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Hands-On Review: Veritas CommandCentral Storage 4.0

Veritas Software's upgrade to CommandCentral Storage is a feature-rich program that raises the bar for SRM applications.

Command Performance for Veritas SRM

Product snapshot
Veritas CommandCentral Storage 4.0.
Storage resource management.
Key Features:
Single console administration.
Controls heterogeneous storage; offers extensive policy sets.
Not SMI-S compliant, requires significant integration effort.
Anew generation of storage resource management (SRM) products is flooding the market, all promising ROI by translating business objectives into finely tuned storage policies that can control storage resources.

But most storage managers are jaded, tired of being itemized to death for product features that are missing from a vendor's basic SRM offering. Storage managers need inclusive SRM applications that allow the definition of policies and provide control of the storage resources governed by those policies.

Veritas Software Corp.'s CommandCentral Storage (CCS) 4.0 is a comprehensive SRM program that raises the bar by integrating many management points into a single console. CCS rolls up the feature sets of SANPoint Control and Storage Reporter into a far-reaching solution that discovers storage resources, and allows administrators to manage and provision policy-based heterogeneous storage.

In June and July of 2003, I compared EMC Corp.'s ControlCenter and Veritas' SANPoint Control. At that time, ControlCenter barely nosed out SANPoint Control, but with CommandCentral Storage, Veritas SRM has upped the ante.

Among the new or enhanced features in CCS 4.0 are:

  • The ability to pool resources into a single entity for the application of commands and policy.
  • Centralized deployment of configuration changes to one or more storage resources.
  • Extended support for Veritas and Microsoft clusters.
  • Application-centric monitoring and provisioning of storage.
  • Host bus adapter (HBA) replacement wizard.
  • Role-based access rights and single sign on.

Typical CommandCentral Storage configuration

The main components of CommandCentral Storage 4.0: CCS console, Web engine, storage management server, host storage agents and a Sybase database that's the repository for SAN component data. The SAN access layer provides the explorer agents that gather information from storage resources.

The CCS architecture comprises consoles, a Web engine, one or more storage management servers, host storage agents (HSA) and push-install utility agents to manage client installs and updates. (See "Typical CommandCentral Storage configuration".)

The storage management server includes the storage area network (SAN) access layer (SAL) with its associated explorer agents, alarm services (policies) and a Sybase database that is CCS' main repository.

The SAL process is the heart and soul of CCS. Through the primary SAL process running on the storage management server, component-specific explorer agents are dispatched both in-band (Fibre Channel) and out-of-band (SNMP/IP) to discover configuration, statistical and status information from SAN devices. The primary SAL process also gathers information from remote SAL processes running on host storage agents. Information is saved in the discovery data store and then copied to the CCS database.

Communication among the SAL CLI and the primary and remote SAL processes is achieved using an XML API. The information in the data store can be translated into XML files and later passed to the CCS console or user-defined scripts for enhanced reporting and management.

The alarm service compares statistical and performance metrics gathered by CCS explorers to defined policies and summons the alert manager to send notifications when thresholds have been reached.

Administrators can configure users to have single sign-on privileges so they don't have reauthenticate their credentials as they move among CommandCentral components. You can also limit which storage management servers that logged-on users can see.

CCS' Sybase repository runs on the storage management server. The database maintains data gathered by the SAN access layer and the alert manager for report and alarm generation, and manages service requests (tasks) submitted to the storage management server. The database is not Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S) compliant, but the terminology and methods used are very similar to those defined in the specification.

For best results, CCS requires extensive knowledge of installed SAN components and their communication methods. If your shop lacks the skills to deploy CCS, consider getting professional help for installation and configuration, and preparation of site-specific documentation.

You must also stay on top of changes to the CommandCentral hardware and software compatibility list, as device and firmware support changes often. CCS comes with a utility that compares the most recently installed compatibility list with your SAN's resources and reports discrepancies. Run this utility prior to deployment.

The storage management server runs on Windows 2000 Advanced and Data center servers, and Sparc-based Solaris 7, 8 and 9 servers with at least a 1GHz processor, 1GB of RAM and expandable RAID storage for the Sybase DBMS. The CommandCentral host storage agents run on Linux, AIX, HP-UX and the Windows versions listed above. Check the release notes for OS versions supported by host storage agents.

The Web engine transmits data to and from the CCS console and management server(s), and provides logon services. The Web engine can support multiple CCS management servers, but it copies each management server's database into memory, so its memory configuration should be appropriately sized.

