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Users: Onaro SAN management tool could do more

Beth Pariseau

Users have applauded the new additions to Onaro Inc's SANScreen version 3.5 software, but also said they wanted much more from the product.

SANScreen 3.5 includes the ability to tie devices in the storage infrastructure to applications; support Cisco's SAN router, navigate more easily with GUI enhancements, and view topologies with more granular information about precisely which segment of a data path is showing a service-level violation. Previously, the software had only reported that there was a violation in a particular data path, but not precisely where it was.

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According to Bryan Magloire, SAN administrator for the Business Solutions Group at Southern Wine and Spirits of America Inc., the nation's largest distributor of wine and spirits, the tool had been crucial to him in managing their SAN infrastructure for the migration of a financial application from an AS/400 mainframe system to an open IBM storage system. The project, which began over the last nine months, will boost the amount of storage under Magloire's purview from 4 terabytes (TB) to 70 TB.

"With so much rapid change taking place, this helps me keep track of whether all the new devices we're adding are consistent with our design plan for the overall infrastructure," Magloire said. For example, the tool helps him keep track of whether every host in his environment is hooked into the dual-core SAN fabric he has set up for the new storage architecture, and helps him communicate with managers and end users about whether or not they will experience outages during the migration and upgrade processes involved with this project.

One of the key updates in version 3.5, which allows users to group hosts by application and generate reports on an application-by-application basis, will make that communication more effective, Magloire said. "I can do report generation for each application and report that information to department management to show how investments in the new storage systems are paying off," he said. It will also help him make future purchasing decisions as the project progresses, according to Magloire.

Another Onaro user, a senior IT analyst with a global manufacturer of construction and mining equipment who asked that his company not be named for legal reasons, said that although he's content to stick with IBM hardware and software for the rest of his storage environment, the Onaro tool goes beyond anything IBM offers in allowing him to test out the effect of changes to his environment before they are actually implemented.

The user, who has 300 TB of data in the company's primary data center in the Midwest, said the SANScreen "violation screen," which tracks configuration errors, had helped him resolve errors in worldwide naming of hosts, and data path redundancy, failures of which could have cost his company big money.

"If one HBA goes down and because of a configuration or redundancy failure it impacts the application, which impacts the customer, which affects the company bottom line," he said. "To the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars in each instance."

This user said that for him, the best new feature in SANScreen 3.5 is the updated topology view.

"I actually found it unusable in previous versions," the user said. "It seems they've added this granularity to the product while increasing its performance and response times, so the feature's more workable."

A double-edged sword

Onaro's success so far with SANScreen is becoming something of a double-edged sword. As users grow more dependent on SANScreen, they are beginning to ask for more capabilities, some of which Onaro says are outside the purview of its product.

Integration with VMware is a topic that comes up often in conversations around SANScreen, especially now that version 3.5 has added application-level awareness. On the other side of the coin, integration with storage is a topic that also comes up repeatedly in conversations around VMware. Both the burgeoning growth of networked storage and the exploding popularity of the server virtualization tool appear to have exposed a gap between virtual machines and storage that few vendors appear willing to venture into -- whether it's data migration during back-end hardware refreshes or the ability to track storage infrastructure by VM host.

According to Magloire, better visibility into VMs -- which his company has used to consolidate on the server side -- is only the beginning of the kinds of capabilities he'd like to see from Onaro.

"This product has a lot of potential," Magloire said. He said he would like to be able to track storage disk space utilization through SANScreen and use its forecasting features for capacity planning. "I think there are a lot of people out there still relying on spreadsheets for this kind of stuff, and Onaro could be helpful there."

"Nobody has that level of visibility into the VM environment," said Bryan Semple, VP of marketing for Onaro, addressing questions about VMware integration. "It's something VMware and EMC should be working on offering to customers."

As for the SRM features, Semple said, most customers already have an SRM tool they use for capacity planning and utilization statistics, and that it's something Onaro considers outside its sphere of influence.

"SANScreen can already do capacity forecasting by allocation, but not by actual utilization," he said. "The overhead cost of providing that kind of feature would be huge, because it would require the deployment of agents."

One feature Semple said that Onaro was working on is certification with McData and Brocade SAN routers, an issue that has caused complications for the Midwestern manufacturing user, who has a McData SAN router.

"When we tried to implement SANScreen with the McData SAN router, it couldn't see the other side of the dual fabric," the user said. "So, it told us that 1,800 hosts had redundancy violations."

The company's storage team had to sift through each of the violations by hand, a time-consuming endeavor, but one that could have been even more costly if actual violations had been caught up in the hundreds of false reports. "We actually found three or four real naming issues and redundancy failures," the user said. "It could have been disastrous."

Onaro does have certification with Cisco's SAN router, but has not yet added support for Brocade and McData products, according to Semple. "We have several customers who are using McData SAN routing, so this is top of mind for us," he said.


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