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Does EMC ControlCenter live up to its claims?

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My previous article, "Simpler SAN management--please," uncovered the burdens and associated costs of administering independent management points for the devices in your storage area network (SAN) without a comprehensive storage resource management

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package. Inflated staffs, data lost through failed backups and lackluster application performance are just some of the inefficiencies in today's data centers.

These well-documented inefficiencies existed before the emergence of SANs. But the emergence of SANs gave us the functionality and intelligence in hardware and protocols to effectively manage, provision and report on our application storage and its pathways. Now, we're finally gaining complete control over the storage infrastructure and the business processes that rely on it.

ECC's tiered architecture

This month and next, I'll put two products under the proverbial microscope that seek to enable that new level of control. This month, I'll take a look at EMC ControlCenter (ECC) 5.1 and next month I'll size up Veritas SANPoint Control 3.5.1 and compare the two products.

I chose these products not only because the vendors have huge footprints in our data centers, but also because they represent competitive offerings from two different perspectives. Although EMC is making its presence known in the storage management software market, its reputation in the field still largely rests on its hardware. And with Veritas software tightly integrated into our volume management, clustering and backup/recovery solutions, I thought it would interesting to test its product abilities and corporate partnerships to see if we are at the point where we can completely rely on a single software vendor to provide management solutions for the various types of hardware we have to support. It begs the question that all of us have probably asked in our childhood travels at one time or another: "Are we there yet?"

In comparing them, we'll look at the soundness of their architectural designs. Do they permit scalability and redundancy; the discovery of heterogeneous SAN resources and their connection points; the automatic provisioning and management of these SAN resources; policy management, including application association and service level agreements and reporting? That's a tall order to fill--short order cooks need not apply because basic discovery and zoning is no longer acceptable as the main features of solutions in this management space.

ECC 5.1 Open Edition has a three-tier client server design that integrates both current EMC product offerings, as well as newly released offerings in one console. ECC/Open Edition is composed of services called open integration components (OIC), and includes the console, server, repository, store(s), master agent and storage specific-agents (see "ECC's tiered architecture"). These common services provide a means for administration and access control, device mapping, relationship views, alert management and enterprise framework integration. And although ECC's support matrix lists non-EMC hardware, EMC's Symmetrix and Clariion product line is the greatest beneficiary in terms of available functionality to date.

The console is a launch pad for access to each management point of your SAN resource. It's browser-based, can be launched from any Windows or Solaris desktop and supports multiple instances of the ECC GUI by launching multiple browsers from any number of hosts. Essentially, this means that in an organization where each business unit has its own support team, the storage administrator can provide condensed views that pertain only to that business unit. This implies enhanced security and more streamlined functionality, which also improves efficiency.

Object-oriented programming is evident in the user interface, as the menus and tabs remain consistent while moving between the various application plug-ins under ECC's control. This brought familiarity and lowered the learning curve while moving between management applications. The console is made up of three parts--the menu/task bar, navigation tree and target area--with each part allowing the user to delve deeper into the storage management realm until you reach a single device, whose status is dynamically updated as events take place on the SAN. The ECC console is organized by functionality, which is good because it more closely resembles how we might approach the tasks of SAN resource management. These tasks are administration, monitoring, provisioning, performance management and data protection.

The console communicates with the server over TCP/IP. The server provides login authentication, management and communication between distributed agents. You can also use the console to create reports and manage policies. The console distributes data collection and alert policies to storage specific agents managing SAN resources.

The ECC server runs on a Windows 2000 server and in order to gain access, the storage administrator needs to have a login account on this server. For those concerned about Windows security, remember that best practice is to locate such a server on its own management LAN with its own security policies. Subsequently, the ECC administrator can provide some subset of functionality to departmental storage administrators on a user name or group basis. The distribution of user management doesn't affect change management, however. Each change initiated at the user level is logged in the repository and is displayed from the Command History menu. At a lowest level, subsets can only be defined at the storage element level (i.e., disk array, switch, database). The exception to that rule is the Symmetrix, which can have its resources managed at the volume level.

This was first published in June 2003

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