Manage your storage resources from any Web browser

Systems administrators have an old saying: Users' disk-space requirements always expand to consume all free space on the file server. If you're a longtime systems administrator, you have firsthand knowledge of this phenomenon. Until now, the only available option for Windows NT was to closely monitor users' disk utilization and add disk space as needs grew. HighGround Systems' Storage Resource Manager (SRM) 3.0 Enterprise Edition can help you manage growth and better understand the amount of disk space your users need for different purposes.

SRM is a client/server application that consists of three components: the server, the agent, and a Web-browser interface. The server is responsible for maintaining information about your monitored machines. SRM collection agents that you install on your servers and workstations collect the information. Collection agents are available for Intel and Alpha systems running NT Server or NT Workstation. The collection agents feed the data to the SRM server, which organizes the data.

The Web-browser interface component is a shortcut to launch your Web browser. During installation, Active Server Pages (ASP) installs on your Web server. The setup program adds a virtual page to your Web server's configuration. You accomplish SRM's management and data-retrieval activities through the Web-browser interface. The beauty of this solution is that you can be anywhere, on any Windows machine, and simply launch a Web browser with the appropriate URL to manage and retrieve SRM information. The software doesn't limit you to managing your environment from certain machines with a special client application program.

SRM is a comprehensive collection of Web-based tools for managing your storage resources. Eight categories group these tools: disk space, user quotas, capacity planning, directory management, file management, disk drive management, asset management, and backup reports. You can use the Tasks tab of SRM's Web-based main menu to access each category. The Resources tab of the menu lets you configure the specific resources for the product to manage, and the Options tab lets you choose options to set on the program's operation.

The disk-space tool lets you generate a series of reports on your network's disk-space utilization. Four options are available. The Network-wide option shows all SRM-managed hard disks on your network. The By Computer option summarizes the disk space of each computer. The By Partition option summarizes the disk space of each computer's logical disk volume. The By Directory option summarizes the utilization of each directory on each network computer's logical disk. Click any of the options to access a summary screen, which you can use to drill down to lower levels and view more disk-utilization detail. As Screen 1, page 146, shows, the product gives you advanced charting options to view a graphical representation of your disk utilization.

You can use SRM to establish user quotas. Unlike other products with strict, directory-level quotas, SRM lets you establish quotas that travel with users, regardless of where they store files. You can create networkwide quotas for users, or you can limit users' quotas to specific share points on your network.

SRM's capacity-planning tool is a useful feature. Using capacity planning, you can graphically examine your disk-space utilization by network, computer, partition, or directory. You can examine historical disk-space utilization to identify peak periods and monitor upward or downward trends in overall disk utilization. You can use the information to predict when you'll need additional storage, how much additional storage you'll need, and how long the additional storage will last.

SRM's directory-management and file-management tools have somewhat limited capabilities. The directory-management and file-management tools report usage but don't provide management of files and directories (e.g., creating shares, modifying security). The directory-management tool lets you view your largest directories, obtain usage reports on directories, and view established share points. The file-management tool lets you view a list of large files on your machine, obtain a report on the file access load (i.e., the total files accessed per machine), and conduct a stale file analysis (i.e., files not accessed for a period of time).

You use the disk-drive-management and asset-management tools for physical inventory management instead of network storage management. Using the disk-drive-management tool, you can view your hard disks' defect rates, take an inventory of your computers' hard disks, and calculate your hard disks' performance rates. The asset-management tool lets you view inventory information on all the computers, hard disks, partitions, and directories that you configured and manage with SRM.

The final tool, backup reports, provides several reports to assess your system's risk of data loss. The file-modification option shows an interactive graph that lets you click the graph to obtain details about the files you've modified over a period of time. The files-at-risk option provides a list of files susceptible to serious data loss. The coverage-analysis option reports file vulnerability for the computers in your managed domain.

The SRM software is advanced and requires the latest of several supporting Microsoft components to set up and function correctly. SRM's setup was difficult in my environment. SRM requires a Web browser, Web server, and SQL server machine (not on the same machine).

I installed SRM on two machines to distribute the product's load. The first machine was my Digital Prioris HX590 running NT 4.0 and Internet Information Server (IIS) 3.0. The second machine was my Micronics-based dual-Pentium II running NT 4.0 and SQL Server 6.5.

I placed the SRM CD-ROM into my Prioris server to start the installation. After launching the installation program, the product performs a prerequisite check to determine whether your server meets or exceeds SRM's requirements. SRM requires NT 4.0 with Service Pack 3 (SP3), IIS 4.0, ASP, and ActiveX Data Objects (ADO). I found that my server lacked nearly every prerequisite. Despite a previous installation of SP3, SRM's install program insisted that I didn't have SP3 installed. I also needed to upgrade IIS from version 3.0 to 4.0, and my system showed neither the ASP nor the ADO components.

