SANscreen: filling the storage-resource gap

A different approach may be better, says Mario Apicella

It may sound hasty to dismiss a technology that many companies have yet to deploy or even evaluate, but some of the vibes I am getting lately from vendors suggest that storage management applications may become obsolete before becoming mainstream.

It’s hard to give a short answer to the question of what’s wrong with storage management, but perhaps the beginning of the end for the technology is the limited scope revealed by its name.

Does it make sense to devolve so much effort to rein in just a single piece of the infrastructure puzzle? Shouldn’t storage be orchestrated in harmony with other important — perhaps even more important — pillars such as servers, networks, and above all, applications?

To be fair, vendors such as Symantec and Hewlett Packard have not spared efforts to integrate storage management with other disciplines. But quickly finding the source of a problem when it lies within the storage labyrinth remains a difficult to nearly impossible task for many systems administrators.

The fact is, in many organisation charts, titles such as “database administrators” belong to a different box than their storage counterparts. That often makes problem resolution an adversarial affair rather than a co-operative effort.

However, conflicts between administrators are more an effect of the divide between storage and other resources than its cause. The main problem is that companies lack tools to provide a comprehensive, storage resource-inclusive view of their IT services, which complicates overall management, monitoring and planning.

Companies such as Onaro say there’s a remedy. Onaro’s recently released SANscreen Foundation 3.5 is a suite of applications that promises to fill the gap between storage and other resources in datacentres.

Deployment of SANscreen starts with an automated discovery of the topology of your SAN, similar to the starting point of many storage management applications. Next, a service model is added to that static picture, specifying the access, capacity, performance and recovery characteristics delivered by the SAN.

From there, you begin creating policies to define what the SAN should deliver: for example, application A should have dual path access to its database, no less than 1GB of free capacity, remote replicas, etcetera. Once that is done, SANscreen stands on the network like a referee at a tennis match, ready to intercept, record and call out any policy violation or service-level degradation.

However, SANscreen provides much more than just a list of fouls. In addition to examining a list of violations, it’s possible to drill down to specific details, review the policy for correctness, and quickly identify the affected applications and storage components. For example, a chart pin-pointing unauthorised connections between servers and storage resources can be created.

Moreover, you can run what-if scenarios to test the impact of a new policy or the effect of adding a new application server. I should also stress that despite some areas of overlap, SANscreen doesn’t replace or compete with storage management applications. For tasks like storage provisioning or zoning you should rely on the usual device-specific or third-party tools.

Judging from what I have seen of SANscreen, I would say Onaro succeeds in bridging the gap between storage and the rest of IT. It is worth noting, however, that the application has also attracted the interest of storage and applications vendors, including Cisco, Hitachi Data Systems and Oracle, suggesting that vendors both outside and inside the storage spectrum think it’s time to move beyond conventional storage management.

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