Onaro: A SAN Management Play with a Lot of Vowels

SANscreen tells you what you have, where it is, and who’s using it

This column gets a lot of e-mail because we are on a very short list of folks who will give the smaller storage start-ups of the world a little ink. Print magazine editors shy away from stories about innovative entrepreneurs partly out of fear that they will be swallowed up by a big fish in the industry before the ink is dry on the page. Our on-line newsletter reaches readers more quickly, so we’re less concerned about this outcome.

The only problem is that everybody and his kid sister with a Web site, a PowerPoint deck, and an idea wants some press coverage, even though most whiteboard technology remains forever in its primordial vaporware state. So, a line has to be drawn , and we tend to draw it when the company wants to walk us through its working software demonstration. That’s what Onaro pitched to me last week; and to be honest, if the pitch hadn’t come to me by way of a familiar PR source, I might have marked the e-mail as a junk message and blocked the sender forever.

I mean, what is Onaro anyway? Sounds like an herbal replacement for one of those popular drugs that help men throw footballs through tire swings. Or maybe a lesser known land mass in the Hawaiian island chain. It has a lot of vowels for a SAN management software vendor.

That said, I was happy to have scheduled a meeting with Assaf Levy, Onaro’s VP of Product Management and Andrew Bird, VP of Marketing. These Onaro folks have carved out a nice niche in the storage management market and delivered a good product for addressing some important requirements.

Before you start to yawn about yet another column on yet another management software product in a market that proffers 270-plus products with little to differentiate one from another, I have to tell you that the Onaro offering is a bit peculiar. Part of the reason has to do with the conceptualization that Onaro makes of storage management itself. They haven’t done as thorough a job in mapping out the components of storage management as current HDS CIO Hu Yoshida did in his early days at IBM, but they have made a couple of pragmatic observations that are the foundation of their wares.

For one, the Onaro folks position their software on the management-software stack just below Storage Resource Management and just above physical plumbing and interconnects. They refer to their technology as a solution for SAN Change Management and Validation, providing functionality for Fibre Channel interconnect and nodal monitoring and troubleshooting, with some planning- and implementation-support functionality thrown in for good measure.

This is not a storage management play in the grander sense of the term. What I liked about it was the way it would save storage managers from getting ink poisoning by writing names and addresses for their SAN devices on their forearms. Onaro’s product discovers what is connected to what in the SAN and represents it on the screen in an intelligent visual display with a lot of drill-down capability. Bottom line: it’s a pretty slick utility, which explains why some major players, including Cisco Systems, have deployed the product for use in their own shops.

Onaro’s SANscreen (even the product name suggests skin protection) audits the SAN infrastructure through agentless processes initiated by the SANscreen host—a PC or laptop. If left connected to the SAN, the product will log all events and changes made to the infrastructure over time, so you can tell when a cable was disconnected or a node was taken off line.

The product provides the means for collaboration among all the folks with a say over storage allocation in large companies, from storage managers and wiring guys to database and server administrators. They can see what they have, how it’s wired together, whether it’s being provided with appropriate pathing given the application being supported, along with other useful attributes that can reduce the manual burden of SAN configuration.

The demo was pretty impressive and suggests that the product will become an important part of the tool chest for companies that elected to deploy that “not-ready-for-business-primetime” FC fabric a couple of years ago and are still waiting for it to deliver the business value promised in the vendor brochure. The only other product I have seen that did the kind of job SANscreen does is the SAN Designer that Computer Associates offers as part of its BrightStor Storage Management Suite.

SANscreen is limited in many ways (Onaro might say it has a lot of room for functional expansion). For one, unlike the CA BrightStor contender, it lacks a database of FC components and their interoperability details. CA’s product lets the designer know if he is planning to deploy a component that has not been certified to work with other components in his SAN. That’s important.

Another thing that I think could be improved about SANscreen is its monitoring capability, not only for the Fibre Channel interconnects between devices in the fabric, but also their IP connections, which are all-important for SAN management of any sort. Support for blade servers that take their identities upon initial boot is also a gap in the current product, as is its lack of understanding of virtualization software that may be riding above the physical device level.

But I have to cut these guys some slack. The function set they are delivering is certainly in keeping with the input about requirements they received from users after a year or so of exhaustive interviews and analysis. Plus, the feature set in the current software is solid, putting it ahead of a lot of the vaporware being sold by established vendors in the market today.

As a baseline FC map and monitor, this is pretty good stuff. Worth a look. If you are a user of Onaro SANscreen and would like to share your views, please e-mail them to jtoigo@intnet.net.

About the Author

Jon William Toigo is chairman of The Data Management Institute, the CEO of data management consulting and research firm Toigo Partners International, as well as a contributing editor to Enterprise Systems and its Storage Strategies columnist. Mr. Toigo is the author of 14 books, including Disaster Recovery Planning, 3rd Edition, and The Holy Grail of Network Storage Management, both from Prentice Hall.