Keeping your eyes on all of your devices might require more than just two eyes


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Simultagnosia is a word I overheard while implementing a multiterabyte storage area network (SAN) for the radiology department of one of the nation's largest healthcare systems. It's a disorder where a person lacks the ability to integrate information across their visual fields. Instead, the affected person can only pay attention to one small area at a time, absorb information in that area and then move on to the next area.

As soon as I heard the definition, I immediately thought of managing resources on a SAN--administrators are expected to manage an enterprise tape library one minute, and then walk over to an enterprise disk array and utilize its inherent tools to manage it. And you also have to be more than familiar with the switches, routers and host bus adapters (HBAs) that connect tape libraries and disk arrays.

Doing more with less
From having salaried employees work additional hours without compensation to asking users to suffer through the pains of subpar response times, the lack of capital available for hardware upgrades is affecting productivity throughout corporations.

For example, backup administrators who oversee SAN-based backup environments are being asked to make-do with what they have--even when they need additional fiber-attached tape drives to meet their backup windows. Sure, high-speed, low-load time fiber-attached tape drives are costly, and that's part of the problem. And to some extent, I agree

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with the make-do approach because I've seen installations where a storage vendor's sales force was particularly successful in convincing the IT organization that they needed more hardware than they actually did. This misrepresentation of need usually takes place in the assessment phase of the engagement where the speed and feed numbers are fudged to benefit the hardware vendor. Ignored in the process is the fact that the IT organization's backup environment may be capable of accommodating more servers than previously thought. And with some added ingenuity, it may be possible to postpone the procurement of additional hardware altogether.

Incoming data won't subside simply because hardware purchasing has done so. If you're charged with maintaining a balance between resource management and your budget, keep an insightful eye on the point of diminishing returns. For example, when you assign client backups to a tape library that's already overprovisioned, other more important client backups may start to fail because of timeouts while waiting for resources.

As for the user with what appears to be a permanent hour glass on their screen, that loss of productivity will be multiplied across the office--and perhaps across departments--if the application in question was deployed in a consolidated storage environment where access to application data takes place over a shared fiber optic cable, a phenomenon that wasn't evident in direct-attached storage (DAS).

That leaves you with no choice but to seek other ways to improve the response times of applications, whether it's the defragmentation of file systems, improved locality of reference (fewer hops) between your application hosts and storage or simply revisiting your application server's kernel parameters as they relate to data access. Whatever your approach, document your efforts in case you have to pay a second visit to the person holding the purse strings.

This was first published in May 2003

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