SAN Management in the Virtual Era


It's probably a safe bet to assume that even though many of you have a fair amount of experience managing virtual environments by now, you're still struggling to keep data running smoothly over your SAN.

SAN management, of course, was no picnic back in the days of physical servers, but it's become a real monster here in the virtual universe. In an age where just about anyone can provision a new server for whatever reason, ensuring that data loads running to and from storage don't jam up the entire network is twice the hassle it used to be.

According to InfoStor's Dave Simpson, anywhere from 70 percent to 90 percent of all performance problems in virtual environments are tied to the SAN. The more virtual servers you have, the less effective traditional tools like device-monitoring modules and standard management stacks become. To really get a handle on the problem, you need to start looking for systems that extend visibility deep into the virtual environment, ones that not only correct problems that arise, but provide configuration and performance-optimization tools to prevent tie-ups from happening in the first place.

Naturally, the major virtual platform providers hold all the cards when it comes to the kinds of SAN-management systems they will support. Fortunately, most are eager to link up with third-party providers as a means to extend functionality over the widest possible user set.

VMware, for instance, offers its Certification Program for the ESX Server 3.5, which recently gave the seal of approval to Enhance Technology's UltraStor RS8 IP and RS16 IP iSCSI arrays. The system rides on the Intel IOP platform, offering quad-channel GbE iSCSI ports for throughput up to 400 MBps and a total capacity of 120 TB.

Oracle VM users, meanwhile, will soon have access to a substantial SAN management upgrade with the Fujitsu FlexFrame for Oracle platform. FlexFrame is essentially a pre-integrated IT infrastructure used for dynamic reassignment of server resources, providing streamlined installation and management, as well as QoS control and automated failover. In the next few months, Fujitsu plans to add a Virtual IO Manager (VIOM) module to the system that simplifies LAN and SAN environments through automated reallocation techniques like virtualized physical network addresses.

Virtual SAN management is more about adding goodies to the management stack, of course. Baseline's David Strom highlights some of the practical approaches that IT executives have identified as crucial to effective virtual management. Chief among them is assessing how much storage you really have to play with after SAN overhead and RAID grouping has been taken into account. You'll also need to determine how disaster recovery and other functions will alter SAN configurations. Cross-team training and collaboration is also crucial to ensure separate work groups have the best interests of the entire network in mind.

SAN management is a lot like cleaning house. No one really appreciates all the areas that are clean, only the ones that are still dirty. No matter how effective or up-to-date your management architecture and policies are, there is always room for improvement.

Fortunately, as virtualization becomes the norm in the data center, the primary management challenges are being addressed. The question remains, though, whether management systems have the capability to scale as much as the virtual environment does, or are we heading toward a brick wall?