HP, Symantec SRM wares hit on discovery, inventory tasks

Both could use some work to deliver more advanced storage management features.

This Clear Choice test targets products that cover most storage-management bases in a heterogeneous environment: Brocade's Fabric Manager, Cisco's Fabric Manager, CA's StoreAge, Commvault's Storage Manager, EMC's SAN Manager, Hitachi's HiCommand Storage Services Manager, HP's Storage Essentials Enterprise Edition, IBM/Tivoli's Storage Manager, Softek's Storage Manager and Symantec's Veritas CommandCentral Storage.

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How we tested SRMs

Graphic showing HP, Symantec test results

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Overall, HP's Storage Essentials Enterprise Edition scored slightly higher than Symantec's Veritas CommandCentral Storage to earn the Clear Choice award, though the differences between the two are slight. HP supports more devices on the SAN, particularly in the area of storage from smaller vendors such as Xiotech and 3Par. HP is also more scalable, in large part because of its underlying Oracle database.

Symantec has a simpler installation process (see installation story), with a single product to install rather than three, but may not be as scalable in large installations, because the database isn't set up on a separate server (this would only be an issue in very large SANs).

Veritas CommandCentral Storage's ability to gather information via the command-line interfaces of storage devices and switches is more of a chore to configure but allows the administrator to add unsupported devices by adding the commands for those devices manually. Because both products are comparable in starting price at $25,000 for Symantec's and $30,000 for HP's, the biggest dividing line for administrators will be which supports more of the devices in use at your organization.

These management systems are complex. They comprise management software as well as agents running on storage-attached servers with various operating systems. They include a database for storing performance statistics on storage and SAN use, and information on the number and types of files, as well as optional applications that provide services, such as virtualization, and the ability to collect data from enterprise applications, such as Exchange or databases. The SANs they monitor and manage can be equally diverse, including host bus adapters (HBA), Fibre Channel switches, storage subsystems, the operating systems on the servers attached to the storage, and possibly even applications accessing the storage. (See details about how our test bed was built.)

The Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S) of the Storage Networking Industry Association, which has been adopted as a standard by ANSI, provides a universal interface to query and manage SAN devices. But it has not been widely implemented in new devices, and older devices don't support it at all. So many management applications communicate with SAN devices through the APIs published by the vendor, which means that smaller vendors may not be supported by a given management application. In our test bed, both management products, while theoretically SMI-S compliant, used their own switch, storage and HBA proprietary APIs to communicate with devices rather than using SMI-S queries.

Our testing required that both products autodiscover a SAN comprising nine HBAs from QLogic and Emulex, two QLogic Fibre Channel switches, Nexsan SATABlade and SATABeast storage arrays, Windows 2000 and 2003 servers, and Red Hat ES 3.0 and 4.0 and SUSE Linux 10 servers. The IP network had three segments in a simulated WAN configuration and two SAN segments using logical unit number (LUN) masking.

Both HP's and Symantec's products did well in discovering SAN devices and providing basic inventory of our SAN. Both discovered and correctly identified all the devices on the SAN in less than a minute.

However, getting the products to go beyond discovery and supply some actual management of the devices was bumpier. For example, neither product would manage the Nexsan storage systems to do tasks such as creating partitions, expanding storage or setting up LUN masking. Also, neither was able to manage all of the HBAs. HP's offering was unable to manage the two oldest QLogic and one of the Emulex HBAs, while Symantec was only able to manage five out of nine HBAs. The point is to peruse carefully the compatibility charts before you begin. (See those charts for HP and Symantec, respectively.)

Both products require agents to sit on Linux systems to gather management data from storage attached to those systems. For storage tied to Windows systems, agents are required to collect information not gathered by the Windows Management Interface, a built-in tool that can gather statistics on, for example, file-system use and throughput of network devices. The bottom line is that these systems are much like network management systems, requiring a fair amount of assembly and tuning.

What follows are the detailed observations collected about each product during testing.

HP's Storage Essentials Enterprise Edition

Storage Essentials is not really one product, but a family of products. The Enterprise Edition includes Storage Essentials, Storage Insight Manager (SIM), a software connector piece between the two pieces of software, and an Oracle database server. Each of these pieces is installed separately, and once all are set up, the whole is nicely integrated and fairly seamless to use.

Storage Essentials Enterprise EditionOVERALL RATING
Company: HP. Cost: $30,000. Pros: Discovers a wide range of arrays and devices; Oracle database makes the product quite scalable. Con: Install is more complex.
Veritas CommandCentral Storage 4.3OVERALL RATING
Company: Symantec. Cost: $25,000. Pros: Easy to install; good reporting tools; can manually add management of nonsupported devices via CLI interface. Cons: CLI administrative setup is complex, but offers potential support for more devices.
The breakdown HPSymantec
Installation 20%45
Discovery 20%54
Management of SAN 20%44
Reporting 20%55
Scalability 20%54
Network World Buyer's Guides: Detailed data on SRM in Network World Buyer's Guide. Click here.
Scoring Key: 5: Exceptional; 4: Very good; 3: Average; 2: Below average; 1: Consistently subpar

Discovery is quick and works well across an entire multinetwork Windows domain, as long as permissions are set up correctly. Storage Essentials provides detailed visibility into HBA, switch and storage configuration, showing all the same information you'd get from the dedicated management utilities provided by the manufacturers, such as network names and worldwide names and numbers, port connected to, LUN masking information and speed of interface supported and in use. The storage-specific information it garners included size of volume, number of files, space used, space free and types of files, as a few examples.

