Easily and quickly solve your storage infrastructure management woes

Most end users take storage for granted. However, the need for storage continues to increase, and organizations must not only support their existing storage infrastructure but also find ways to monitor its usage. A recent study estimated that most organizations’ storage capacity increases by about 45 percent each year. At this growth rate, a typical organization will support more than 20GB of storage by 2003. HighGround Systems offers a solution—Storage Resource Manager (SRM) 4.0— that lets systems administrators easily manage their storage infrastructure, as well as monitor and estimate its usage and growth.

SRM is a Web-based storage tool that monitors storage on various network systems (e.g., Windows 2000, Windows NT, Linux 6.2 and Linux 6.1, Novell NetWare 5.1 and NetWare 4.2, Tru64 UNIX 5.0 and UNIX 4.0F, AIX 4.3 and AIX 4.2, Solaris 2.7 and Solaris 2.6, Hewlett-Packard HP-UX 11.0 and HP-UX 10.20). The utility lets you monitor individual user or group usage, helps track changes in storage, and helps estimate when you need to increase you network’s storage capacity.

SRM 4.0 is a family of products that includes SRM Enterprise Edition (which has SRM File Prospector and Backup Reporting features), SRM Enterprise Edition for NetApp, and SRM Exchange Edition. The CD-ROM that I received from the vendor had all the SRM 4.0 products but didn’t include the two SRM Enterprise Edition features. For this review, I evaluated SRM Enterprise Edition only.

SRM 4.0 uses an agent to collect storage data on each monitored system. The SRM Enterprise Edition setup program includes different agents for SRM Enterprise Edition and SRM Exchange Edition. You can, however, use a dedicated installation program to install these agents. After the agent executes (in Win2K and NT, the agents run as a service), it collects the desired information about the monitored system’s storage and sends the information to the SRM server. The SRM server stores the data the agents collect from all the monitored systems and stores it in an SQL database. The SQL database can run Microsoft SQL Server 7.0 or SQL Server 6.5 and can exist on the same physical system or on another network server.

Adventures in Installation
SRM Enterprise Edition includes one CD-ROM with a nifty little binder for the hard-copy documentation. I found the documentation to be very well written and complete. For SRM Enterprise Edition and the SRM agents, the CD-ROM has one installation program that greatly reduces installation time because you don’t need to launch the setup program for every component you install. The CD-ROM also includes the Win2K and NT agents in separate installation files, Linux and UNIX agents in compressed .tar files, and several plugins for monitoring different devices (e.g., RAID, Storage Area Network—SAN, Network Attached Storage—NAS—) so that you can install agents separately from the application.

I installed SRM Enterprise Edition on my network, which consists of 12 Win2K and NT Servers ranging from a dual-processor 200MHz Pentium II-based system to an 800MHz dual-processor Pentium III system. I monitored a total of 235GB of storage on one domain. The Win2K Servers had Service Pack 1 (SP1) installed, and the NT servers had SP6a. I installed SQL Server 7.0 on a dedicated 533MHz Celeron system. The smallest amount of system memory was 128MB of RAM, but most servers had 256MB of RAM, and a few had 512MB to 1GB of RAM. I installed SRM Enterprise Edition on a dual-processor Pentium system with 512MB of RAM.

Unfortunately, the installation didn’t go as smoothly as the vendor advertised. Installing SRM Enterprise Edition and the SRM agent went well, and the installation program contacted SQL Server and created the database. However, when I launched the SRM program, I received a SQL connection error. Rather than attempt to troubleshoot the problem myself, I contacted HighGround Systems’ technical support. The technicians told me that they hadn’t seen this problem before, so we tackled it head-on. The vendor discovered that a SQL security problem forced you to recreate the SRM security configuration on SQL Server.

