CA Unleashes SAN Manager

New BrightStor product facilitates storage management by its impact on business processes

This week, Computer Associates International Inc. (CA) announced BrightStor SAN Manager, a storage resource management (SRM) tool that it says can facilitate the administration of heterogeneous SANs.

Although most storage hardware vendors market their own SRM tools for storage area networks—EMC Corp., for example, markets ControlCenter SAN Manager, while competitor Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) touts its HiCommand tool for the same purpose—CA positions BrightStor SAN Manager as a third-party tool that supports an impressive variety of storage networking devices and which has been designed from the ground-up for ease of use.

Eric Pitcher, CA’s VP of BrightStor brand management, says SAN Manager can facilitate administration by lower-level operational staff. “We’ve created a solution that’s not just replacing a bunch of already complex tools with an even more complex tool. [BrightStor SAN Manager is] a solution so that even lower-level IT people can manage SANs, which are so complex that they’re usually only managed by the senior-level people.”

Another differentiator between BrightStor SAN Manager and competitive offerings, says Pitcher, is its support for business process use, making it possible to view and understand a storage network in terms of the business processes that it enables. In this scenario an IT organization could define, for example, a payroll application—which is supported on the hardware side by a computer host, a host bus adapter, a SAN switch, and a number of disk devices—as a business process group inside of SAN Manager, such that if anything should happen to any device in the group, its failure could be understood in terms of the business process that it impacts.

According to Dennis Martin, an associate partner with storage consultancy Evaluator Group Inc., the notion of managing storage in terms of its impact on business processes is one that is gaining traction among purveyors of SRM products. For the moment, he points out, CA appears to have beaten them to the punch. “The specific thing they’re calling business process use is unique to CA, although a couple of the other vendors have begun to realize the importance of being able to manage an application, or manage a business function, and looking at storage in that way.”

CA’s Pitcher says that another strength of the new SAN Manager product is its ability to integrate with, and leverage the strengths of, CA’s existing stable of management tools, particularly Unicenter. “I can leverage my enterprise-level security components into the SAN, such as audit components, user administration, or policies. I can take advantage of Unicenter’s support for performance management.”

Companies that have already deployed Unicenter, Pitcher says, can install BrightStor SAN Manager on top of it. One such customer is Electronic Theatre Controls (ETC), a provider of entertainment and architectural lighting equipment. Mike Eckert, an information services specialist with ETC, says that his company has used SAN Manager since it first went into beta. ETC currently supports an ERP database (among other applications) on a SAN that consists of 1.8 TB of EMC storage and a SAN switch from storage networking specialist Brocade Communications Systems Inc.

Eckert acknowledges that ETC could have picked from any of a number of SAN management products. “The big tie-in for me was that we are using CA's Unicenter product, and this ties in all of the management functions that I was used to, as far as agents and other things go, and ties that into the SAN and the switches. So now I’m getting event notification on all of the pieces of the SAN and the fabric and the switches, and I’m able to notify the sys admins when there are problems and other things going on.”

Pitcher says that SAN Manager supports Bluefin, a SAN management standard that exploits the Common Information Model (CIM), an extensible standard proposed by the Desktop Management Task Force that defines a common model for the management of a variety of devices.

According to independent storage consultant Arun Taneja, formerly of SAN specialist Vixel Corp., the Bluefin standard—while an important milestone in SAN management—currently lacks the robustness of proprietary storage APIs. Moreover, he points out, some storage vendors still haven’t introduced support for Bluefin in their products. “It’s going to take some time. Right now, we’re in a stage where every hardware vendor has made public statements that they will support Bluefin … but that doesn’t necessarily mean that all of these vendors are energetically doing development on that. Some are and some are not, but we didn’t, for example, see all vendors suddenly shipping Bluefin-enabled products by January, 2003.”

For his part, CA’s Pitcher says that Bluefin lets SAN Manager reach into storage networking devices from a variety of different vendors, but acknowledges that the standard is still a work in progress. “It has a lot of promise, but we still need to integrate it with all of the APIs of the individual vendors.”

To overcome the limitations of the current iteration of the Bluefin standard, some vendors—Hewlett-Packard Co. and HDS among them—have participated in API-swapping agreements. Pitcher says that BrightStor SAN Manager currently supports the native APIs of several SAN switch vendors, and indicates that CA will introduce support for additional APIs in the future.

In terms of functionality, Evaluator Group’s Martin says that BrightStor SAN Manager is at least competitive with SRM offerings from other vendors. At the same time, he concedes, some vendors are now shipping the second or third generations of their products, while CA has just shipped its first. “Some of the other products have stronger or wider support for the native hardware APIs, so that you can manage those devices directly from the software. CA doesn’t have as much of that yet, although they say that they plan to put that in.”

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.