IT Infrastructure Insights

What You Can’t Do with Your Excel Spreadsheet

Aug 07, 2019

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The most popular resource used by most IT departments to manage their storage environment is a single tool – spreadsheets.  But are spreadsheets really “good enough” to do the job? If not, why do so many customers rely on spreadsheets to manage their environment instead of implementing advanced tools for observability and management? 

Yes, they have low up-front costs. Programs like Excel are practically free compared to most IT tools. But their limitations create significant costs in the long run.

Let’s first look at how these spreadsheet processes typically work, then what their limitations are, and finally how they can be improved.

Typical Spreadsheet Implementation

When storage admins and infrastructure architects use spreadsheets for storage visibility, it often follows the following outline of steps.

Step 1:  Create a spreadsheet listing all of the enterprise’s storage devices and include multiple data columns for each device or array.

  • Usable Storage
  • Used
  • Free
  • Allocated
  • Type of storage
  • Etc.

Step 2:  Access each and every array monthly. Manually input the data from each array into the spreadsheet.

Step 3:  Automate chart creation and produce PDFs to send to executives.

Step 4: To analyze pool-level data, repeat the process for every pool in every analyzed array.

Step 5: To do capacity planning, build forecasting formulas and automations for your data.

Limitations of Spreadsheet-Based Storage Reporting

This type of spreadsheet process works (up to a point), but there are flaws and complexities to consider. 

High Likelihood of Error. With so much manual data entry, the likelihood of typing a data point incorrectly is high – and can render critical reports such as forecasting incorrect. 

Excessive Manual Efforts. Tedious data collection and report-building can consume hours – even weeks – of an administrator’s time. Hopefully, your staff is well-compensated for their technical expertise. Do you really want them spending all their time typing data? 

Risk of Brain Drain. Given the complexity of modern enterprise infrastructures, these are not standard spreadsheet templates that can be easily replicated. Building them takes extensive knowledge – and is usually the exclusive domain of one or two employees. What happens if they leave the company? Will it be easy to maintain the same visibility?

Limited Observability. Even with all that effort, spreadsheets typically only illuminate high-level data. Think about all the arrays in your environment: all the pools, LUNs, switches, virtual clusters, and VMs. Does your team really have time to manually collect every detail? 

Finding Alternatives to Spreadsheet Management

Many IT leaders consider this process “good enough” because they think:

  • Management software is expensive
  • Management tools are complicated and need experts to operate
  • There are few consequences to missing lower-level data

What if there were a product that is low cost, requires no expertise, can be deployed for everyone to use, and provides both summary and detail information from all your multi-platform devices on a single pane of glass?  

Would that change your mind? 

It did for all of Visual One Intelligence’s customers.

Let’s look at three specific examples of how Visual One Intelligence provides superior (and easy-to-use) infrastructure monitoring, forecasting, and visibility at affordable rates: 

Tracking Capacity & Performance Utilization

The very first screen users access on the Visual One Intelligence dashboard has data that looks fairly similar to the data found in many spreadsheets, along with lots of additional data not found in manually generated spreadsheets – either because the data is impossible to collect manually (like performance data), or because it is too time consuming and costly to collect manually. 

Not only is this data available for every period where data is collected, but it is also tracked over time so you can see your storage utilization trends plus storage performance trends over time (at every level of your infrastructure – Array, Pool, Host, LUN, cluster, VM, etc.).

Similar screens allow users to quickly run trend, utilization, and capacity planning reports for any set of devices at any level – all in just a few clicks.

For example, you might want to see latency trends by pool within an array. In Excel, it would take a long time gather the data and run the automations. But with Visual One Intelligence, you can see the trends in less than three clicks.

When you do, maybe you notice one pool is trending up unexpectedly. Seeing this trend early allows you to take action before users and application teams start complaining about performance slowdowns.

Identifying Wasted Free Space

Wasted free space – referred to as “orphaned storage” in Visual One Intelligence – is storage that appears on the array as “used” because it is no longer mapped to any resource consumer. This happens for a variety of reasons – for example, projects start and are then canceled or the hosts are decommissioned, but the storage is not reclaimed.

This data is virtually impossible to get when using a spreadsheet to manage storage – however, with Visual One Intelligence it takes less than five minutes to spot the wasted space and find out why it is marked as “used.”

Reclaiming orphaned storage has saved customers over $250,000 by preventing unnecessary storage purchases and instead leveraging what was already available on the data center floor. With the spreadsheet model, this customer would have purchased additional unneeded storage because this data was totally invisible to executive management and the storage administrator.

Monitoring Storage Health

Visual One Intelligence gathers comprehensive health analysis within infrastructures. This includes data about failed components, firmware, configurations, allocations, utilization, and more.

This health analysis is performed for every on-prem array, virtual machine and cluster, SAN switch, etc. Upload and error trends are tracked over time to help users proactive improve operations.

The intent of this analysis is to ensure customers are aware of the health of their storage infrastructure and can take action to prevent or resolve any issues quickly – avoiding outages, slowdowns, and errors.

Although we monitor for over 100 best practice alerts, consider just one example: preventing slowdowns and outages due to over-provisioned pools. 

Typically, companies may have at least 10-30 storage arrays broken down into as many as 250 (or more) storage pools. Manually capturing data about all those pools is difficult. Besides, is it really that important?

Well, a full pool can have the same impact as a full array: everything stops processing, emergency lights go off, additional storage is purchased, etc. 

Visual One Intelligence automatically monitors pool-level provisioning and alerts users when appropriate. (Not every instance of over-provisioning needs an alert. For example, if a pool is thick provisioned and has high utilization, it will not be flagged.)

This helps storage administrators and managers find hidden risk – the needle in the haystack – thereby improving everyone’s productivity, avoiding unplanned outages and keeping IT Infrastructure running smoothly.

Why Not Visual One Intelligence?

Many companies dismiss infrastructure management tools because they assume they will be too expensive, take too much time, or lack business value. None of these things are true when it comes to Visual One Intelligence (although they certainly can be true about spreadsheets).

One customer said, “We use the data provided in Visual One Intelligence every week. It shows us the important issues – we take action in advance, and as a result we have reduced our overall storage spend by 18%, totally eliminated all unplanned outages, and improved our overall customer satisfaction for our service delivery.”

Want to know more about how Visual One Intelligence can work in your environment? Schedule a live demo with one of our specialists.