It also can use optional application modules to get storage-related information such as the size of the database, storage used by each user, or system latency from applications such as Exchange and a variety of databases. We did not test these modules.

Storage Essentials can manage a great variety of devices in many ways. As long as you're not trying to run unsupported devices, you can have a single console for tracking storage inventory, receiving alerts and conducting management for the entire SAN.

A topology view in the console gives you a visual representation of the overall SAN, showing interswitch links, redundant and offline connections, each device on the SAN, how they're connected to each other, with what kind of connection (1G/2G/4Gbps connection), the name of each device, the type of server each HBA is connected to, and what type of switch or storage is connected.

The capacity manager tool lets you view overall disk space in use for the entire SAN as well as direct-attached storage on servers, and gives you a means of setting alarms for items such as volumes that are low on capacity, having all ports in use on switches, links that are running at full bandwidth capacity, ports, switches or storage that have failed or aren't responding as quickly as they should.

The performance analysis and monitoring tools provide a view of the SAN's historical-trend data and lets you set alarms if SAN bandwidth use exceeds thresholds or if server queue lengths, memory utilization or other benchmarks are too high. The alarms that we tested all worked, and offer great detail (there are hundreds of possible alarms to set).

The HP SIM software allows you to set policies that will e-mail you if thresholds are crossed, or even execute scripts to add capacity to a volume or limit the amount of space a user can fill. Scripting is limited to the imagination of the administrator: Any of the thousands of management tasks that can be accomplished through the GUI can be scripted. Basic scripts were easy and straightforward to set up, and there are testing tools that allow you to see the results of a running script before you put it into production.

If you get an alert, Storage Essentials provides some effective troubleshooting tools that allow you to discover what storage is visible from a given server without having to access the server directly, for example, reporting on whether an EMC storage array that is connected to the SAN is available to the server.

Additionally, you can poll HBAs and switches to make sure they are properly configured and operating correctly and then roll configuration changes or software updates out to all devices on the SAN if necessary. We were able to roll out configuration changes automatically to the switch and HBAs, and while you would want to carefully debug a deployment, the basic process is straightforward.

Storage Essentials provides role-based security, giving lower-level administrators self-service storage in their domain without granting access to the entire SAN. This feature also lets you easily transfer administrative rights from one administrator to another without having to create new accounts. Reporting tools are excellent, easy to use and powerful. Reports can include any of the thousands of details that the agents collect on the SAN, from user statistics, average use by port number to SAN storage use. You can organize the data in any way you like from columnar text to fancy bar graphs.

Symantec's Veritas CommandCentral Storage

Once completely installed, CommandCentral Storage provides a single window into the SAN, giving you the ability to discover and manage SAN devices and file servers, as well as set alerts and access reporting tools. With additional optional modules, CommandCentral Storage can provide in-depth reporting and management of file servers, Microsoft Exchange, databases on Linux (not Windows) and storage virtualization.

In addition to the Veritas Security Service logon, which controls access to the Veritas Command Central Storage application as well as any other Veritas storage applications on your network, you can configure the server to use SSL rather than HTTP to access the system, though this is not the default setting.

Discovery of the devices on the SAN and servers with agents installed was quick and painless. As with the HP product, visibility into detailed configuration parameters was simply a matter of right-clicking on an object to get more details, including switch, port and configuration parameters. The console can autodiscover devices connected via Fibre Channel or let you manually inventory devices over an IP network using SNMP.

The autodiscovery option serves up basic information on any SAN-connected device. For full information and manageability, you need to install agents on server-connected devices, then manually add those hosts to the list of connected servers. The system will not autodiscover and add systems with agents; you have to manually add the agent host names to the list first or browse for available agents and tell the console to connect to them. The SNMP method requires some preliminary configuration, using the appropriate server or device logons and passwords, which is not a limitation of the Veritas CommandCentral Storage but a limitation of SNMP, which doesn't broadcast any information until after logon.

Once server agents have been added and SNMP configured, administration of the SAN, including setting alerts, running reports or managing any of the available configuration settings on devices can all be accomplished easily, although not quite as transparently as with the HP product. On the other hand, the availability of SNMP management allows for some control over storage devices that aren't directly supported via APIs. For example, we were able to manually configure CommandCentral Storage to administer the Nexsan storage through the command line management interface provided by Nexsan, although each management command had to be entered manually and saved. This would only be useful if you had a large number of identical devices on the SAN, because each command for each device has to be saved separately.

CommandCentral Storage includes the same types of tools for capacity planning and gathering historical-trend data as HP's products. You can gather historical data on any aspect of the SAN from switch or port utilization to amount of space free on a volume, and see trends over time. You can also set up policies that can be applied across all devices of the same type (setting up all switches to use 1G or 2Gbps connections, for instance).

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