IBM, Dell, and DataCore have announced new online tools that might help you gauge your Storage Area Network (SAN) requirements. IBM's and Dell's tools help you determine your storage needs from their respective storage product lines, which can accommodate many enterprises' complete requirements. Because DataCore's SANsymphony product serves as a SAN "domain controller (DC)" that routes storage requests from a network through the server to the SAN, the company's tool reflects SAN requirements without regard to vendor. In the past, a product such as HighGround Storage Resource Management (SRM) offered such analytical functions, but managers, Value Added Resellers (VARs), and other storage professionals are finding such analytic tools increasingly useful in and of themselves.

To use IBM's SAN Consultant \[http://www.developer.ibm.com/welcome/myvc.pl\], you need Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) 5.0 or higher and a Java Virtual Machine (VM) installed. (If you've turned off Java in your Options dialog box, be sure to enable Java first.) When you get to the Welcome page, click "Solution sizing tools" in the list on the left, select SAN from the Search by Category drop-down list, and then choose the SAN Sizer link.

Dell's Server and Storage Sizing Tools match PowerEdge Servers with PowerVault. Dell's Web page lists several tools for sizing by application, which is useful. Dell's SAN Configuration Tool, which appears near the bottom of the page, is a graphical tool that lets you design your SAN by adding icons of Dell components to a drawing work surface. As you add components and interconnections, the tool asks you for their properties. When you're finished with your design, the tool verifies your SANs, making sure you have all the necessary connections. You must download the application and run it from your desktop.

If you're an IBM or Dell customer, you can use each vendor's tools to spec a homogeneous SAN based on that company's offerings. If you want to implement a heterogeneous SAN, however, the IBM and Dell tools won't help—other than guiding you through the process of asking the right questions. DataCore's interactive SAN tool

is meant to help you evaluate the costs and benefits of implementing a storage network, including Return on Investment (ROI) and total cost of ownership (TCO) metrics.

DataCore provides three tools: the DataCore SAN Assessment, the SAN ROI/TCO Calculator, and the SANsymphony Configurator and Quoting Tool. The assessment tool asks questions about your existing storage infrastructure—whether you are using direct attached storage, Network Attached Storage (NAS), or a SAN—and returns a report summarizing your responses. Questions embedded in the tool help you assess price tradeoffs.

Basically, IBM's and Dell's tools are most useful for configuring small to midsized SANs using those vendors' products. If you need such a SAN, you'll find them particularly helpful for pricing. The DataCore solution is a useful starting place for generating a planning document.

Eventually, more tools of this ilk will appear in products such as Veritas' SANPoint Control and will offer additional functions. But these three tools give you a place to start—to help you think about the various aspects of enterprise storage such as consolidation, high availability, heterogeneous server support, and other challenges that SANs can help address.