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Onaro adds DR to SAN diagnostic tool

Onaro SANScreen software extends to DR sites as well as the primary SAN. Analysts say it remains an ideal SAN management tool -- for those that can afford it.

Onaro Inc. announced this week that it has updated its SANScreen product for SAN management with new disaster recovery (DR) capabilities -- good news for businesses at the high end looking for a fine-tuned SAN management tool.

To use the product, the user sets a policy for how he wants his SAN to perform and then deploys the software at the switch level. The software, without the need for agents on each application, automatically discovers the elements of the SAN and diagnoses its ability to perform according to the user's policy.

"It only takes a little change to make a SAN not work," said Andrew Bird, vice president of marketing for Onaro. "The problems aren't noticed until the next failure happens."

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SANScreen Business Continuity Edition extends that protection to the DR site, allowing the same diagnostic controls and policy evaluations on replicated applications. It will indicate to the storage administrator whether or not his or her DR plan will work according to policy -- should an event occur. The product can also be used to test "what if" scenarios when administrators are looking to evaluate whether or not they should deploy a certain application, without having to actually put the technology into production.

Correlation across replicated environments "adds a whole new dimension of complexity of the environment," Bird said. "You would expect most application groups to have the same set of policies. In reality, you have differences in policies. That reflects back to that whole process of manual storing in the environment."

In this way, Bird said, the product can help to make a more consistent storage policy from the beginning, as well as performing simple troubleshooting tasks. With data growth exploding, he said, "You can't keep putting bodies against it. It's becoming too quick and complex. You have to automate the process and have standard policies."

Testing your DR infrastructure

The decision to release a DR product was prompted in part, Bird said, by the tendency of IT directors to conduct just one annual test of DR plans. "This is a scary thing. You invest millions in the DR site only to test it just once a year," he said.

There seems to be little doubt among industry experts that it's a good product. Since the first release of SANScreen last year, the company has garnered accolades. Storage magazine named SANScreen the 2004 product of the year in storage management in January 2005.

"It's an ideal change management tool," said Marc Staimer, analyst with Dragon Slayer Consulting. "It doesn't just give you clues. It says, 'here is your problem.' "

"It's a very intense highlevel application of storage management expertise," said John Webster, founder and analyst of the Data Mobility Group.

The only drawback for many companies, analysts said, is the price, which starts at $35,000, making it ideally suited to a relatively exclusive set of users at the high end of the market.

"It's aimed at the larger end user, with a fairly complex fabric, who needs to have a very deep understanding of what exactly is going on down in the bowels of their infrastructure," Webster said.

Still, "it usually pays for itself in about a year with the amount of time it saves SAN administrators," Staimer pointed out. "You really do get what you pay for."

Brocade's SANHealth: At the other end of the spectrum

Brocade Communications Systems Inc. also released a new version of a SAN diagnostics tool this week, but that is where any similarity between the SANHealth offering -- a free download -- and Onaro's product ends, analysts said.

SANHealth gives the user a picture of SAN performance at the switch level, and until the most recent release, diagnosed only Brocade products. The new version of the offering includes some diagnostic capabilities for switches by McData Corp., which are often included in fabrics with Brocade products for users buying whole systems from OEMs.

According to Tom Buiocchi, vice president of worldwide marketing and support at Brocade, the tool was first developed by a Brocade engineer when customers asked for help keeping track of how their SAN fabric was performing.

"It's a better alternative to spreadsheets or a pencil and paper," he said. "We had users trying to manage SANs manually, with little scribblings all over their desk."

"It's a fairly useless tool, from my point of view," said Staimer. "If you've got a poor SAN design, it'll show you that. But there's a reason it's free."

"I personally would tend to distrust anything being given away by a vendor for free, particularly one that's telling me it's going to take a look at my competitor's environment," Webster said.

"It helped us, because when we ran it for the first time, I was recovering from losing my storage administrator," said Dave Bullamore, manager of systems integration for Rex Healthcare, who has been using SANHealth on his IBM SAN, based on a 14 terabyte (TB) DS4300 and a 12 TB Shark managed by two 64-port Brocade switches. "It showed me we had work to do in terms of cleaning up hanging zones, hanging aliases and getting a more consistent naming structure for our aliases."

'The wave of the future'

According to Webster, there are some products representing a happy medium between the high end represented by Onaro and the low end targeted by SANHealth, including McData's own SAN Navigator and EMC Corp.'s Enterprise Control Center. AppIQ Inc.'s storage resource management products can also be used for diagnosis, he said.

Webster believes products like Onaro's could soon become the norm at a SAN near you. "It's the wave of the future," he said. "What we're leading to is not just management of the network or the SAN fabric, but the management of the compute fabric where you have compute, storage, networking resources all being managed by some sort of policy-based super intelligence."

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