Storage management software is more important than ever, thanks to the increasing big-ness of big data, the rise of cloud computing, and the coming wave of Internet of Things information. This guide is an entry-level summary of software management software.

To help explain which way is up, we sought advice from Evaluator Group analyst Randy Kerns, who’s been in the storage field since its days of punched cards and data hieroglyphics. We also received input from Mark Peters of Enterprise Strategy Group.

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Executive summary

  • What is storage management software? The more data you have, the more tender loving care it requires–that comes in the form of storage management software. The software keeps your data safe, ensures the right bits are stored in the right place, coordinates with your applications, and continuously reports on the data’s health.
  • Why does storage management software matter? Other than people, your company’s data is its most valuable asset.
  • Who does storage management software affect? Traditionally, the answer is just storage management professionals; Kerns explained how that is changing. Cloud-centric businesses may have whole other teams that lack storage management experience yet are still tasked with managing storage.
  • When is this happening? Now. In addition to the trends in big data, cloud, and IoT, there are also hardware trends such as object-based storage and all-flash arrays, which increasingly need unique kinds of storage management applications.
  • How do I get storage management software? Storage management software can come from a storage hardware manufacturer, an independent software vendor, or open-source channels. It could even be homemade, although that isn’t recommended except in very special cases.

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SEE: Ebook–Executive’s guide to the future of enterprise storage (TechRepublic)

What is storage management software?

Kerns said he views storage management software in three categories. These are hardware management, which looks after your drives, logical/physical partitions, virtualization, and so on; resource management, which includes tasks such as capacity planning, performance monitoring, and operational analytics; and of course data backup, which is a big enough field to warrant its own smart person’s guide. Kerns sees that too few companies are using storage resource management, largely due to its complexity and the storage industry’s lack of adoption of standards. (Storage standards were all the rage a decade ago, but industry support turned out to be lip service.) Meanwhile, the same categories exist–though perhaps by other names–among cloud storage services and hybrid cloud/on-premise storage products.

ESG’s Peters said storage management software is largely overrated. “It would be dumb for a smart person to waste time learning about the purpose-built storage management software market in 2016. It’s a declining market that was born in the late ’90s and got a ton of VC investment,”–almost $1 billion, he figures–“and never really took off. The number of IT organizations that have a need–and, more importantly, budget–for storage management software is dwindling.”

The exception to Peters’ rule might be enterprise use of software-defined storage (SDS). SDS is the software portion of JBOD–that old storage acronym for the do-it-yourself concept of “just a bunch of disk” (or more recently, “just a bunch of solid-state drives”) as compared to purchasing pre-engineered arrays. Quite often the software runs on a virtual machine, which itself can be on-premise or in a cloud.

ClearSky Data technical officer Laz Vekiarides published five insights into SDS in fall 2015, and they’re still accurate: There’s no true standard definition; becoming your own hardware vendor is unwise for all but the largest organizations; vendors aren’t thinking about your performance requirements; there’s no universal way to measure your results; and the concept is arguably even more work than managing a professional array. However, if you’re determined to build SDS, then starting with resources from the Storage Networking Industry Association is probably a good idea. There’s also a conference devoted to the subject.

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Why does storage management software matter?

Hardware can be replaced, but information can’t. Even companies that focus heavily on data backups still need the rest of their storage network and management scheme in order to make sense of all the raw data.

Storage resource management in particular evolved a decade ago, and many companies said it would solve all the complexity, but that rarely came true. Even where real products exist, “You have to dig one or two levels deeper to figure out what they’re really talking about,” Kerns noted.

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Who does storage management software affect?

Large organizations probably already have some form of storage management software, either from major hardware builders such as EMC or NetApp, or from independent software vendors such as Veritas. Companies that don’t have it, or that need to apply storage management to anything cloud-based, need to learn fast.

SEE: System Administration and Infrastructure Management Bundle (TechRepublic Academy)

Cloud systems managers typically are part of entirely separate teams from on-premise system administrators, Kerns observed. “Typically they’re not the same people administrating them or even architecting them,” he said. Archivists, database administrators, e-discovery specialists (ask your legal department), network administrators, and security specialists all need to be part of the plan.

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When is this happening?

Companies that make storage management software are constantly adding new features that tend to focus on usability, integration with other products, and performance reporting. The next waves in storage management software may be automation and open-source products, Kerns said.

Peters added: “Storage management functionality is, instead, moving up the stack into operating systems, virtualization layers, converged and hyperconverged systems, software-defined infrastructure stacks, and the public cloud.”

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How do I get storage management software?

The best way to find the right storage management software for you is to do your homework. Google, participate in user groups, network at trade shows, read analysts’ reports, ask vendors for customer references, and see which offering is most cost-effective.

There are many catches, such as products that only deliver full-feature sets when used with certain hardware or standards-based installations in name only. Name-brand products may have a premium price, while open-source products may lack the support you need.

Peters opined: “For the shrinking number of apps that need to stay on-premises, the move to iSCSI and shared direct-attached storage application architectures (e.g., Hadoop) is driving out much of the fiber channel SAN complexity that drove the birth of the stillborn storage management market in the early-2000s. NetApp, IBM, HP, and Dell/EMC are duking it out for the small sliver of the dwindling on-premises storage management market that’s left in the data center. We feel that what’s left is an element of storage management that should be–and increasingly is–built into an on-premises storage array at no additional cost.”

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Note: This article was first published on October 3, 2016. Updates are added when there is new information about this topic.