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The critical design parameter mentioned most often by SAN architects is the time required to restore an application after a disruption. With a "smoking rack" hardware failure for example, systems administrators are under pressure to get the application back online as soon as possible. "This is where SANs excel," says Eastman. "Before, I had to wheel in a new server, load the operating system, install the backup agent, find the right set of tapes and the restore process took forever. Now we use the boot-from-SAN option, so I wheel in the new server, boot from the SAN and the application is back up in minutes not hours. An added benefit is that we save money on the servers by not having to buy them with local disks."

Microsoft's Simple SAN

Last year, Microsoft introduced a new initiative that promises to make the lives of its support staff simpler, but it's likely to make your life easier, too. Responding to a large number of support calls associated with storage network and array configuration, Microsoft developed an initiative called Simple SAN to push storage vendors to make their products easier to use. Compliant devices have now been on the market for more than a year and the results have been encouraging.

Consider the situation a few years ago: Each vendor maintained its own compatibility list, and

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it was up to the buyer to make sure everything worked together. Some resellers and storage vendors put together compatible end-to-end SAN packages on their own, but even if everything functioned, installation left most people, especially those new to storage, scratching their heads. Each device or piece of software likely required multiple reboots, and device drivers had to be hunted down on vendor Web sites and CDs.

Simple SAN isn't a marketing campaign and there's no certification logo, but storage vendors are eager to tout their compliance, especially if their competitors can't. The goal of the program is to improve compatibility and interoperability, predictability of the installation and to make documentation clearer. To improve compatibility, all Simple SAN devices and software revisions must be on Microsoft's Windows hardware qualification list. They must also support Microsoft's Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS) and Virtual Disk Service (VDS) APIs, including support for Microsoft's Multipath I/O (MPIO) driver. In addition, the installation process must be completed in less than an hour, with only one or two reboots.

Simple SAN extends beyond the hardware and software, though. Vendors must also develop a one-page installation poster to get devices up and running. Full printed documentation must be included in the package, and all required device drivers must be available on a single disk or downloadable package. In my experience, the required installation poster helps, but stops right where we needed help the most: configuring Microsoft's iSCSI Software Initiator for Windows.

This was first published in September 2007

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