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The best ways to tweak storage for great performance

From policy-based archiving to virtualization, smart ways you can keep enterprise storage performing at its peak

By Michele Hope, Network World
May 21, 2007 12:04 AM ET

Network World - Every IT person knows this painful truth: Attention from users for underlying IT operations is not always a good thing. This is especially true when an application or storage system has halted or slowed to a crawl because the infrastructure is not performing at an optimal level.

Raul Robledo, a storage specialist at the Trumbull, Conn., office of Affinion Group, recently experienced this firsthand. Earlier this year, the global marketing company's 50TB storage-area network (SAN) began experiencing severe outages, because of what Robledo later found was bandwidth saturation on the SAN's interswitch links (ISL). A number of the company's external, Web-facing applications depended on the availability of data residing on that underlying SAN.

"We had too much traffic going through the ports, and that caused applications to spawn additional processes that weren't getting a response back. This started a big chain reaction that began to take some of our [Web] applications down," he says.

Affinion's SAN is a dual-fabric environment consisting of three EMC Clariion storage arrays and a 3PARdata array, connected via Brocade Communications Systems 3800 and Brocade 4100 Fibre Channel switches. To help diagnose and correct the ISLs' bandwidth-saturation problem, one of Affinion's SAN administrators used Orca, from open source provider OrcaWare Technologies, to gather and plot data from the Brocade switches via SNMP. (Orca, which helps plot arbitrary data from text files onto a Web server-based directory, is used by the group's Unix administrator to plot server performance.)

Although Orca proved important in this instance, Robledo says he realized he needs a tool specifically designed to keep the SAN performing optimally. Orca and other similar tools tend to require more manual work, knowledge and customization than products meant for real-time SAN-performance monitoring, he says.

Robledo began searching in earnest for a robust SAN performance-monitoring tool that would let him address problems before they came to users' attention. After all, his team's ability to meet ongoing service-level agreements was at stake.

He turned to Onaro, a storage service-management vendor. For the past year, Robledo's team had been using Onaro's SANscreen Foundation software to monitor and report on storage operations. After the ISL outage, he decided to see whether Affinion could benefit from Onaro's recently released Application Insight 2.0. The software offers an application-to-array picture in real time of storage-resource use and efficiency, while providing application-centered monitoring and reporting about the performance of the storage infrastructure, Onaro says.

Having conducted proof-of-concept testing of Application Insight, Robledo believes the tool would help to head off potential performance issues before they become a problem. "By using a combination of both products -- [SANscreen] Foundation and Application Insight -- we could be alerted in real time of any performance spikes and hopefully be informed of any issues that could cause an outage, before someone calls from the business line," he says. "We wouldn't need to get inquiries or notification from individuals. We would be getting those right from a product that's monitoring our environment."

Because Insight also shows port use, his team would be able to provision storage more effectively, Robledo says. The team would be able to configure the hosts to send or receive data through specific switches and storage ports. "This would let us define a host with certain storage buckets and assign which applications those belong to. So, when we look at performance, we could then see which applications are on which switches, including the storage that is on the specific arrays," he says. "We could then see a pattern of which applications or hosts are resource intensive from a storage perspective, and maybe start to utilize storage for that application on another array."

Affinion is not alone in considering real-time storage-management products to help optimize SAN performance, says Mike Karp, a senior analyst with Enterprise Management Associates (EMA). Software that performs application-centric data management and root-cause analysis, or manages storage in the context of networks and the other systems around it is gaining in popularity, he says. In addition to the Onaro tools, the category of storage optimization includes EMC Smarts, MonoSphere Storage Horizon, HP Storage Essentials and the HiCommand suite from Hitachi Data Systems (HDS), Karp and other analysts say.

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