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Stop the blame game with I/O management

As data centers become increasingly complex and the volume of layers of virtualisation continues to grow, implementing IOM will become an increasingly critical step in ensuring the highest degree of utilisation, while simultaneously guaranteeing performance. By John Waszak, Vice President of Software Product Management, Emulex.

 

Date: 1 Oct 2010

Today’s data centers are growing in both size and complexity, particularly because of increased layers of virtualisation. As a result, there is a tremendous amount of infrastructure between the application users and the storage devices that hold the data. Every piece of the infrastructure must operate efficiently to maintain high performance and availability.

Conversely, any bottlenecks within the infrastructure can quickly degrade the user experience and business effectiveness.

While management of this infrastructure has typically been focused on the physical components of the data center (i.e. work stations, servers, networks and storage devices), monitoring and management of the I/O as it travels through the system of servers, networks and storage arrays is a highly critical component to ensuring overall application performance.

Additionally, monitoring infrastructure cost is just as challenging as managing performance. In some cases, costs and performance are intertwined, with expenditures on infrastructure increased in an attempt to address any performance concerns proactively.

As such, it is becoming more important to understand the costs of this infrastructure and effectively manage its utilisation. Utilisation is defined as the act of ensuring the business is getting the most out of its infrastructure.

With the costs of a Storage Area Network (SAN) connection in the tens of thousands of dollars, it becomes imperative to manage I/O infrastructure to provide the highest degree of utilisation while, at the same time, guaranteeing performance and a commitment to Service Level Agreements (SLAs).

All of these points taken together bring a tremendous amount of complexity to the data center environment, causing data center administrators to exclaim, How am I going to manage all of this? With that, enters I/O Management (IOM).

What Is I/O Management?

IOM monitors I/O from the application’s perspective, allowing the data center to:

  • Utilise existing infrastructure more effectively and avoid a need to purchase new infrastructure
  • Proactively manage performance by making adjustments prior to a performance issue
  • Encourage true problem management, where the root cause of an issue is established and the problem is permanently resolved.

Essentially, IOM creates a system that can handle the massive volumes of data. It does this by examining the various I/O layers, in order to monitor performance, troubleshoot issues and analyse I/O data, which then both prevents and diffuses issues that may arise.

Why Implement I/O Management?

Diagnosing application performance problems is difficult. This problem is greatly compounded by the increase in complexity associated with the infrastructure that is in place to support the application server.

This infrastructure has several tiers, with several layers of virtualisation, all of which manage I/O. As a result, there is an increasing need for IOM within today’s complex data center.

Imagine I/O as a two-sided process, where one side is responsible for the flow of information between a storage device and an application server and the other side is responsible for the flow of information between the application server and the client trying to access information. On the client side, Application Performance Management (APM) handles transactions between the client and the application server, ensuring I/O flows without interruption between the client and the server. IOM does what APM does, except it handles transactions between a storage device and an application server. It works on the I/O infrastructure side to ensure the proper flow of I/O.

There are several analytic tools a data center manager can use within IOM. For instance, IOM can quickly identify whether performance issues originated in the storage network or if they originated within the application server, which then allows I/O Management systems to identify potential issues before they happen.

Using historical performance information, I/O Performance Trending can benefit the IT administrator during proactive and reactive analyses of performance. Unlike other tools, which cannot supply historical performance information, IT Administrators can consolidate, trend and track information to create performance charts that they can use to identify the problem immediately.

I/O Performance Trending can identify potential problems such as I/O latency issues and operating system command queues, both of which can affect the speed and consistency of I/O, which can then affect overall application performance. IOM also ensures the business is getting the most out of its entire infrastructure.

While the various elements in a storage network are all specified to carry a certain bandwidth (i.e. 4Gb Fiber Channel link, 2Gb Fiber Channel array port, 10GbEthernet port, etc.), there are many factors that come into play when determining how many I/O operations the elements can handle. Sometimes, bottlenecks can occur within the various I/O handling layers if they are overloaded. When this happens, I/O path contention areas create visibility issues.

In this way, IOM can add critical insight into performance and availability management, which can then help an administrator configure optimal utilisation.

The I/O tools create a combination of data that, when efficiently collected and managed with the right management tool, becomes an invaluable resource to proactively address potential performance problems, reactively troubleshoot the root cause of performance issues and deploy and maintain an efficient I/O infrastructure.

But IOM doesn’t stop there. Collecting the right information is just the first part of effectively managing availability and performance in today’s complex data center environments. IOM also integrates the information to present useful reports and alerts that provide key benefits like reduced capital costs and decreased operating expenses. IOM can also help produce positive revenue by reducing the amount of both scheduled and unscheduled downtime, while simultaneously optimising performance and utilisation of expensive I/O infrastructure.

IOM implementation provides a solution to a broad range of issues within the data center that continue to increase as data centers evolve in complexity and size. IOM tools rectify the problems that occur in these environments by both proactively addressing them before they arise and also diffusing problems that have occurred prior to IOM implementation.

As data centers become increasingly complex and the volume of layers of virtualisation continues to grow, implementing IOM will become an increasingly critical step in ensuring the highest degree of utilisation, while simultaneously guaranteeing performance.

www.emulex.com

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