Checklist: Ten steps to troubleshooting SAN/NAS performance problems

Learn how to isolate the cause of performance problems in your storage system, fix what's broken and learn from your mistakes.

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Both SAN and NAS architectures experience performance problems for a variety of reasons, including increased workloads or the addition of new applications or tools. Some issues are specific to a given storage environment, but many can be isolated using this step-by-step approach:

Ten steps to troubleshooting SAN/NAS performance problems

1. Do you actually have a SAN/NAS related performance problem? In order to understand whether or not you really have a performance issue, you have to identify the precise nature of the problem. Are you able to access data and applications -- just very slowly? Or are you unable to access any data or applications, and receive an error message instead?

2. What is the normal expected behavior of the SAN/NAS environment?

While not ideal, it may be normal for performance to slow down at certain times of the day, similar to how performance on your home cable or DSL modem slows down in the late afternoon shortly after school lets out for the day. While known slow-downs may be accepted, ultimately you will want to know where and why these occur and have a plan to address them. Having a baseline performance summary helps to know what is normal and what is not.

3. Can the performance problem be reproduced?

Is it a transitory performance issue, or is it consistent and capable of being reproduced? Can you access data and performance work, albeit at a slower pace, or has everything come to a screeching halt? Is this a first-time occurrence, or have the symptoms been seen before? Is this a seasonal performance problem, for example, handling more transactions during the holiday season, that can be addressed by spending some money for more equipment, or is something that can be dealt with as an occasional nuisance?

4. Is everything functioning as it should, or has something failed?

Has any hardware failed or exhibited signs that it might be about to fail? What type of error log and event log activity has taken place? Is the performance problem isolated to specific users, applications, servers, files and data, or storage resources? Have any disk drives failed, triggering automatic hot spare disk rebuilds, or has a controller or adapter failed over? Some tools for monitoring and collecting performance data include: iostat, NetStat, nfstat, PerfMan, NTSMF from Demand Technologies, ITR client, and Intel Iometer, among other standard and vendor provided products.

5. What has changed in the SAN/NAS environment since the problem started?

Have any changes been made to storage subsystems (expansion, reconfiguration, and other changes), NAS appliances or gateways, network and storage interfaces, servers, volume managers, applications or databases? Do you have a change control process to help determine what will be changed? Do you have fall-back procedures in case something does not work correctly? Have any new security polices or access controls been applied? Have file system eminence or virus detection scans been initiated prior to the performance problem being reported? Is any maintenance on data or hardware/software components being performed?

6. What other applications and workload are running?

Have any new applications been added or changed? Has new workload been added? Have any applications changed that subsequently require more storage and I/O resources? Are any applications misbehaving, for example, a database query taking out and excessively holding locks on resources? Are any virus, spyware, security auditing, disk defragmentation, backup, data classification tools or performance monitoring tools running and performing I/O to storage devices where performance is being impacted?

7. What does a quick scan of your SAN/NAS environment show?

Do you have health statuses monitors that you can look at to determine the general health and well-being of your environment? What is the status of memory and CPU resources on servers? What are the busiest processes and what resources are they consuming? What are the busiest storage volumes and which adapter and I/O paths do they use? What is the status and performance of interfaces, including Ethernet for IP and Fibre Channel for open systems and FICON mainframe attachment? What is the performance of the storage subsystem including cache hits, cache utilization, cache effectiveness, and device activity?

8. Is it a local or remote performance problem? 

Can you determine that there are problems with your local LAN or SAN segments, by using a ping to check network connectivity, or by performing an I/O command to a storage device? Determining if the performance problem is local or remote can be done by verifying performance to local storage and then comparing that to remote. Things to look at for remote performance would be the network interface using ping, NetStat or nfstat to look at link errors, response time, timeouts, re-transmits and packet loss. What is the status of inter-switch links (ISLs), routers, bridges and gateways? Are they functioning normally?

9. Do you need outside help to determine and correct the problem?

Do you need to enlist the support of your vendors (hardware, software, networks) to provide diagnostic and test tools or hands-on assistance? Your vendors may have knowledge bases with information on troubleshooting performance and other problems that you can use as a source of information and education. <p>

10. Have you learned from the incident?

Have you documented the findings, resolution and symptoms to help others troubleshoot the same problem in the future?

For more information:

Tip: How to isolate and solve performance bottlenecks

Tip: How to troubleshoot SANs using WWN zoning

Tip: Top 10 tips on storage management

About the author: Greg Schulz is a senior analyst with the independent storage analysis firm, The Evaluator Group Inc. Greg has 25 years of IT experience as a consultant, end user, storage and storage networking vendor, and industry analyst. Greg has worked with Unix, Windows, IBM Mainframe, OpenVMS and other hardware/software environments. In addition to being an analyst, Greg is also the author and illustrator of "Resilient Storage Networks." Greg has contributed material to Storage magazine. Greg holds both a computer science and software engineering degree from the University of St. Thomas. 

This was first published in December 2004

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