Veritas conquers the top tier

CommandCentral 4.2 builds on manageability and interoperability for big SANs

What do you need to properly manage storage across a large enterprise? Different companies will respond differently to this question, but regardless of how you define storage resource management, Veritas CommandCentral will probably meet your requirements.

The recently released CommandCentral 4.2 maintains the easy management, powerful GUI, and rich feature set of previous versions, while providing more comprehensive support for arrays from major vendors such as NetApp and improving monitoring of storage usage. It also boasts a prestigious certification, as it is now compliant with the storage management standards by the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA).

Targeting the areas of SRM (storage resource management), storage clusters, and service availability with numerous applications, Command Central is quite a large beast. For my review I ran tests both in my lab and at Veritas, focusing only on the critical SRM area.

Eye in the Sky
I easily installed CommandCentral on a Dell PowerEdge 1850 server running Windows Server 2003. The setup script installs a database that stores all the details of your storage network and an Apache Web server that gives secure access to the CommandCentral GUI.

CommandCentral uses agents -- you install one on each server -- to automatically discover storage resources such as switches, arrays, HBAs, and volumes. Installing those agents may sound like a lot of work, but Command Central lightens the load through simultaneous push-installs to multiple servers over an IP network.

After installing those agents, I used the central console to activate discrete collectors on each server. At programmable intervals, the collectors capture information from your SAN and update the central database.

An added benefit of using pervasive agents is that you reach every remote corner of your SAN without changing access rules. In fact, in minutes CommandCentral had taken an accurate, comprehensive picture of my storage network, including servers, HBAs, switches, LUNs (logical unit numbers), arrays, applications, and files. Soon, I could query and manage all those resources from a single interface.

Collecting information on files and applications adds much-needed business awareness to CommandCentral. For example, CommandCentral found and correctly flagged as a critical error an inactive SQL Server database that I forgot I had. 

Also noteworthy are CommandCentral’s comprehensive file statistics, which help you pinpoint potential storage misuse. Intuitive graphs allow you to drill down from the space allocated to a LUN to the actual space used by files and applications.

For instance, looking at one of these graphs, properly labeled “possible wasted storage,” I learned that the storage allocated to my test SAN was much more than 3TB but that only 130GB were actually being used. Similar overallocations are common in production environments. Considering the cost of some arrays, you could easily justify the considerable license fee of CommandCentral with money saved by eliminating unnecessary storage purchases.

Big Iron, Big Savings
Regardless of what else you expect from SRM applications, eliminating unnecessary expenditures should be the primary benefit of adopting one. In addition to revealing hidden costs from overallocations, a good SRM should empower storage administrators to be more effective, for example, by consolidating management on a single console and automating tasks such as identifying malfunctions and taking corrective action.

CommandCentral has powerful, easy-to-use wizards that help you track errors and usage trends without writing a single line of code. Naturally, you can set thresholds for specific events and automatically generate messages via e-mail or SNMP.

It took me a minute or so to create a policy that sends an e-mail message to my inbox every time an application server at Veritas becomes unreachable. I am still receiving those messages every time that server shuts down. (Dear Veritas, whenever you get a chance, please kill that policy.)

CommandCentral’s corrective actions are not limited to sending warnings. You can also create policies that run an application following a certain event, such as a script that automatically starts a backup when a database becomes inactive.

Clearly Command-Central empowers storage administrators with its automation tools. Can it also consolidate storage management in a single console? In theory, yes -- because its exceptionally powerful, user-friendly GUI manages critical tasks such as zoning, provisioning, and array management. In reality, it depends on what hardware you have. CommandCentral supports just about any OS -- with the notable exception of VMware -- and most major databases, but hardware support is limited to high-end FC (Fibre Channel) storage devices.

Unfortunately, I have no big storage iron in my lab, and at Veritas, I was not permitted to make changes to the configurations on those devices. As a result, I wasn’t able to evaluate how easy or convenient it is to use CommandCentral instead of the native tools of Hitachi or EMC to, say, provision one of their storage arrays.

As disappointing as that may be, the SRM capabilities of Veritas CommandCentral are truly impressive. CommandCentral’s management GUI is one of the best I have seen; it’s powerful, user-friendly, and intuitive. Even the context-sensitive help to guide your initial steps is a pleasure to use.

More important, the wealth of information provided by CommandCentral’s ubiquitous agents creates a consolidated view of enterprise storage that would be otherwise difficult to attain. If your storage investment hovers near a seven-digit number, consider including CommandCentral in your next budget, where it will probably save you a lot of money.

InfoWorld Scorecard
Ease of use (10.0%)
Value (10.0%)
Management (30.0%)
Setup (10.0%)
Scalability (20.0%)
Interoperability (20.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
Veritas CommandCentral 4.2 9.0 9.0 8.0 9.0 9.0 8.0 8.5
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