Brocade's SAN Health makes house calls

It may sound obvious, but the larger a storage network gets, the more difficult it is to keep it well documented and, more importantly, well tuned. Sooner or later, administrators in charge of large storage structures will welcome -- and actually ask for -- an expert opinion on configuration, topology, and performance of their SAN.

Steve Wynne, now technical marketing manager at Brocade (and formerly chief SAN architect for the Asia and Pacific areas) knows that all too well. "Almost every customer I visited asked me to inspect their network," he explains.

Wynne was glad to oblige those requests, but after numerous similar sessions, he decided to write a program to automate the long and tedious network-inspection process. This is how the first version of SAN Health was born, a little more than two years ago.

Brocade was so pleased with the first version that it assigned other resources to help Wynne make SAN Health a sophisticated analytic tool, available free of charge to all customers.

Learning how SAN Health works is fascinating. After downloading this Windows application from the Brocade Web site, you just enter the IP address of one or more switches, and SAN Health will accurately discover the rest of the network using console commands.

SAN Health captures just about any information you will ever need to know for each of your SANs, including name and model of each switch, their speeds, the overall number of ports, which ports are being used, and what devices are attached to them.

The application will also take the pulse of your network, collecting critical indicators such as fan speed, internal temperature, and the status of power supply modules in each enclosure. You also have the option to gather performance statistics, timed according to a custom schedule.

The database captured by SAN Health is then uploaded to Brocade's report-generation servers, where it's formatted into an Excel spreadsheet that contains a summary table of the entire network, a diagram in Visio format, and detailed information on each switch and each SAN.

Depending on the load, customers receive their spreadsheet by e-mail after a few hours. Interestingly, the spreadsheet cells are color-coded to mark areas that need attention. For example, in the test that Wynne ran for me a faulty power supply was colored orange, while a less severe condition -- a zone disconnected from the rest of the fabric -- was marked in blue.

SAN Health reports also include recommendations on what you should improve and how, as well as charts showing performance data. Can't get enough of XML? For the joy of your developers, SAN Health delivers the same detailed data in XML format, too.

Wondering if Brocade is going to use the data collected by SAN Health? Of course it is; those databases are invaluable to better understanding how the switches are used in the field, which helps in planning for new Brocade products and features, Wynne explains.

Despite his new technical marketing manager position, SAN Health is still keeping Wynne busy. "I had to bring up new report-generation servers to cope with the demand," he tells me.

Apparently SAN Health is an offer that customers find difficult to refuse, and understandably so: It's the fastest and most affordable way to get excellent documentation and an expert opinion for your SAN. Unfortunately, it collects data only from switches made by Brocade or by its OEMs. One can only hope that other vendors take note; there are lots of SAN admins desperate for this type of application.

Mario Apicella is a senior analyst at the InfoWorld Test Center.

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