IT professionals responsible for managing storage-area networks face a daunting challenge. Storage today is an integral element in the interconnected IT-service delivery chain, and applications are spread across multiple arrays, switches and servers, often from different vendors.
In such heterogeneous environments, the old device-centric approach to SAN management is limited. More comprehensive, vendor-neutral tools are needed that complement traditional storage resource management (SRM) tools.
This need was highlighted in a recent Gartner "Magic Quadrant" report on SRM and SAN-management software that noted: "Consolidation in the storage management market has resulted in suites of products that, while providing a large number of features, still lack specific capabilities that customers need." It goes on to say, "Keeping critical applications running requires consistent data access. This puts pressure on IT and storage administrators to ensure capacity availability, quick recovery and proactive infrastructure management."
A new class of SAN-management tools is emerging to address the challenge of assuring application performance in mixed storage environments. These tools focus on managing SANs' application-level performance, not just device-level performance. This lets IT departments manage SANs according to applications' service level and allocate storage resources appropriately based on how critical each application is.
The challenge requires tools that provide a global, application-level view of all SAN resources, letting IT departments:
- Verify the present state of the storage services supporting an application, including capacity, access and recoverability; also provide early detection of latent quality problems to avoid outages.
- Record the past for easier troubleshooting, auditing and reporting.
- Predict the future to better plan data migration and consolidation and capacity-forecasting.
These capabilities in turn let IT managers address a range of day-to-day storage-management challenges:
- Change management: providing a real-time, global SAN view from an application standpoint, which is critical to ensuring infrastructure changes do not affect application performance.
- Capacity planning: providing insight on storage use by application, as well as information on switch use and server loads, which affect the distribution of load across storage arrays.
- Service-level monitoring: providing not just device-level monitoring but a true application-level view, so a SAN manager can see what level of service is being delivered to a particular application, in real time.
- Outage prevention: proactively detecting the small changes and events that over time can build and cause outages.
- Audit and compliance: providing application-level compliance assurance and reporting for the SAN. With the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and other regulations, storage management is critical to compliance with corporate directives. SAN-management tools should let IT managers monitor and document SAN compliance against specific application service-level requirements.
- Root-cause analysis: providing the global SAN visibility needed to pinpoint problems rapidly in today's complex, heterogeneous environments. Consider the case of a multipath configuration: The storage devices could be set up properly, while the multipath server is not. Only a cross-domain, application-level view lets IT managers rapidly identify this kind of problem.
- Application cost allocation: providing SAN-wide visibility and analysis to allocate costs accurately across storage, server and network platforms from different vendors, often across data-center locations. With their holistic, application-centric view of SAN resources, SAN-management tools should simplify cost allocation greatly.
By providing a global, application-service view of SAN resources, performance and availability, these new tools should fill an important gap in SAN management. SRM tools will continue to play a crucial role in deploying and provisioning SAN arrays, but the new tools will provide the bird's-eye view needed to keep those complex, ever-changing storage networks flying.
Yahalom is chief scientist at Onaro. He can be reached at Raphael.Yahalom@onaro.com.