Storage Quota Management

Users can chew up disk space in seconds. Quota Server can deal with these space hungry people.

Quota Server Admin+ by Northern is a flexible quota utility for Windows that has the ability to track disk space consumption on file servers throughout your environment. It can send notifications of quota violations by popup or e-mail to administrators and users, and can perform executable launches at these events.

Quota Server Admin+ watches the quota characteristics closely of all the managed agents on your enterprise domain and can tie the information into a central console—very handy. It can archive the metadata about your quotas in a SQL database for long term trending and interface with Microsoft Exchange for notification.

However, quota server agents can only run on Windows NT machines. This means if you want to monitor non-Windows file systems, such as Linux or Novell, you have to use the SMB protocol/service and connect to their shares from a Windows-managed agent. This is also the case when using Storage Area Networks and Network Attached Storage. It could become very cumbersome for a machine to do all this.

Installation was sort of a sore spot with me. If you've ever read anything from Web designer and consultant Vincent Flanders (check out Web Pages That Suck), you know that he harps on the use of Flash and vague navigation. When you put in the Quota Server Admin+ CD, you're greeted with a Flash movie of a buck in silhouette surrounded by five color fields. That's it. You have to mouse over each field in order to find what package to install. Pretty lame. You then click a field and you get a flash movie before the install. When I'm installing software, I want to get the software installed, not watch little Flash movies. This is something that personally I can live without.

When I initially set up the product on my machine, the computer was configured as a Windows 2000 stand-alone server as part of a workgroup. After installation, the client wouldn't talk to the service, so the product itself wouldn't function properly. So, if your network is not an NT domain structure (NT4 or AD), for whatever reason, this product won't work for it.

After I set up the domain, QS performed a domain discovery and instantly found the server running the QS service. Then I was able to add it to the Quota Client for management. QS also has a remote install function to push the server service to other servers.

I set up simple quotas and started doing the file shuffle. QS kept track of these things real-time—as I copied and deleted files, the server showed me up-to-date information. Quotas can be set on up to three adjustable thresholds, providing e-mail, pop-up notification and executable launches when specific thresholds are breached.

Quotas can be expanded to do file-blocks, quota checking at intervals, user quotas, either manual or auto defined, and templates for creating quotas quickly. All of these quotas can be watched and configured from the central console.

The server service starts out moderately weighted at about 4 MB. As you add quotas and reports for the service to work, the service expands. With one quota and five reports going, the service expanded to 7.1 MB. If you start pulling many reports from the server, it can really begin to affect performance. It can also fill up the NT error log quickly, depending on how much you configure.

Northern considers this product to be a storage resource management (SRM) tool. QS has some rudimentary SRM functionality but doesn't really live up to the definition of an ideal SRM. Table 1 shows some basic SRM requirements and how QSA+ stacks up.

Table 1. SRM attributes and QS support
SRM Attribute Quota Server Admin+ Support
Single Interface Yes, three choices, native, web, MMC
Detect new storage Yes, but only in the form of computers with SMB
Natively connects to any storage element No. Only works with SMB. Agents run on Windows only.
Policy Based Yes. Quotas can be done by user/share. Access to administration can be granted.
Asset Management No
Capacity Planning Not really. Reports give information only, no projections
Media Management No
Identify Redundant Data Yes
Identify Stale Data Somewhat. Only lists number of stale files. Doesn't identify them.
Event Logging to Network Management Software Yes. Events written to NT Event Application Log. Using the SDK you can use SNMP Enterprise management software.
Media Performance Monitoring No
Generate Simple, Easy to Read Reports Yes
Easy to use. Enterprise Storage Information immediate. No. SRM functionality is not easy to use. You can configure reports, but it takes a lot of time to arrive at what an SRM can do. You don't get an accurate picture immediately.

QS has three different administration options, a native client, a snap-in for the MMC and the newest interface, WebStation. WebStation installs into the default IIS web directory as a subdirectory. It then instructs the user to configure a Virtual Directory in IIS to link it to a Web site. After some configuration, WebStation comes up, using the same interface as the native client. This functionality can be pretty valuable if you need to watch your enterprise storage from the Internet. Although the native client and WebStation are functional and well laid out, I prefer to use the MMC snap-in, as it's a lot more streamlined and gives me all the functionality I need without the overhead.

Quota Server Administrator
QSA+'s interface is well designed providing the user with an informative console (Click image to view larger version.)

Quota Server Admin+ is priced at $1,295 per managed server, which includes WebStation and the Northern Site Utilities, a handy toolbox of small management tools. With just Quota Server, you're paying $895 for the product, which could get pricey if you have multiple servers to manage. And with the market advent of enterprise "manage-everything" ware, this could end up being just additional functionality in another product.

All in all, Quota Server Admin+ is a good product for what it is, an enterprise quota management product. There is a lot of power here for those who like to configure their own functionality. But there's some excessive marketing influence woven in and throughout this product, and its SRM functionality is too rudimentary to make it a serious contender in the SRM market.

About the Author

Rick A. Butler, MCSE+I, is the Director of Information Services for the United States Hang Gliding Association.

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