EMC software manages SAN changes

By Ann Silverthorn

Targeting the 40% of downtime that Gartner Inc. claims is caused by operator error, EMC this week announced new functionality for its ControlCenter family of storage resource management (SRM) software. SAN Advisor replaces the SAN Architect software and is designed to help users reduce the risk of errors and downtime associated with SAN infrastructure changes.

The sophistication of SANs in the past few years has outpaced the sophistication of the organizations using them, according to John Siegal, group product marketing manager at EMC. Multi-vendor configurations make designing and changing SANs risky. For example, one small change can shut down the entire SAN.

Downtime cripples the operations of organizations that have mission-critical data residing on their SANs. When upgrades or expansions to SANs become necessary, many administrators use the "plug-and-pray" approach. "They plug SAN components in and pray that everything will work when the SAN goes back online," says Siegal. "If things don't go well, they have to go through a very tedious process of trying to troubleshoot the error."

SAN Advisor uses a five-step approach to assist with SAN changes. First, it analyzes the SAN to determine if it's configured properly. It identifies problems that could affect a successful implementation of the changes. Drawing on EMC's $2 billion E-Lab resources, it checks the SAN against SAN Advisor's Knowledge Framework. The Framework contains 130 rules regarding design and best practices, switch and array specs, and component interoperability. If needed, the customer can then reconfigure the existing SAN before making any changes to it, avoiding problems down the road.

After validating the existing SAN, SAN Advisor models the proposed changes against the snapshot of the existing environment. It runs "what if" scenarios, predicting the impact of a new host bus adapter (HBA) or new level of firmware on the rest of the environment. SAN administrators can then decide which changes they can make with the least risk while still meeting required service levels.

Once customers decide on acceptable changes, they can build an action plan using SAN Advisor. To build the action plan, the software compares the projected change against the baseline, including purchasing requisitions and enterprise change management tools that already exist in the enterprise.

The SAN Manager module of EMC's ControlCenter can be used to make the changes. Administrators can also use ControlCenter's Automated Resource provisioning tool.

After implementation, SAN Advisor validates that the changes were implemented correctly by comparing a copy of the new configuration to the action plan. If the two don't match, the differences can be quickly identified before the changes are finalized. It forms a safety net of sorts designed to save hours of troubleshooting while trying to find problems, such as an incompatibility error in the environment. Tapping into EMC's Support Matrix, SAN Advisor continually validates the environment.

Shipping next month, SAN Advisor is available as part of EMC's ControlCenter suite or as a stand-alone product. The stand-alone version can model SAN changes, but cannot create the action plan. The software is priced on a per-terabyte basis.

According to International Data Corp. (IDC), EMC had a 54% share of the SRM market in the fourth quarter of last year, based on new license revenue. Veritas was second with a 10% market share, followed by Hewlett-Packard, Hitachi, Computer Associates, IBM, and StorageTek.

This article was originally published on March 30, 2005