After I performed the necessary security configuration, I could launch SRM Enterprise Edition but received error messages and incomplete windows throughout the software program. In fact, the button bar that should reside on the left of the screen didn’t appear. I contacted HighGround Systems’ technical support again, and the technician told me that this problem was another unfamiliar bug. After technical support researched the problem (which took about 15 minutes), a technician contacted me with the solution. SRM uses a Microsoft Access data source to display some menus, but my system didn’t have the Access data source installed. The setup program didn’t determine whether the Access data source was installed on my system, and the installation manual didn’t mention that I needed the data source. After I installed the required data source, I didn’t have any problems launching SRM Enterprise Edition. All in all, HighGround Systems’ technical support did a wonderful job of troubleshooting the problem in about an hour.

After I installed the initial SRM system and databases, I installed the different agents on the other servers on my network. I browsed to the SRM server and noticed a share that the program created when it installed the agents. This share contained a program for installing the agents on Win2K and NT systems, and the setup program is similar to the one that installs SRM software on the SRM server. I could actually install a complete copy of SRM on this system, rather then just install the agents.

SRM Enterprise Edition uses a Web-browser interface for administration and management. Because the console is Web-based, the SRM server must have Microsoft IIS installed. IIS lets any system that uses network access (whether local or on the Internet) contact the console that has SRM installed. When contacted locally, SRM uses the local logon credentials. However, SRM prompts users that contact the program through the Internet to enter their domain logon information. The authentication method that the SRM 4.0 software uses depends on the IIS configuration.

Customizing Data
SRM Enterprise Edition provides several options so that you can customize the data types that you collect. The program includes three sections—Tasks, Resources, and Options. The Tasks tab, which Figure 1 shows, lets you view current storage capacity and consumption rate for the monitored servers, monitor individual user and group usage, and plan your backup coverage (e.g., ensure that the OS backs up all desired data). The Resources tab is where you find most report formats. From this tab, you can create different reports about network storage devices, computers, and file systems. The Options tab lets you configure SRM features, including group setup, alert thresholds, scanning options, and report filters.

After I selected options to collect the desired information about my network, I wanted to test how easy accessing the data was. When I selected the Domain Report from the Resources tab, the Domain Report summary displayed the total amount of storage space that my current domain uses, as Figure 2 shows. I could also select options to view individual computers, users, and groups.

You might initially feel overwhelmed by all the information that SRM Enterprise Edition provides. Although the program presents this information in an easy-to-understand format, you might find that accessing information requires some practice. After I learned my way around the interface and where the program stores information, getting the reports I wanted was an easy process.

One of the nicest features that SRM Enterprise Edition offers is that it lets you create backup planning and backup coverage reports. I used the Backup Planning feature to view the amount of new data that each of my systems stores. I could then control the backup schedule to ensure that the OS properly backed up all the new information. From past experience, I have found that the one piece of data that I need to restore from the backup is the one that the OS didn’t back up. The Backup Coverage reports solve that problem because they show you whether the OS backed up all your data.

Thumbs Up
I found that SRM Enterprise Edition performed as promised, and if you control a large amount of storage on your network, the utility is well worth the purchase price. The amount of available information and the different reporting options are very useful features, and the reporting function is quick and complete. A big plus is the program’s Backup Coverage feature, which lets you detect any data that the OS isn’t backing up. Despite the initial setup woes I experienced, the product installed on the remaining systems without any problems (although the steep learning curve for the program’s interface needs minimizing). This tool is a must for any systems administrator who manages a large number of servers or network storage devices. And organizations that need to estimate storage usage in the future will find this application extremely useful.

Storage Resource Manager Enterprise Edition
Contact: HighGround Systems * 508-460-5152 or 800-395-9385
Web: http://www.highground.com
Price: $1000 per managed element
Decision Summary
Pros: Provides one point of access to all network storage; lets systems administrators monitor storage usage on systems, graph trends, and estimate storage usage; calculates backup coverage to detect data that the OS isn’t backing up
Cons: Has a steep learning curve; installation documentation is incomplete