SAN monitoring products boosted by virtualisation

SAN monitoring is more necessary than ever with the demands of server virtualisation. We survey the market, from hardware products to Software as a Service offerings.

With the increasing loads modern SANs have to bear in large and complex virtual computing environments, administrators now need SAN monitoring tools that can confirm their storage is operating at peak health.

Business goals require service-level guarantees and in-depth reporting to justify funding in these increasingly lean times. Optimising storage performance via SAN monitoring tools is an efficient way of controlling growing costs by getting maximum performance from existing infrastructures.

As all SAN administrators know, performance bottlenecks can occur for several reasons in the storage infrastructure. Inefficient configurations, host bus adapter (HBA) performance, unoptimised use of fabric bandwidth and poor IOPS performance are the primary areas of concern.

In this article we’ll look at some of the SAN monitoring products available today -- both hardware- and software-based -- which can offer administrators an insight into how to optimise their storage estates.

Virtual Instruments

Virtual Instruments has been providing SAN monitoring tools since 2008 and offers a two-part vendor-agnostic SAN monitoring product consisting of the VirtualWisdom software suite and the SANInsight range of hardware-based appliances.

VirtualWisdom features the SAN Availability Probe, which monitors fabric switches via SNMP and provides metrics and fault reporting on a port-by-port basis.

Also available is the Virtual Server Probe, which analyses more than 100 VMware ESX and ESXi performance metrics -- including storage, network and utilization analysis -- and operates via a VMware vCenter server. The suite’s SAN Performance Probe, meanwhile, analyses frame headers at up to 8 Gbps and measures all SCSI I/O transactions for every initiator/target/LUN transaction.

The final two parts of the VirtualWisdom suite are the VirtualWisdom Server and the VirtualWisdom Dashboard, which collect and display the gathered health data and provide administrators with reporting and alarm monitoring capabilities.

The Virtual Instruments SANInsight hardware range consists of a passive Traffic Access Point (TAP) patch panel, which gathers out-of-band signal data; the SANInsight Rover physical-layer switch for frame header analysis; and the SANInsight Protocol Analyzer.

Rover physical-layer switches can be connected to TAPs and the SANInsight Protocol Analyzer for performance data gathering in large implementations. The Protocol Analyzer can also be used independently or directly via a TAP where Rover switches are not required.

Virtual Instruments’ products are available for purchase or as a service via certified providers. This gives organisations flexibility when deciding which levels of monitoring to implement without the burden of long-term investment in training and technology refresh costs.


Brocade is one of the two main players, along with Cisco, in the fabric switching market. It offers a proprietary Software as a Service (SaaS) SAN testing suite, the Brocade SAN Health family. This leverages Brocade-specific fabric performance data via point-in-time snapshots. The newly released Version 3.2 also supports Cisco MDS switches.

The first two components of the suite, SAN Health Diagnostics Capture and Brocade SAN Health Professional, are available free of charge to Brocade customers and resellers as a direct download from the Brocade website.

Once the software is installed on a workstation with Telnet access to fabric switches, data capture commences and raw switch protocol data is collated and converted into health and performance reports remotely by the Brocade service. Users then log in to a unique account, and final audit reports can be downloaded via an email link. These include alerting and fault analysis.

The remaining parts of the suite, SAN Health Professional Change Analysis and SAN Health Expert, are chargeable services and offer detailed analysis of switch data capture by Brocade, change management/audit reporting and quarterly analysis meetings with certified consultants. Sample reports can be viewed at the Brocade website.


OneCommand Vision from Emulex is an agent-based software tool that focuses on I/O performance analysis and looks at storage access performance from a virtual server host via its installed Fibre Channel and Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) host bus adapters.

Compatibility extends to third-party-manufactured HBAs, including the whole QLogic range, and the application is supported under both VMware and Hyper-V hypervisors.

OneCommand Vision provides an application-centric view that gives administrators an in-depth look at application storage transaction performance, trending, I/O latency, volume and protocol analysis.

The product also features alert integration with enterprise monitoring tools such as HP OpenView and Microsoft System Center Operations Manager (SCOM), as well as an administrator dashboard that provides I/O latency, I/O profiles, I/O analysis, intelligent alerts and I/O report functions.

For users who require a higher level of professional analysis, the subscription-based I/O Performance and Availability Service (IPAS) involves Emulex directly in the OneCommand Vision analysis process and provides organisations with service-level guarantees and ongoing consultancy to maximise storage infrastructure optimisation.

Customer costs are kept low in basic implementations without IPAS as licensing is based on the cost of the OneCommand Vision monitoring station. and unlimited numbers of additional plug-ins for virtual hosts are free to download.


Storage Resource Analysis from StorageFusion is also a software-based SAN audit tool that offers compatibility across storage arrays from vendors including EMC, IBM, NetApp, Hewlett-Packard and Hitachi Data Systems.

The StorageFusion product leverages the Service Language Command functions common to all vendors’ storage systems and collates report data via a portal-based SaaS implementation.

StorageFusion claims that Storage Resource Analysis defines the complex relationships within storage estates across multiple locations and provides organisations with reports that allow them to maximise their storage efficiency. Components of the system include multiple dashboards displaying capacity trending, thin provisioning and storage virtualisation monitoring, environmental monitoring, data tier reporting and system configuration management.

As the StorageFusion product is completely agent free and uses existing hardware functionality, it is billed as a zero-impact tool for storage administrators. StorageFusion features no upfront deployment or licensing costs and is sold on a monthly subscription basis.

Storage administrators now have a range of options available when testing their SAN environments for peak efficiency. Depending on the type of implementation required and the business focus of the systems concerned, there is definitely a product out there that can fit any SAN health niche, whether the focus is virtualisation or data and application management.

The emergence of SaaS as an implementation option now gives organisations the ability to budget for their SAN health needs on a subscription basis without the need to make major investments in equipment and training. This makes this type of service much more accessible across the board and allows for storage optimisation at a lower cost than dedicated consultancy.

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