The management server and Web engine can run in the same operating system instance, but the management server and host storage agent can't. The storage agent push-install utility requires source and target systems to have the same file system nomenclature.

The minimal configuration for a single fabric with both Unix and Windows SAN-attached hosts is one Unix or Windows CCS management server/Web engine, one Unix-based storage agent/push install host, and one Windows storage agent/push-install host.

Host storage agents should be installed on every host that has storage and applications to be managed with CCS. A switch management explorer should be activated on only one host storage agent. Veritas recommends that the host be directly attached to the principal switch in the SAN, redundantly if possible.

CommandCentral Storage managing summary pane

SANscreen pinpoints configuration problems: SANscreen shows where proposed changes will violate operational policies and possibly cause a disruption in storage area network service. In this example, the policy on the authorized access path between Host A and Storage 2 has been violated, perhaps due to a failed HBA or Switch 2 reboot.

CommandCentral Storage console
Veritas fronts its software with a first-rate client interface, the CCS console. Accessed via the Web engine, the console is a context-based GUI that uses headers, tabs and hierarchical object views to quickly navigate among various CommandCentral offerings, product features and component attributes.

The managing summary pane (see "CommandCentral Storage managing summary pane") displays alerts for problem resolution, a configurable favorites list for frequently accessed tools and reports, and a main content section with hyperlinks to drill down into storage resource views. Vendor-specific wizards provide assistance for managing, provisioning and securing SAN storage elements.

Links at the top of the display provide access to other CommandCentral offerings, including service, backup and availability. The CommandCentral service option serves as a front end for delivering storage, backup and clustering services to applications and is aligned with Veritas' utility model. The backup and availability links allow management of backup and clustered servers explored by the SAN access layer.

There's also a series of tabs for CCS' major feature areas: managing, reporting and monitoring. Each tab presents content-specific views and tables identifying individual storage resources that can be managed or changed individually or as a defined group.

To effectively manage a storage resource, you must be able to control it. The managing tab displays the various management points of storage resources. As you click on links representing the resource(s), you eventually get to a single resource on which you can perform an action, allowing for end-to-end storage management.

For example, clicking on an item in the databases section displays links that further identify the database instance. You can then drill down into the tablespaces and eventually get to the LUN(s) that support them. A DBA could use these steps to expand a volume.

Perhaps the biggest enhancement to CCS is the provisioning of heterogeneous storage via the array's API. Until now, SRM products had limited control over an array's LUNs and their provisioning. LUN allocation could be controlled via zone management, but zoning alone isn't enough in the provisioning process.

Provisioning tasks can be streamlined by grouping storage resources into a single entity for allocation. By grouping redundant array ports for example, you can bind LUNs to the array port group in one operation instead of singly for each port.

CommandCentral's reporting set is abundant. Storage capacity reports include distribution and allocation by connection type, storage class, vendor and RAID levels. Other reports detail application and user consumption by file types and growth over a period of time. Performance reports are also available.

The change history summary and snapshot comparison reports are helpful for managing changes on the SAN and for troubleshooting. The change history report itemizes changes made to storage resources over a specific period; the snapshot comparison shows a before-and-after picture of storage resources.

Policies are defined in the monitoring section and enforced by the alert manager. For example, a policy may say that if a switch port shows a certain number of CRC errors over a period of time, a notification should be sent or a script executed.

Multithreshold policies are a new feature that allow a single event to have up to four levels of severity associated with an alarm. SANPoint Control only supported single-level thresholds.

CommandCentral Storage 4.0 costs $20,000 for a storage management server, Web engine and the push-install utility. Host storage agents are sold as client packs, and are volume priced from $260 to $800 per host. That's not a steep price for companies struggling to manage hundreds of application servers connected to heterogeneous storage over thousands of switch ports. But even with more modest configurations, the price may be easy to justify.

CCS 4.0 is a full-featured product with extensive support for managing heterogeneous storage resources. The central console's tabular design makes CCS easy to learn, and its hierarchal object views let you jump from a storage resource to the policy governing that resource with a single mouse click.

When I compared ECC and SANPoint last year, I concluded that full-featured SRM applications weren't there yet. But after testing CCS, it looks like we're well on our way to truly comprehensive SRM. CCS might not be perfect, but it's a wide-ranging, feature-rich program that should set the tone for the next generation of SRM applications.

Article 6 of 19

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