SAN troubleshooting in the cloud
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Recently I attended a presentation about IBM's cloud computing approaches by IBM Fellow Stefan Pappe. Cloud computing is a big topic in IT nowadays - no doubt about that - but how much impact does it have on SAN troubleshooting? Will the way hardware support is performed change in the cloud? Based on your understanding of the term cloud you might eighter say yes or no. In a cloud the IT is just a commodity like water or electrical power. You just use it. You most likely don't want to know how it works as long as its availability is guaranteed. If a component of a server breaks, the whole construct relies on redundancy. Either within the server (multiple paths etc) or within a pool of servers where the VMs residing on this particular piece of metal are concurrently moved to other servers. This frees up the broken one for maintenance later on.
For a SAN it's quite similar - we rely on internal redundancy (multiple power supplies, failover-able control processors and backlink modules) as well as external redundancy (second independent fabric, multiple paths, multiple ISLs), with an important exception: Some SAN-related problems have to be troubleshooted "on the open heart". Please don't understand me wrong. I don't mean that finding a good workaround isn't important - it surely is and in most scenarios it's a key element for business continuity. But if the symptoms can't be seen, it might be hard for the support member to do the problem determination.
So what now?
Most of these "workarounded" problems can still be troubleshooted if the SAN is well prepared. Especially part 2 of my How to be prepared blog post can help you with that topic. In addition Please gather a data collection from each and every component in the SAN that is related to the problem before you implement any workaround! For the SAN switches that means, if you have performance problems for example, please gather a data collection of all SAN switches.
For other problems it might be necessary to actually test the repaired component / modified configuration / improvement in the code in the productive environment to know if it really helped. Of course all the possibles tests that can be done "offline" should be done first. For example before bringing a formely toggling ISL back to life, it's better to use the built-in port test capabilities of the switches with loopback-plugs.
And as another exception compared with server redundancy: A SAN troubleshooting should not be postponed to gather "workarounded" problems for a certain time and solve them later all at once.
So if it can be done now, do it now!
Beside of that there are special requirements of the cloud such as the ability for multi-tenancy on the SAN components. Cisco have their VSANs for a long time now, but when it comes to IVR (Inter VSAN Routing) sometimes I see very strange configurations out there based on a wrong understanding of the concept. The first attempt of Brocade in that direction were the "Administrative Domains" which came with some very concerning flaws in my opinion. With the v6.2x code stream this concept was virtually replaced by the "Virtual Fabrics" concept. With "base switches", "XISLs" & co, many new possibilities for mis-configurations appeared. Much new stuff to learn for customers, admins, architects and of course support members.
To sum up, I can say that if SAN troubleshooting was done properly before, there won't be much change here. But the cloud boosts the expectations of the users regarding their SAN even more to: It should just work! No downtime of the application ever! Our primary goal is to deal with upcoming problems in a way that prevents any impact on the applications.
Because in the future zero downtime will be no highend enterprise feature anymore but a commodity.