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An increase in the number of vendors providing Storage Area Network (SAN) products has helped create complex SAN environments. If your SAN environment has grown to include products from multiple vendors, you know how difficult it is to manage the heterogeneous conglomeration of hardware and software that your SAN comprises. Fortunately, the storage industry recognizes the need for comprehensive heterogeneous-SAN management tools, and you can choose from many excellent products.

In your evaluation of SAN management software, consider core functionality, which includes discovery and mapping of storage devices, switches, and servers; monitoring and alerting for discovered devices; and logical partitioning or zoning of the SAN. In addition to looking for management of typical SAN components such as host bus adapters (HBAs), storage devices, cables, and switches, look for a product that can manage multiple server platforms and OSs, includes zoning tools, and can integrate with other management tools.

Discovery and Mapping
Look for a product that will discover and display the devices in your SAN in easy-to-comprehend maps. The product you choose should let you drill down to detailed displays of physical (e.g., switches, HBAs) and logical (e.g., LUN masking, zoning) information about your SAN.

Monitoring and Alerting
A SAN is a large investment, so you want to make sure you receive the maximum Return on Investment (ROI). Look for the ability to monitor and analyze your SAN's performance. Find a product that provides functional out-of-the-box monitoring and alerting. The product should let you enter your own rule sets for event triggers. Verify that the alert options (i.e., pager, email, or SNMP) fit into your organization's current management processes. Historical trending data and reports can help you identify potential problems before they grow out of control and can help you plan and implement an effective SAN expansion.

Configuring Storage and Controlling Access
You'll want a product that lets you centrally configure your SAN devices and maintain the configuration data in a central repository. Such a product will ease the task of managing devices from multiple vendors by providing one UI from which you can manage zones and LUN masking. Zoning and LUN masking let you logically group storage resources to ensure that only appropriate systems can access those resources. Look for the flexibility of zoning through World Wide Names (WWNs) as well as port zoning. Some vendors let you combine zoning and LUN masking in one operation.

Scalability and Support
Even if you currently employ hardware from only one or a few SAN vendors, you should still make sure that any management solution you purchase can grow with your SAN with respect to scalability and heterogeneous support. Any solution that figures in the future of your organization's SAN management scheme should support products from SAN heavyweights such as Brocade, EMC, HDS, McDATA, and QLogic. The ability to support a heterogeneous mix of products is a good indicator of a management-solution vendor's implementation of open standards, which will enable the vendor to add timely support for new products. Evaluate how the SAN management solution will fit into your enterprise-management scheme, and determine whether the product integrates with enterprise-management offerings from BMC, Computer Associates (CA), Hewlett-Packard (HP), and IBM Tivoli Software.

Finally, check the solution's road map before you make your purchase decision. The Storage Network Industry Association (SNIA) is developing a complete management standard called Bluefin through its Storage Management Initiative. Solutions that are poised to embrace Bluefin today will likely prove to be reliable, stable tools for managing your SANs over the long haul.

See associated Buyer's Guide.