Feature

Your worst nightmares ... and how to avoid them

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NIGHTMARE 8: personal injury or dismemberment
Shrinks blame this nightmare on the subconscious realization by the dreamer that they are neglecting an important part of their life. Storage managers often report another interpretation: Data is disappearing for no apparent reason.

An IT manager for a major Wall Street financial firm reported recently that using a volume management tool to scale a SAN-based virtual volume cost him 640GB of data and nearly his job. "We were using a virtualization software product from a well-known vendor to aggregate physical disk drives into scalable virtual volumes. The plan was to add more physical disk to the drive whenever our application needed more elbow room. But, when we applied the volume re-sizer utility to an existing volume, it obliterated the virtual disk and deleted all the handles and pointers to data on the volume. Fortunately, we were able to recover most of the information from tape."

This frequently reported problem points to an oft-cited foible of many volume virtualization products. Operating systems don't understand volumes can scale, so virtualization software typically operates outside the rules of the OS. In some cases, when the virtualization software's illegal kernel calls are detected by the server operating system, the operating system responds unpredictably.

Veritas' Bregman, whose Volume Manager software is sometimes blamed for such mishaps, reported that it's

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the vendor's responsibility to identify what operations or procedures place data in potential jeopardy. He noted that Veritas has resolved many potential snafus in its latest release of Volume Manager, which is now in beta. He recommends that consumers heed the hacker's dictum: Read the fine manual (RTFM) before performing any software operation that has the potential for corrupting data.

NIGHTMARES 9 AND 10: being trapped or locked in and drowning
Dream researchers attribute these nightmares to denying emotions and fearing change. Most storage managers can sympathize.

Derek Gamradt, CTO with integrator/reseller StorNet Inc., Plano, TX, reported a number of instances where customers failed to heed the advice of those in-the-know and deployed products that proved inadequate to the task or created unwanted dependencies on vendors.

"One E-book company," he says, "wanted to implement a SAN for the conversion of books to digital formats. They selected Tivoli's SANergy - despite our recommendation to the contrary. Soon after, they found that backup performance was about 300Kb/s against 2TB of data. They tried everything the vendor recommended to fix the problem, but eventually ended up pulling out the software."

"In another instance," he says, "a title insurance company placed 3TB of RAID storage behind its Microsoft NT servers. They haven't been able to do a full backup since, but they are locked into the RAID vendor's products for the foreseeable future."

Such nightmares, according to Gamradt and others will continue to plague storage managers until one of two things occur: either consumers demand better from their vendors and integrators, or vendors agree on common standards that will most likely lead to the commoditization of their product offerings.

The first option is a dream that has yet to materialize; the latter is the storage industry's worst nightmare.

This was first published in August 2002

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