EMC tackles SAN configuration problems

EMC Corp. on Tuesday announced Storage Configuration Advisor (SCA), a hardware-software combination designed to alert IT managers to configuration errors in storage-area networks (SANs).

Kevin Gray, product marketing manager for the resource management group at Hopkinton, Mass.-based EMC, said SCA is a PC server with discovery software that is agentless, meaning you can get information on SAN devices without installing software on all of them.

SCA is scheduled to ship in June.

“What they’ve announced is pretty cool technology for them, in the fact that it’s agentless,” said Bob Laliberte, an analyst with the Enterprise Strategy Group of Milford, Mass. “One of the biggest pain points for end users deploying a product is that it will have agents. You’re seeing EMC coming out with a lot more of these agentless products.”

Pricing is based on storage capacity. For example, the 10 Terabyte version costs US$38,480.

SCA is another product in a series that includes Application Discovery Manager, Server Configuration Manager and Voyence, which “does similar things for the network side,” Gray said.

Application Discovery Manager, announced in May, 2008, is designed to detect servers, applications and how those applications depend on each other.

Server Configuration Manager, announced last October, discovers details about IT infrastructure and includes compliance toolkits for regulations and standards.

Voyence, which is designed to manage changes to network configurations, is a technology EMC acquired when it acquired a company of the same name in 2007.

“EMC is really putting together a lot of those pieces of the puzzle to give you that overall picture of the data centre,” Laliberte said.

SCA is designed to discover hardware in the data centre and detect configuration errors. It also documents the history of changes, providing an audit trail. The software includes templates and wizards designed to make it easier to apply policies to groups of objects.

Gray said it’s difficult for IT managers to keep track of items that are either incompatible or incorrectly configured on a storage-area network, especially with more than 1,000 servers maintaining host agents. This in turn leads to network outages, he added.

Laliberte agreed.

“On Day 1, everything is designed correctly, especially with regards to high availability, where you have redundant paths,” he said. “Over time, when you’ve got changes, either planned or unplanned, that’s really when the problems start coming up, so in a lot of the cases, you’ll get an application outage because a link went down. Typically one link going down shouldn’t cause the outage, but because one of the redundant links was taken down some other time and no one noticed it, then you have an outage because you have a failure.”

SCA includes dashboards that rank policy breaches by severity. Gray said this helps IT managers see which applications are affected by policy breaches, and which breaches are affecting the most important services.

“Having that end to end view of IT services, that cuts across the data centre, will enable them to drive more efficiency so that they can increase service levels while decreasing costs,” Gray said.

He added IT staff working on back- end infrastructure do not always understand how problems in their area affect business services. At the same time, he said, service desk staff don’t necessarily have a good view of what is occurring, why it is occurring or when it’s going to be fixed.

“They just get a call from an end user saying, ‘Hey, I’m having a problem, my application’s either down or its’ running slow, can you help me?’”

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