Inside the Fibre Channel MIB

Posted on October 01, 2000

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The MIB enables users to manage Fibre Channel components in heterogeneous storage area networks.

By Greg Nuss

A key challenge for IT managers implementing storage area networks (SANs) today is managing numerous SAN devices from several different vendors. With a bevy of different storage products and vendors from which to choose, these managers need to be confident that they can easily deploy and manage interoperable, enterprise-class SANs.

The FibreAlliance (www.fibrealliance.org) was formed because of the need to maintain and manage compatibility among a wide variety of SAN devices. One main goal of this 43-member consortium has been to develop and define an SNMP-based Fibre Channel Management Information Base (MIB) to ensure compatibility among SAN components.

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A MIB is a group of parameters, or variables, whose values define and describe the status of a network of components. Because the Fibre Channel MIB provides a common method for managing multiple devices across a heterogeneous storage network, it can act as a building block for developing other SAN interoperability initiatives throughout the storage industry. The FibreAlliance has been working with the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) to ensure the MIB meets the needs of users and vendors.

The FibreAlliance's work on the MIB has taken place in three phases. Phase I, which was completed in September 1999, provides the baseline for all network management software tools. It provides system-level information and enables a network management station to launch third-party management applications on any type of addressable component, or Connectivity Unit of the SAN. By accessing the URLs of the Connectivity Units, IT managers can obtain information from connected devices for retrieval by the network management station.

Phase II expands on Phase I functionality. New features include the ability to gather statistics from Connectivity Unit ports, such as an environmental sensor sensing heat or a port's frame counts, as well as auto-discovery of SAN devices. This enables the management frameworks to provide a consistent interface to key SAN components for subcomponent performance management and subcomponent health monitoring, without launching into a component's own device manager. Phase II was completed last December.

Phase III, which completes the definition of the port-level statistics, was submitted to the IETF in May.

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The FibreAlliance MIB provides information to a single, comprehensive storage management console, which enables IT managers to easily monitor the health, configuration management, and growth of the entire topology. This framework is depicted via a graphical topology of the SAN and is built with information from the framework server. The framework server communicates with the SAN devices through agents and specific SNMP GET commands. If a configuration has its own subnetwork, there is a proxy for the SAN devices connected to it. Often, management framework programs have color-coded icons and links, so managers can identify problem areas by color.

The MIB also enables users to collect and display port-level information and to launch specific device-management tools, such as configuration and control utilities. A management console that supports all three Phases of the MIB can provide investment protection of earlier device implementations, while enabling non- disruptive configuration of the SAN. As a result, larger, more complex SANs can be implemented and managed using the same fixed resources.

Currently, more than a dozen companies are shipping FibreAlliance MIB-compliant products based on Phase 2.2 MIB. A 2.2 MIB interoperability demonstration was staged at Networld + Interop show in May, with 13 members participating.

The FibreAlliance expects the Phase III MIB to be successfully voted on for movement into the IETF Standards Track later this year. The FibreAlliance plans to stage a Phase III interoperability demonstration this year as well.

Greg Nuss is senior product manager at QLogic. He can be reached at greg.nuss@qlogic.com.


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