Best Practices: The science of storage management


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Storage implementation. Right from the drawing board, a consistent storage environment implies that all objects in the environment look identical. The "low-hanging fruits" of standardization include standard LUN sizes, predefined storage tiers for types of applications, a minimal set of vendor and product types, and predefined definitions for fabric ports.

Let's take the case of standard LUN sizes. On the face of it, standard LUN sizes may appear to be a big waste of capacity. But coupled with host-based volume management and proper utilization monitoring, standard LUN sizes can go a long way in maintaining a well-balanced storage subsystem.

Balancing a subsystem isn't a trivial task, but it's easier to balance it from the ground up than to try and convert an existing system that's bent out of shape.

Predefined storage tiers. Storage tiers are meant to ensure that each type of deployed disk has a certain performance (and hence usage) profile that should be matched to the needs of the application. By assigning a list of profiles to storage tiers, you minimize the risk of rogue applications misusing a storage tier which, in turn, can lead to one-offs to remediate performance issues.

Standard register of vendors and product types. Every vendor takes pride in its product portfolio and will go out of its way to demonstrate just how well its product will fit in your environment. But a storage environment is no different than a child's

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closet that becomes a disorganized mess when more toys are thrown in it. You have to decide upfront how much deviation you can tolerate from a standard register of vendors that meet your requirements. You may be better off working with a product from a preferred vendor whose products may not have all of a competitor's bells and whistles if the tradeoff is a closely integrated and highly interoperable environment. You must also keep in mind that any one-off deviation from your vendor list is likely to result in higher maintenance costs.

That's not to say that you should be averse to introducing new technology into your environment. But the process of introducing new technology should be streamlined, standardized, and done in a product-, vendor- and resource-agnostic manner. This allows all new products to be treated in a balanced way and, more importantly, ensures that when a new technology is introduced into the main production environment, it will blend in efficiently without causing any operational disruptions.

Fabric definitions. There's nothing as tempting as finding an empty port in a switch to plug in a Fibre Channel cable. It doesn't take long to go from a healthy fabric to one that looks like spaghetti. Standard definitions or tiers for different initiator and target types will ensure that the fabric won't become an uncontrollable jumble.

This was first published in June 2007

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