Product: SolarWinds Storage Profiler
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One of the most tedious network management tasks in any enterprise environment is keeping up with network storage. Administrators must ensure that network storage volumes contain a sufficient amount of free space, while also operating efficiently. Unlike many network management tasks, storage monitoring can’t really be performed manually. User activity can result in such rapidly changing conditions within the storage infrastructure that effective monitoring requires monitoring storage resources on a constant basis.
SolarWinds, one of the major players in the storage management market, offers a product called SolarWinds Storage Profiler. Storage Profiler is designed to collectively monitor all of the storage used across your entire network and alert administrators to any conditions that require attention. Being that Storage Profiler sounded so promising, I decided to take it for a test drive.
Before I Begin
Storage Profiler contains a dizzying array of features. There are so many in fact, that there is simply no way to address them all within the space that I have been given. As such, I am going to focus my review on the features that I consider to be the most important.
The Installation Process
For the purpose of this review, I downloaded the free trial version of SolarWinds Storage Profiler version 4.12.4. The download consisted of a ZIP file that was just under 200 MB in size. The ZIP file contained an executable file, an administration guide, and an evaluation guide.
I launched the executable on a virtual machine that was running an X64 edition of Windows Server 2008 R2. The resulting Setup Wizard provided the option of performing either an express or a custom installation. I opted for the custom installation which prompted me to provide a database password and then gave me the option of changing the IP address and the port numbers used by the server. All in all, I found the Setup wizard to be simple and intuitive. It took me roughly about five minutes to get the software up and running. Most of that time was consumed as the Setup wizard constructed the necessary database tables.
Using Storage Profiler
Once I got Storage Profiler up and running, I set out to begin managing the storage devices on my network. Storage Profiler is managed through a Web interface, and when you open the interface it takes you to a screen that allows you to add various types of storage to your network. You can see some of the types of storage that can be monitored in Figure A.
Figure A: Storage Profiler works with a variety of storage types.
As I began configuring Storage Profiler to monitor the storage on my network, it quickly became apparent that Storage Profiler is primarily designed to work with products from major storage vendors. For example, Storage Profiler supports SAN and NAS storage from vendors such as EMC, HP, Dell, IBM, and NetApp, but lacks native support for some of the lesser known storage vendors.
While this limitation may prove to be problematic for those who have unsupported storage devices, having native support for specific devices means that the software is able to detect and monitor supported storage devices without requiring any complex configuration tasks.
Although standalone storage devices do have to be natively supported in order to be used by SolarWinds, the software can monitor server storage regardless of make or model. In order to do so however, there is an agent that must be installed onto any physical server that you want to monitor. SolarWinds provides agents for Windows, Linux, UNIX, AIX, HP-UX, and Solaris.
During my evaluation, I deployed agents to a few Windows servers. The deployment process was easy, and the only configuration information that I was required to provide was the IP address of the Storage Profiler server. Once installed the agents are self-registering, which means that you do not have to perform any sort of discovery process, nor do you have to configure the Storage Profiler server to watch the servers that you have installed the agents onto.
After the agents were installed, the Storage Profiler server picked up on them automatically. However, the servers were not detected right away. I waited for about fifteen minutes for the monitored servers to be displayed in the console. When they didn’t show up, I assumed that I had done something incorrectly. I decided to take a break before troubleshooting the problem, and when I came back from my break the servers had been detected by the console.
If you look back at the previous figure, you can see that the Storage Profiler console provides links to several different monitors for various resources. For instance, there is an Event Monitor, a Server Monitor, a Backup Monitor, and a SnapMirror Monitor. Each of these monitors is designed to give insight into various aspects of the storage management process.
I started out by checking out the Event Monitor. The Event Monitor is the place to go to view warning messages related to the health of your storage infrastructure. For example, Figure B shows a few warning messages related to agent communications failures. These warnings were triggered when I rebooted the servers that were being monitored.
