Tools ease SAN pain

Storage Area Networks (SANs) offer enormous business benefits and cost savings but not without risk. SANs let you consolidate your storage infrastructure, maximise the use of available storage and enable a greater range of data to be accessible across the organisation. But SANs are not easy to design, deploy or manage.

Part of the challenge with designing and deploying SANs is ensuring the various hardware devices they comprise, such as hot bus adapters (HBAs), switches, fabric connections and storage devices are fully interoperable.

Until industry-wide standards for SANs evolve, many organisations are attempting to take a homogenous approach, using as many SAN components from a single vendor as they can. However, in practice, enterprises find they can’t use the one vendor for everything — they have to mix and match hardware based on their budgets, existing solutions and IT business objectives. This can make SAN design a complex and time-consuming endeavour. Like designing a kitchen, it’s hard to get right the first time.

There are design tools available that remove a lot of the heartache from designing a SAN. Such tools validate the architecture of the SAN before physical deployment. For example, they ensure a particular switch from one vendor is compatible with a storage array from another vendor by comparing proposed devices to a pre-loaded database of specifications.

SAN design tools validate the business objectives of deploying a SAN by comparing these against a knowledge database to give an indication of performance, levels of redundancy and availability. You can also use SAN design tools to ensure that your SAN design matches-up with the requirements and service levels necessary to support your business.

Once designed and deployed, a SAN can swallow-up resources due to its complexity, constant change and (if poorly designed) lack of resilience. Management software is a prerequisite for any enterprise wanting to keep resourcing under control. Without a management tool it becomes impossible to track changes dynamically.

As more enterprises deploy SANs because of the freedom they provide to scale IT infrastructure, SAN design and management tools will continue to evolve.

Andrew Antal is storage specialist, Computer Associates Australia

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