Around the Storage Block

Tipping the scales: Fibre Channel gets modernized with automation, scale and more

Learn how automating Fibre Channel with innovative solutions like HPE Smart SAN for 3PAR improves the user experience, relieving the storage administrator of needing to be conversant in FC and SAN speak.

StoreFabric_tipping the scales_blog.jpgIn the storage networking world, enterprise-class storage is generally associated with Fibre Channel (FC) for high-speed network technology. FC is a reliable, high-performance and low-latency protocol built for storage that is often perceived as complex to configure, not automated and hard to orchestrate from any connected device. This results in storage administrators having to brush up on FC skills or lean on a SAN expert or create specific tools for the FC tasks at hand. All of this required learning and protocol expertise gets impacted by an IT continuum driven by the digital transformation which demands doing more with less.

Digital transformation is affecting IT and business outcomes as never before—from SMB to large enterprise business, and there is no escape from this wave of transformation. The notion of having dedicated experts for a particular system or protocol is shifting to talented users with versatility who operationally achieve results without being highly skilled experts using automation and AI tools that deliver a better user experience.

Making the FC user experience more automated through the array

HPE embarked on a FC solution to simplify SAN zoning and host provisioning through HPE innovation and collaboration with HPE StoreFabric B-series FC switches and FC HBAs (OEM partner products) that gves an HPE 3PAR storage administrator the ability to automate FC zoning and host provisioning, in the click of a mouse, end-to-end-across the SAN all orchestrated from HPE 3PAR StoreServ All Flash Storage. You can also use Smart SAN for 3PAR to automate a 3PAR Federation in just clicks, it’s that simple, zoning a federation made easy! I am not going into the interworkings of Smart SAN for 3PAR as I have done this in other blogs, but it highlights the power of a storage administrator with little or no FC SAN expertise to automate zoning consistently, reliably and error free, now that is versatility with a better user experience too. For those of you who are curious or not familiar with HPE Smart SAN for 3PAR, you can read the newly published ESG Lab Review: Accelerating Time to Value: Automated SAN and Federated Zoning with HPE 3PAR and Smart SAN for 3PAR.HPE 3PAR One-click SAN Zoning Accelerates Time to Value[1].png

Making the FC user experience more automated through the switch

IT organizations spend nearly half of their time performing repetitive daily management tasks, such as inventory reporting, and operational validation checks. By automating these repetitive tasks, IT organizations can significantly improve their efficiency and dramatically decrease the risk of operational mistakes. Automation in large-scale IT environments integrates diverse infrastructure components with consistency and predictability to deliver greater operational efficiency and agility. HPE StoreFabric B-series FC switches and directors take advantage of the nuances that go into infrastructure management and what tasks can benefit from automation in storage infrastructure environments using Fibre channel. By leveraging RESTful APIs directly into the switch and management products, FC switches offer a broad range of choices to enable a variety of SAN management solutions in which customers can leverage tasks programmatically by automating operations faster with more meaningful results. IT organizations that couple HPE PowerPack+ Fabric Vision’s robust data collecting capabilities with automation and orchestration tools (such as Ansible) gain the ability to automate configuration tasks and the visibility to monitor and detect SAN performance or health changes in the fabric.

New FC automation capabilities are now available for HPE B-series FC switches with Brocade Fabric Switch OS (FOS) for switches and directors with FOS 8.2.0a based on Brocade automation solutions which are segmented into three pillars. First pillar is to make standard RESTful APIs available directly from the B-series FC switch in order to automate repetitive daily tasks, such as fabric inventory, provisioning, and operational state monitoring. The second pillar is to have the ability to quickly integrate systems with open source PyFOS, a Python language binding, to simplify common SAN management practices, and the third pillar is to leverage Ansible to easily scale automation and orchestration across the entire infrastructure.

When You Automate Fibre Channel, You Accelerate2.png

Customers often say they will take whatever off the shelf management tools that are available and use that for fabric management, but that thinking is changing as customers get more sophisticated. For example, customers want to have tools reflect their business needs rather than the business practices dictated by the management tools provided by the vendor. This was often the case in larger enterprises, but now SMB customers are interested in programmatic ways to get results faster and in a simplified manner. Some DevOps programmers are comfortable sitting in the back room and developing various management tools which often have a big footprint and when delivered and implemented by users they realize the tool is not necessarily doing what the user expected the tool to do based on their specific needs. 