Figure B: The Event Monitor shows alerts related to monitored devices.
Of course the Event Monitor displays more than just messages related to agent communications errors. As I said earlier, the Event Monitor is where you go to get information about the overall health of your storage infrastructure. Monitoring the storage infrastructure’s health means much more than just making sure that Storage Profiler can communicate with storage devices and watching to make sure that you don’t run out of space on any of your storage mechanisms. It means making sure that each monitored storage device is delivering adequate performance.
Storage Profiler uses a series of rules as a way of gauging the health of each storage device. As you can see in Figure C, there are a number of different built in rules (which are located in the console’s Settings section), which are designed to compare a storage device’s performance against threshold values in an effort to determine whether or not the storage device is healthy. Even though Storage Profiler contains numerous built-in rules you have the option of creating your own rules or of modifying the default rules, as shown in Figure D.
Figure C: Storage Profiler includes a number of built in threshold rules.
Figure D: You can create new rules or customize the existing ones.
Any time a threshold value stated within a rule is exceeded, the condition is reported in the Event Monitor. If you look at Figure E, you can see what happens when threshold values are exceeded. Incidentally, I took this particular screen capture from an online demo environment that SolarWinds has set up. This environment allows you to try out the Storage Profiler without having to set it up in your own environment.
Figure E: The Event Monitor displays warnings any time that a threshold condition is met.
As nice as it is to be able to receive alerts whenever a storage mechanism needs attention, the real power of Storage Profiler is in its reporting capabilities. Storage Profiler comes configured with dozens of different reports that you can generate plus you can build your own. Some of these reports are designed to quickly give you summary information, while others are intended to be more in depth.
The software also includes a number of different management reports that you can use to get a better feel for how storage is being used in your organization. For example, Figure F shows a management report detailing the ten users who are consuming the most storage space. If you look just above the pie charts, you can see that there are options for finding out what file types take up the most space, what the 100 largest files are, and even how much of your storage space is being consumed by old files. Even though the management reports are simple, they provide a wealth of information regarding how your storage resources are being used.
Figure F: Management reports give you insightful information at a glance.
As much as I like Storage Profiler’s alerting and reporting capabilities, there is no denying that such capabilities are reactionary in nature. In other words, these features inform an administrator of the current conditions so that they can take any necessary action. While it is important to have mechanisms that allow you to respond quickly to any problems that may occur, Storage Profiler also enables you to take a proactive approach to storage management by providing you with storage forecasts.
If you go into the Server Monitor portion of the management console, you will see a list of all of the servers that are being monitored. Clicking on a managed server brings up a screen similar to the one that’s shown in Figure G.
Figure G: Storage Profiler provides storage space consumption forecasts
As you look at the figure above, you will notice that in addition to the various statistics that are provided, the software gives you a storage consumption forecast. In this case, the storage consumption is decreasing but under different conditions the software could estimate how quickly storage space will be consumed. The Storage tab, shown in Figure H, shows an estimate of when 80, 90, and 100 percent of the storage space will be consumed. Such estimates can go a long way toward helping IT managers to budget for upcoming storage needs.
Figure H: Storage Profiler provides estimates of how quickly storage space will be consumed.
SolarWinds sets the pricing for Storage Profiler based on the number of disks that must be monitored. Pricing starts at $2995 (US Dollars) for up to 50 disks. The cost per disk decreases as the number of monitored disks increases. There is also a license available for $299,995 that allows for monitoring an unlimited number of disks.
In my opinion, Storage Profiler is a great tool that can significantly ease the burden of network storage management. My only complaint about the product is that server management aside, the tool only works with storage products from a limited set of vendors. This probably won’t be a deal breaker for most organizations since SolarWinds has all of the major vendors covered, but if you are thinking about purchasing Storage Profiler then you should take some time to make sure that the software will work with your storage hardware.
WindowsNetworking.com Rating 4.8/5
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