Storage systems are inherently complex and IT users need to manage their storage environment’s performance, capacity utilization, and health constantly. Vendors have long helped with Call Home capabilities where a storage system sends storage usage data to a vendor. Now IBM has turbocharged Call Home with Storage Insights where more data is collected, where users are able to better self-service their needs through using a feature-rich dashboard, and where IBM can provide deeper and broader technical support when the user needs that extra level of storage management support. Let’s look more deeply into IBM Storage Insights.

IBM Storage Insights Delivers a Turbocharged Call Home Capability

Call Home has long been a standard and well-accepted feature for many block-based storage systems whereby metadata (such as on performance and capacity utilization) is transmitted from a customer datacenter to a vendor site for storage monitoring purposes. The data can then be used for diagnostic, analysis, and planning purposes that can include proactive alerts to avert a potential problem (such as an early detection of a bad batch of disks that are starting to degrade below acceptable levels) or to more rapidly accelerate the resolution of a problem that has unexpectedly occurred.

Although Call Home capabilities vary among vendors, traditional systems can be limited in a number of ways:

  • Reactive alerts only to error conditions such as hardware failures as limited metadata prevents broader usage value; for example, among many other concerns, this means that proactive support for configuration optimization may not be available
  • Users do not have an interface with the system at the vendor site that allows them to self-service, self-manage the process as much as possible; that means a greater (and unnecessary) level of reliance on the vendor for support; while necessary support is valuable, you do not want to in-effect delegate decision-making to someone who is not as familiar with your storage systems as you are
  • May focus on individual storage systems rather than on all the storage systems so there is no unified pane of glass for an IT user to view all critical events easily (usually at a single glance); this makes a storage administrator’s life more difficult

The overview of IBM Storage Insights below reveals how IBM turbocharges Storage Insights to overcome those limitations and to provide even more features and functionality.

Overview of IBM Storage Insights

IBM Storage Insights is software that runs on the IBM Cloud. A lightweight data collector installed in the user data center streams performance, capacity, asset, and configuration metadata to the IBM Cloud. This data is metadata because it is data about data rather than the actual applications data, which the data collector cannot touch. Metadata flows in only one direction, from the user data center to the IBM Cloud via HTTPS.

Among the types of metadata provided are:

  • Performance metrics, including I/O rates, read and write data rates, and response times
  • Capacity information, such as used space, unassigned space, and the compression ratio
  • Storage system resource inventory and configuration information, such as volumes, pools, disks, and ports

The metadata is made available to the Storage Operations Center at the IBM Cloud. The metadata is analyzed and presented in the form of a dashboard where those authorized can see the performance (such as I/O rate, data rate, and response time), health, capacity, and call home events for all IBM block storage systems from a single, unified pane of glass. Each storage system is displayed on the dashboard in a small rectangular slab called a tile.  Numerous tiles (say 28 depending upon screen size) can be displayed on a single screen before scrolling would be necessary; however, little or no scrolling is likely to be necessary as system tiles for devices with a critical event automatically reshuffle to the top of the screen and the user can also press a filter button to see only those events that require immediate attention. Users can also create custom dashboards showing a subset of storage systems. The user, say a storage administrator, can click on the tile with a critical event and drilldown to a pull-out drawer that provides more details to help diagnose the issue. This self-service diagnostic data can often help the user resolve the problem without having to request IBM support.

IBM follows a number of security practices in the IBM Cloud, including physical, organizational, access, and security controls. IBM Cloud is ISO/IEC 27001 Information Management Security certified. Access is restricted to authorized user company personnel as well as the IBM Cloud team that is responsible for the daily operation and maintenance of IBM Cloud instances and the IBM Support team that is responsible for investigating and closing service tickets.

IBM Storage Insights overcomes the limitations of traditional Call Home systems:

  • Although some problems cannot be prevented and a reactive approach is necessary, Storage Insights provides a trouble ticket process that can speed the resolution of a problem. However, Storage Insights enables proactive insights as well. For example, a health check may show only a single connection to a server from a storage system. Although everything is running fine now, this exposes a potential future problem that could be prevented by taking action now to add an extra connection.
  • The dashboard empowers storage administrators to control their own destiny better through its self-service capabilities,
  • The dashboard also enables a storage administrator to manage all IBM block storage as a whole that is much easier that trying to manage on a piecemeal basis.

In addition, IBM offers capabilities, features, and functions far beyond traditional Call Home approaches:

  • In addition to event and problem resolution management tool that tends to be the limit of traditional Call Home systems, IT can use infrastructure planning tools to forecast capacity growth, plan purchases, and optimize data placement; this means that IT can save money through better utilization of existing storage as well as making sure that they do not overinvest in making future storage system purchases.
  • IBM Support has a wealth of data, including historical data, and can use data scientists who fish the data in a secure data lake to do analyses such as using best practice thresholds to help identify anomalies, such as why an application’s performance suffers at unexpected times.
  • Being cloud-based means that IBM can add features and functions on the fly: everyone has access to the most current version.
  • The data is protected in accordance with GDPR.

IBM Storage Insights is available for free; IBM does this as it strengthens their relationship with their customers. A fee-based Pro version is available, but IT should become familiar with the standard version first before deciding if the Pro version (such as capturing longer periods of historical data for planning purposes) is necessary.

Mesabi musings

Managing a large, complex storage infrastructure has always been a difficult task. Not only do applications have to deliver the needed performance (such as response time), but they have to do so without running out of space (capacity) and without unexpected downtime (health). Moreover, IT wants to do this while using their storage resources most efficiently from an infrastructure investment management perspective (as there is no sense in paying more than necessary for desired levels of performance).

For IBM block storage users, the process has just gotten a lot easier with the introduction of IBM Storage Insights. IBM continues to put the IBM Cloud to good use as Storage Insights enables an effective self-service capability for the IT user through a unified view of all of its IBM storage through a single pane of glass along with a rich and robust set of IBM Support (such as the use of data scientists) services as necessary.

And since the price is free, no one who uses Call Home now should hesitate to adopt IBM Storage Insights. In addition to all flash storage systems and software-defined storage, the type of features and functions that IBM Storage Insights provides is likely to see a similarly high adoption rate because of the value that it can deliver in managing the health, capacity, and performance of a storage environment.