I reinstalled SP3, but SRM's installation program still insisted that I didn't have SP3 installed. I performed a fresh installation of NT 4.0 followed by SP3. To install IIS 4.0 and the accompanying ADO and ASP components, I installed Internet Explorer (IE) 4.01, then the NT 4.0 Option Pack from which I installed IIS 4.0. I had a copy of the Option Pack in my Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) CD-ROM library.

After I rebuilt the entire system, my server passed SRM's stringent prerequisite check. The installation program then asks which components you want to install. I opted for all three: server, agent, and Web-browser interface. Individual installation routines run in succession for each component.

At this point I ran into my next problem with the SRM software. During SRM's server component installation, the program asks for the name of the SQL Server machine to host your management database. The installation program computes an approximate database size and populates the database with the required tables and fields. You have no control over the naming convention SRM uses to create your SQL Server databases. SRM uses the following convention: NAMEOFSERVER_SRMDBD for the name of the data device, NAMEOFSERVER_SRMDBDL for the name of the log device, and NAMEOFSERVER_SRMDB for the database name. During reinstallation, I named the machine PRIORIS-HX590. Thus, SRM attempted to create a database PRIORIS-HX590_SRMDB. Because hyphens are illegal characters in SQL Server device and database names, the installation failed. No mechanism in the install process can override these default names. To bypass the hyphen problem, I right-clicked Network Neighborhood to access Properties, then manually changed the machine name from PRIORIS-HX590 to PRIORIS. (The 3.0.1 release of SRM corrected the problem of a hyphenated SQL Server name.) I rebooted and restarted the installation process, which created the SQL Server database successfully. I had the flexibility to reboot twice and restart the installation in my test environment, but you might not have this option in a production environment.

After the SRM installation completed, I was ready to use the product. But when I attempted to run SRM, I encountered several error messages. A 15-minute call to HighGround's technical support straightened out the problems. I needed to install Microsoft Data Access Components (MDAC) 2.0 and make changes to my IIS configuration, which didn't automatically occur during installation. After I resolved these minor issues, the product performed admirably.

Some SRM capabilities require an adequate period of uptime before you can use them. For instance, the capacity-planning tool is useful only after you run the product for at least a full business cycle.

You can use other tools immediately. SRM's quota capabilities particularly interested me. I wanted to determine how accurately SRM calculates user quotas and how consistently SRM performs automatic notification using an alert for exceeded quotas. After a little documentation digging, I established user quotas for three users in my domain. Screen 2 shows a typical summary report you can generate, using the software to analyze exactly where your users stand in their quota usage. The quota feature worked wonderfully, automatically notifying me when users went over quota.

During testing, I also used other SRM reporting features. For instance, when a system backup took more than one tape, I used the file-management and directory-management tools to locate the largest files and directories. You can use the file-management and directory-management tools to determine a more appropriate backup strategy when you need to change tapes during a backup.

In my tests, the features I found most useful were the interactive charts and graphs. Most of the data-summarization screens contain an icon that you click to see a graphical representation of the trend and detail data on the summary screens. These visual cues are important when you intend to make a presentation to management requesting additional budgetary allowances to purchase more storage capacity.

SRM is truly an enterprise-level product with a great deal of functionality to offer. The 3.0.1 release includes an enhanced installation module to install missing prerequisites on the target system and solve the types of problems I encountered with installation. I recommend SRM to administrators who need to better understand the way their organization uses resources and who want to better manage storage resources.

SRM offers tremendous features and is a steal. You can't combine other products to offer a similar feature set for the same price. HighGround doesn't base licensing on the number of users or the amount of disk space managed; therefore, you can add more users and more storage to your servers at any time without worrying about licensing problems. You can obtain a demonstration version of the product from HighGround's Web site. If you have the budget, and plan to invest more money for storage capacity, I'd advise investing in SRM.

Storage Resource Manager 3.0 Enterprise Edition
Contact: HighGround Systems * 508-460-5152
Price: $2500, plus $400 per managed Windows NT server and $50 per managed NT workstation
System Requirements: 233MHz Pentium processor or better, Windows NT Server 4.0 with Service Pack 3 or later, SQL Server 6.5 with Service Pack 4, Internet Explorer 4.01, Internet Information Server 4.0, Microsoft Data Access Components 2.0, 64MB of RAM, 20MB of hard disk space, 800 * 600 VGA screen resolution