Managing storage from your mobile phone

Aptare adds capacity management to its Web platform

Being an optimist, I like to think that storage management is or will be getting better. It's hard, however, to ignore the fact that many admins don't know much about what's going on in the storage boxes they are sitting on. And it's not their fault, as management has been the Cinderella of storage apps for many years, and she hasn't found a prince to rescue her quite yet.

Well, until now, that is, because Aptare StorageConsole has the potential to be crowned prince of storage management applications if its promise is fulfilled.

Let me start with a clarification: "StorageConsole is not an application," explains Tony Wessels, vice president of marketing at Aptare. "Think of it as an OS or a Web-based platform where you run applications."

Last year Aptare released Backup Manager, the first such application to run on StorageConsole. This year came Capacity Manager, which addresses how much storage is actually accessible, allocated, and used. Capacity Manager offers a level of granularity and accuracy that makes you wonder how Aptare can do it working from a browser and without installing a local agent on each data source.

Aptare won't stop at these two applications. During our briefing, I learned that a Replication Manager modules is already in the works and that other, unspecified applications will follow.

To be picky, Aptare's software is not completely agent-free. It needs a Data Collector at each location to gather statistics from backup servers such as IBM Tivoli Storage Manager, Veritas (Symantec) NetBackup, and others. Even so, it's still interesting to understand its data collection process in more detail. In essence, StorageConsole takes advantage of the backup vendors' APIs to extract data from each server and channel that data over the LAN to the Data Collector.

From there, the data is pushed -- almost literally, using PUSH technology -- over the Web to a Portal Server and then stored to an Oracle 10g database. The Data Collector uses a similar approach and the same route to collect capacity information from storage arrays, file systems, and databases. Applications such as Backup Manager and Capacity Manager work on that Oracle 10G database, which is updated, usually every day, according to your schedule.

How does a user run an application -- say, Backup Manager? By pointing the browser at the Portal Server and logging in.

Aptare didn't miss the opportunity to say that customers with cell phone Web access can get to the portal from anywhere there is a wireless beam. Isn't that a cool icebreaker at a party? And obviously one more biz reason to justify that expensive gizmo you carry around.

Capacity Manager will probably find a much larger target audience than Backup Manager will. After all, only the largest datacenters need a tool to shed light on what's happening in their backups, while just about every company can benefit from knowing how storage is actually serving its purpose. With estimates of storage occupancy ratios as low as 40 percent or less, companies are probably spending twice as much on storage than they need to -- and don't even know it.

Will Capacity Manager work for you? It depends: Given its API-reliant data collection, StorageConsole doesn't work with all storage platforms, but you could be in luck if your gear is branded EMC, Hitachi, HP, or Sun. Actually, by month's end, Aptare should have added NetApp to its list of supported vendors.

Taking Capacity Manager for a ride was fun. I did not see the data collection process because I was working from my browser on a database already filled with data. Creating one of its numerous reports is something that any person who has ever used a computer should be able to do. Busy, data-rich reports such as this (snippet) of array capacity utilization can be hard to browse on a cell phone screen, but they will give admins enough ammunition to point their finger at your company's storage hogs.

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