Along with the growth of storage consolidation projects comes the need for better SAN management. Why? Because as storage networks grow beyond 500, 1,000 or even more ports, the ability to detect failures and performance issues in these networks also grows. Yet, the process of selecting the right SAN management tools isn't easy. That's because nearly every SAN management tool performs the necessary tasks of detection and discovery of devices, LUN masking and zoning, and providing views into the network, storage arrays and hosts in a different way.
Many storage managers spend a lot of time trying to figure out which SAN management tools will best fit their environment. Here's a new approach to this process: Turn it upside-down and try focusing on your environment first, and ask the hard questions of vendors about what they support after. You should note that mileage varies a great deal in terms of what is supported in discovery and monitoring, and LUN masking and zoning (which are quickly becoming a core part of SAN management).
The first step to the whole process is to determine the scope of the environment you want to manage. For example, you need to know exactly what kind of storage networking equipment you have in place, the types of storage arrays and tape libraries you have, and what your requirements are for host OS support. You also have to ask yourself how far up the stack you want to manage. Answering these questions should help you determine which is best -- SAN management or a broader management console.
After you've determined which type of management tool you need, map your needs into existing vendor offerings. The litmus test for a good SAN management tool really comes down to its ability to detect, discover and visualize SANs. This means that it has heterogeneous support -- that is, support for storage network equipment (from a variety of vendors), storage systems (both arrays and tape libraries) and a number of different host operating systems.
A second key element of a good SAN management tool is monitoring and reporting. Monitoring should include not only fault detection within the fabric, but port and switch performance issues. It's very important to ask a vendor where the information gets logged, and if it will be organized in a way that you and your team can easily understand. Ease of use is a huge factor -- not only for when it's first rolled out to your storage network, but even after the fact, your tools should be intuitive enough that an administrator who has never used them can manage the environment in a pinch.
Third, you need to ask what you can do with the information and the monitoring capability. There's nothing worse than a monitoring tool that tells you there's a problem but doesn't offer an easy, proactive way to solve it. In recent years, this been a significant problem for both SAN management and storage resource management (SRM) tools, but is starting to change as products get more advanced in their design.
So, there are really two different kinds of SAN management tools today, based on a classification. There are traditional, network-focused SAN management tools and there are management consoles that usually offer a wider view of storage arrays, provisioning, SRM and the network within a single tool. There are pluses and minuses to both designs, and their functionality varies greatly from vendor to vendor. Here are some examples of each class:
For more on storage management tools, see these other columns by Jamie Gruener:
About the author: Jamie Gruener is a SearchStorage.com expert and the primary analyst focused on the server and storage markets for the Yankee Group, an industry analyst firm in Boston, Mass. Jamie's coverage area includes storage management, storage best practices, storage systems, storage networking and server technologies. Ask him your storage management questions today.