NAS management software purchase considerations

Network attached storage (NAS) management software allows administrators to deploy, configure, allocate and maintain NAS appliances and gateways within the data center -- and often across the entire enterprise. For example, typical NAS management software might automatically discover a vendor's storage resources in a network, manage and adjust RAID configurations, back up NAS contents to standard backup software, track storage utilization and offer capacity growth predictions, and even monitor other storage systems that it cannot directly control. While NAS management software is increasingly versatile, it is also more complex, so the selection process requires careful consideration. Now that you've reviewed the essential issues involved in any NAS product, this Buying Guide focuses on specific considerations for NAS management software. You'll also find a series of specifications to help make on-the-spot product comparisons between vendors, like Attune Systems Inc., EMC Corp., Hitachi Data Systems Inc., IBM, Microsoft Corp. and more. @29739 Evaluate the software's suite of features. NAS management software products can vary dramatically in their features, so it's important to determine the features that are needed initially, anticipate the features that may be useful into the future and then select a product that can support those features. Features may include snapshots, local and remote mirroring, NDMP support, virtual servers, clustered and enterprise namespace support, transparent data movement and migration, transparent failover, performance and activity monitoring and alerts, WORM drive compatibility, support for large file systems and lots of small files, NFS and CIFS support, along with file virtualization (e.g., aggregation, data movement and replication). Keep in mind that features and capabilities vary with the software platform. For example, Windows Storage Server 2003 may be easy to configure, but a more proprietary platform, such as IBM's System Storage N series software, may offer superior performance or scalability. Consider the system requirements. NAS management software typically must be installed on a server. This demands an available server that meets the software's requirements for operating system, CPU, memory and other computing resources. This is usually no problem for larger businesses, but it may become more problematic for smaller organizations with limited server availability -- especially if the available server is already running other software. As one example, Adaptec Inc.'s Snap Server Manager software requires a Pentium III 133 MHz processor, 128MB RAM, Snap Server GuardianOS v2.6 or higher, Snap Server SnapOS v3.4 or higher and Java Virtual Machine V1.4.1. (See the product specifications page for other details.) Evaluate the tool's hardware interoperability. It's often cumbersome and impractical to use a different management tool for each NAS device, so companies must select software that can support numerous NAS devices across the organization. In many cases, this means committing to NAS products from a single vendor or selecting a tool that can support NAS devices from different manufacturers. Recognize the scope of NAS appliances or gateways supported by the software and determine whether its coverage is adequate for the organization. Evaluate the tool's management interoperability. Many NAS management tools can function through network management tools already at work in the organization, such as Hewlett-Packard Co's OpenView, SNMP, SMI-S, Java, HTTP, HTTPS or XML. This can improve management efficiency by letting administrators run NAS management tools through their existing management platform. Otherwise, an administrator will need to learn and operate the NAS management software as a separate tool and process. This may not pose a problem for limited NAS deployments where NAS management overhead is limited, but can become a serious impediment for heavy NAS overhead. Consider the level of automation available. Management software is more valuable when it can automate many of the most common storage management functions, including resource location/identification, provisioning, software updates and routine maintenance functions. NAS management software should improve efficiency by scheduling important tasks during off-peak hours, like software updates or backups. Management tools should provide comprehensive notifications and alerts in response to critical storage conditions, such as low available storage. Some NAS management tools can also offer assistance with capacity growth. This helps administrators track storage utilization and plan upgrades to stay ahead of needs -- a key issue in preventing application downtime and maintaining performance. Consider the cost impact. Beyond the up-front cost of acquisition, it's important to remember that some features and functionality may be optional, and this typically incurs an added cost to the enterprise. Many software tools also require yearly license fees that will greatly multiply the tool's cost over time. Weigh the software's value against its total cost of ownership (TCO), which should include all necessary onetime and recurring fees. Consider the management skill set. Effective storage management requires a working familiarity with the tools in use. New management tools, or tools from different vendors, demand training and practice for proficiency. Be sure to implement adequate training for administrators and other key IT staff. In some cases, training is included as part of the acquisition cost. If not, the training costs should be included in the product's TCO. The NAS management software product specifications page in this chapter covers the following products: Adaptec Inc.; Snap Server Manager software Attune Systems Inc.; Maestro Policy IQ software BlueArc Corp.; BlueArc software suite Brocade Communications Systems Inc.; Tapestry StorageX software EMC Corp.; Celerra Manager software Exanet Inc.; ExaStore NAS management software Hitachi Data Systems Inc.; NAS Management Software; TagmaStore Line IBM; System Storage N series software with Operations Manager Microsoft Corp.; Windows Storage Server 2003 R2 NeoPath Networks; SMARTtouch software Network Appliance Inc.; Data ONTAP 7G software ONStor Inc.; EverON NAS software Return to the beginning

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