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Monitoring Storage: Who Wants To Know?

Level 9

In my time at Tech Field Day, I've heard a lot of discussion about monitoring products. Sometimes these talks get contentious, with folks pointing out that a certain feature is "useless" while another (usually missing) one is absolutely critical for a product to be taken seriously. Then one day it clicked: Monitoring isn't one thing; there are lots of different tasks that can be called "monitoring"!

Diff'rent Strokes

Let's consider storage. Administrators are concerned with configuration and capacity. IT management is worried about service levels and cost. Operations worries about failures and errors. The vendor has a whole set of parameters they're tracking. Yet all of these things could be considered "monitoring"!

Realizing that monitoring means different things to different people, I've come to look at monitoring tools differently too. And it's really brought them into focus for me. Some tools are clearly designed for IT, with troubleshooting and capacity planning as the focus. Others are obviously management-focused, with lots of pretty charts about service level objectives and chargeback. And so on.

Given the diversity of these tools, it's no wonder that they appear controversial when viewed by people with different perspectives. Systems administrators have a long-standing disdain for cost accounting tools, so it's no wonder they flinch when presented by a tool that focuses on that area. And they'd be sorely disappointed if such a monitoring package didn't show hardware errors, even though these wouldn't be appropriate for an IT management audience.

So What Cha Want?

Without getting too "zen" I think I can safely say that one must look inside oneself before evaluating monitoring products. What features do you really need? What will help you get your job done and look like a superstar? What insight are you lacking? You must know these points first before you even consider looking at a flashy new product.

And some products sure are flashy! I'll admit, I've often been sucked in by a sleek, responsive HTML5 interface with lots of pretty graphics and fonts. But sometimes a simple text-mode tool can be much more useful! Never underestimate the power of "du -sk * | sort -n", "iostat -x 60", and "df` -h"! But high-level tools can be incredibly valuable, too. I'd rather have a tool surface the critical errors than try to "awk" my way through a log file...

Consider too whether you're ready to take advantage of the features offered. No amount of SLO automation will help you develop the SLA's in the first place. And does any company really have an effective cost model? The best tools will help you build understanding even if you don't have any starting inputs.

Stephen's Stance

I can't tell you how often I've tried out a new monitoring tool only to never return to look at the output. Monitoring isn't one thing, and the tools you use should reflect what you need to accomplish. Consider your objectives and look for tools that advance them rather than trying out every cool tool on the market.

I am Stephen Foskett and I love storage. You can find more writing like this at blog.fosketts.net​, connect with me as @SFoskett​ on Twitter, and check out my Tech Field Day events.

11 Comments
MVP
MVP

Monitoring storage can be tricky.

Make it simple and get all the SW Orion modules, and allocate enough staff to learn & implement & maintain them.

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MVP
MVP

So many SANs...

haha! That's a hoot, rschroeder🙂

You raise valuable questions with this blog post, sfoskett​ .I am curious to know how many other Thwacksters out there have more than 5 SAN's in their landscape today. I use 5 as the threshold to attempt to justify the purchase of Solarwinds Storage Mgr. Also, with the high-end SAN's (think IBM) they come with their own proprietary monitoring and optimization tools that don't play well with 3rd party.

For me, hardware failures and capacity are no-brainers. Beyond that I want to know I/O, caching (if applicable), overall speed, and help identifying where the bottlenecks are.

Level 13

Not only is it tricky, it can be disas if you don't pay attention

MVP
MVP

We have over  5 SAN's....different vendors too.

I always figured SW / Orion SAN Manager would great to have even with just one SAN . . .

Level 8

Old company had 2, different vendors ... and even that was a hassle!

Level 10

I just used SRM to show the benefit of adding a pair of all-flash nodes to our NetApp cluster and moving one of our critical apps over.  There was an audible "wow" from business owners when I showed them the latency graphs, before and after.  It took all of 30 seconds to show them the necessary data to justify the money we spent.  Beautiful.

Level 17

Last time I had SANs around the Storage team, 'Had their own monitoring tool' for storage. Go figure we had sluggish file transfer for a couple of years before they actually began to think about a proper fix for it. If Solarwinds was only in place to help, not replace but simply guide them to the issues.