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Storage Foundation - Can Anyone Beat It?

Created: 29 Jun 2009 • Updated: 29 Jun 2009
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clewis's picture
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Sometimes you wonder how difficult the task of a Storage Administrator can be. Especially when you manage the environment consisting of Multivendor storage devices, Multiple Operating Systems, Heterogeneous servers, multiple applications and database. Suddenly the management asks you several questions regarding the storage, its utilization, its backup and there is no answer.

We begin to wonder that Is there a real solution for all these issues? Can Storage administration become easy? Would we be able to manage all the Storage Centrally? Can we get a real time replication of the storage? Would we be able to manage the storage efficiently and increase its performance? Would we be able to optimize the storage for read/write intensive applications? And above all everything in a single application or centralized management!!! All the above things sound difficult and at a time it seemed impossible. But all thanks to SYMANTEC Storage Foundation, life has not been the same. And to all these questions, the answer is a SIMPLE YES and would you believe it is much more than a SIMPLE YES.

On the way to my article, I would not only highlight how Symantec Storage Foundation can help you use all your storage space efficiently but also highlight lots of other features which would make your administration tasks easy and help your management achieve the business standard and compliance.

In the previous organization, where I worked, we had an environment consisting of Multivendor storage devices, Heterogeneous servers, multiple applications and database. Most of the servers were Windows based. Microsoft Exchange was the mailing system used and was one of the very critical applications. Any downtime on Microsoft Exchange services would cause great problems and loss of data was intolerable. We used some Web based application having Microsoft SQL as the backend database and these databases were huge. There were quite few of these huge databases.

We had about 200 TB Storage Space on 7 Different storage devices of 3 Different vendors. The huge problem here was the entire system was disorganized. A single report from a single storage or a server was itself getting difficult to be generated. There was no proper change management.
One of the huge headaches was few of the important data about 3 TB in size were on the local disk of the servers. Time and Time we had planned to shift it to the SAN but were not successful due to some or the other reason. One of the important reasons was that we were not able to get the downtime that we required as we worked round the clock.
Secondly, they had not sized the Storage space correctly. There were quite a few servers that were assigned additional space and some that were running out of storage space.

Apart from the above problems there were lot of other important functionalities missing in the environment, which could have made the Storage Management task very easy. But since nobody knew about these functionalities, things progressed as it used to be. No proper reports, no proper statistic, no high availability and list continues…..till the day we were contacted by one of the Symantec consultant.

Things really changed after that and fortunately I was assigned the task of evaluating Storage Foundation along with the Symantec consultant. He also suggested us to evaluate Volume replicator, which was available as one of the modules. The consultant didn’t find it much difficult to convince the management to start evaluating Storage Foundation and after submitting some datasheets, whitepapers, got a date for a meeting to plan the evaluation. During the meeting it was decided that a plain demo won’t be that efficient and the management stressed the need for a POC, which was happily accepted by the consultant.

So a week later the actual POC started and as decided on the Scope of work, we begin to evaluate most of the functionalities of the product. At the start I was really wondering if this would work as per all the hype created by Symantec about its product and secondly I really thought whether I would be able to understand and learn such a product. I had my doubts cleared within a few hours.

The Installation of the product was not at all a rocket science and I thought that anybody without much expertise would be able to do it. Again as usual with all Symantec products, the management was done through a very user friendly GUI. About the functions used with the products, it was very exciting to learn them and of course, very helpful in our environment. Some of the functions that were really useful for us were:

1. Dynamic Multipathing (DMP): Since we used Multi-ported Disk arrays, we connected all the host systems through multiple paths. It automatically detected the various paths to the disk. We configured Active / Active array support, which allowed several paths to be used concurrently for I/O. DMP provided greater I/O throughput by balancing the I/O load uniformly across the multiple paths to the LUNs. In the event that one path failed, DMP automatically routed I/O over the other available path. We in fact tested this functionality by disconnecting one of the path and this function worked as described.

2. Manage the Storage as Dynamic Disk: This was a very good option provided by Symantec, which enabled us shrink the size of the volume and even shred it in case its required. And we were able to do most of these configurations without any downtime. Due to this feature, we were able to move the data from the Local Disks directly on the SAN with a very small downtime. It was actually 50% faster than our expectations and saved a lot of time. Moving the data was also very easy. In fact we were easy able to move the data from an old storage to a newly procured storage with ease. We were able to recover storage space from many servers that were allocated more space due to incorrect sizing. The Volume Shrink feature helped us to claim these unused storage space.

3. Flashsnap: This option provided us "snapshot" copies for our critical business applications and this was really a useful feature for backing up the data. By allowing the backup server to access the snapshots of the information created, all our backup operations happened without impacting the performance of the application or the database server. This option was excellent in our environment and we were able to use these options for all our storage arrays.

4. Volume Replication: One of the best features available as an option from Symantec. With the help of Volume Replicator, we were able to replicate the data at a volume/block level between two Multivendor Storage arrays. It gave us the option of synchronous as well as a synchronous replication. To add to it, we were able to throttle the bandwidth used for the replication. Once this option was configured and deployed, the top management people were very happy, since now they found that recovery could be very easy even if one of the storage goes down for any reason.

5. Centralized Management: This proved to be a boon and a really convincing factor to procure Storage Foundation. Using Storage Foundation Manager, we were able to do centralized management. All LUNS and arrays could be seen on a single screen and there was a clear Business view where a manager could see the usage of all the storage devices. We were able to do most of the storage operations from this screen. All the Host, whether its a private or Shared LUN, total Size, Free space, Status, Disks, Volumes and much more could be viewed on a single screen and clearly all the management and the administrator were very happy with what they saw.

6. Reporting: Hmm... This is the part which everyone in the organization, especially the business owners were eager to see. And they were not disappointed to see the reports. They were able to see the report of all online and offline systems, groups and clusters along with their platform. Also it was easy to see any faults in the group using the reports

7. Performance Monitoring: Now this is a part where troubleshooting an issue became very easy and of course it helped us in storage optimization. We were able to monitor all disks and volumes online. We were able to track Read and Write Request per second, Read and Write blocks per Second and many other performance monitors across all the disk on all storages. We were also able to view Historical based statistics and graphs for various storage objects

Apart from the above, there are lots of other things our organization benefited after the deployment of Storage Foundation software. The most important thing is we were able to utilize the storage more efficiently than we were being doing before. We were able to show all the reports that the top management expected from us. Now all the people who requested for storage space or those were already being assigned the storage space became accountable for the storage usage.

Since the deployment and within a month of the software usage we were able to recover at least 20 TB of storage volume that was being unused. Provisioning of the storage really became an easy task.

I have not evaluated any other storage software and will never find any need to do that. But I would be happy if the time comes that I need to prove that Symantec Storage Foundation is the best. And to all who read this article, ENJOY YOUR RIDE WITH SYMANTEC STORAGE FOUNDATION.