SAN management user case study, part 4

The last installment in our series illustrates the inadequacy of traditional SAN management tools in large, heterogeneous storage networks.

SAN managers find management software a pain in the glass

By Gary MacFadden

-- In the world of high performance, highly available applications, the end-user experience and meeting SLAs are of paramount importance to the IT team responsible for supporting high transaction volume systems that are critical to maintaining and driving business. Meanwhile, the explosive growth of data is straining information infrastructures and putting added pressure on IT to maintain, or even improve, performance levels while attempting to avoid increased storage and switching costs wherever possible -- as long as service levels are not compromised.

This scenario was portrayed by Ryan Perkowski, a SAN manager at a major U.S. credit card firm, who shared his experiences, expertise and opinions with the Wikibon community during a recent Peer Incite research meeting.

Perkowski walked attendees through his current storage environment, which has grown from 30TB to more than 450TB in the last few years. The most mission-critical applications include a SAS analytics instance and a customer data warehouse totaling roughly 20TB running on an Oracle database. Because his environment is populated with EMC DMX-3 and DMX-4 storage arrays, as well as Cisco MDS 9000 multilayer directors and fabric switches, Perkowski initially used the EMC Control Center (ECC) platform to minimize the number of applications needed to manage the SAN.

SAN management platform problems

While Perkowski needed the core array management tools provided by EMC to do mapping, masking and zoning, the goal of acquiring a product to bring together all the necessary reporting, monitoring, and SAN management capabilities into a "single pane of glass" in his complex environment ultimately proved to be an illusion. In particular, ECC lacks the ability to provide IT with a user-centric view of the SAN environment.

Perkowski turned to Virtual Instruments' NetWisdom family of SAN I/O performance monitoring and SAN troubleshooting tools, and also to NetApp's SANscreen SAN management software (which NetApp acquired from Onaro).

NetWisdom is a dedicated monitoring tool that uses a combination of software and hardware to probe the storage network and in particular the components that are problematic -- in this case the Oracle data warehouse infrastructure.

SANscreen is a heterogeneous service management suite which, among other things, describes the relationships between a particular application on a given server and its data on a storage device.

As a result of bringing in Virtual Instruments' NetWisdom and NetApp's SANscreen, Perkowski was able to get critical SAN performance data, obviating the need for ECC and other aggregation tools with diluted functionality.

Action Item: Managers of large, complex SAN environments should get rid of unneeded management software that doesn't interoperate well and doesn't solve the problem. Get rid of bloated, poorly integrated management software and replace it with best-of-breed solutions that will drive higher ROI.

Gary MacFadden is a member of Wikibon.org.

Related articles:
SAN management user case study, part 1: Opening Pandora's box of SAN management
SAN management user case study, part 2: Pay for performance: Justifying SAN performance tools
SAN management user case study, part 3: Turn on the lights: What you need to know about the dark art of SAN management

This article was originally published on February 01, 2010