after extensive interviewing with more than 140 IT managers of large and small IT shops," Maloney said. It meets a real and immediate need, especially in the current economy, where IT managers are increasingly called upon to manage more with less.

Jon William Toigo is an independent consultant and author of more than 1,000 articles and 12 books. If there is an emerging technology you would like Jon to look at, contact him through www.toigoproductions.com or via e-mail at jtoigo@intnet.net.

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