A new class of versatile DevOps guys are much more in tune with the way things should be used in operations. For example, applications that provide more relevant real-time field data is more useful to them because it has a specific purpose like specific updates on the fly, and users want the ability to rapidly change apps and collect data quickly to reflect rapid changes in their business environment to accommodate the fast pace needs of the business either in-house or in the field. Therefore. the language of DevOps is programmatic. It doesn’t speak CLIs or GUIs. Larger businesses understand their SAN environments better than the provided technology in use, which is why Ansible is a useful tool. As an example, an automatic expresso machine (a good one!) regulates its heat and stream, water intake and grind and all you do is push a button and it starts. You don’t understand all the technology at work in the machine, but you pushed a button and the espresso is made the way you like it. . . yummy. (I admit it. I just happen to like espresso, especially with a shot of whip cream.)

Ansible is like an automatic espresso machine start button and it allows the barista the flexibility of not having to learn all the technology ins/outs on how it works, but having the capability to “push a button” and it all works automatically. Think of it like a start button for automatic fabric management.  If gives users the flexibility of not fully needing to understand technology, but I know when I execute an Ansible program it automatically happens and works in the specific way I want it to function for my particular requirement without any other overhead or learning features I don’t want to learn. For example, I can take an Excel spreadsheet plug it into Ansible and things just get automated, just like that. I don’t need to know the technology underpinnings only that it’s taking place and I want it to work this way for a specific task and its done error free.

Traditionally enterprise related storage code is a bit mysterious and written by experts who disallowed anybody to see the code. The DevOps world wants to see storage code in smaller footprints, which is exactly the kind of code that is available on a first effort basis in the open source community.  Obviously you cannot open up everything, it’s too complicated, and a security risk and home grown tools often have large footprints and take years to integrate them into storage environments and require lots of training.  DevOps prefer a small piece of code that is easier to work with and is specific to the tasks at hand, meaningful and safe for the business. These factors are changing the way infrastructure is being managed, and Restful APIs help deploy apps faster at a high level of automation as replacements for traditional CLIs and in some cases a GUI. Open source apps can be shared with the tech community for the greater good too. Turning over the storage secrets to DevOps can be a scary proposition for Storage administrators and SAN administrators who are responsible for the day to day tasks and keeping things running smooth and secure; therefore, HPE B-series FC switches and directors have, by design, limited programmatic capability in three functional areas: Inventory, Monitoring and Provisioning

These functional areas are programmatic and represent functions that are consumable by a customer or internal user to programmatically do things like creating infrastructure lists, polling infrastructure for up to date inventory scans, and the ability to monitor specific port states through readable infrastructure using automation.  An example of using automation might be to send out a specific configuration to a simple Excel file for quick verification and play what if scenarios with the findings. For example, is my configuration ok given some changes over the weekend or perhaps I just want to take a snapshot of the configuration to see if everything looks good. You can do this programmatically without using a CLI or even using a GUI which typically has a bunch of functions or stuff that is beyond what is really needed to perform the required task. In this case, I don’t have to learn the CLI or GUI terminology. Allowing functions programmatically gives a user the ability to only extract or examine the exact info I want, quickly, and in a simple Excel format.

The code that does this is through Ansible, HPE B-series FC switches leverage (Brocade) templates or plays, or from an open source program which is typically a very small program.  Using this method the recipient gets the specific requested info which is synchronized and presented in a way that is more meaningful and without extra stuff that’s not needed. The benefits to the customer is they can progress automation in phases, start in Inventory, then move to monitoring and now let’s see how we can automate provisioning. For example, create code that takes specific devices and provisions them before they get implemented to the actual infrastructure. All this can be done in a controlled fashion, and its safe, no major outages. HPE B-series automation provides three powerful steps to get users familiar with FC automation and without risk. You can download the ESG White Paper – Automating the Fibre Channel Data Center for additional insights on leveraging Brocade’s automation technology for modernizing FC.

Different strokes for different folks

I have been asked this question a time or two: If you have SAN automation in Smart SAN for 3PAR and now in B-series FC switches are they complementary? The answer is it depends on the customer use case, which vary like the sands on a windy beach. Quite frankly, automation is happening at virtually all levels of compute, storage and infrastructure to make the user experience easier and advances in automation AI will make it even better. The focus of B-series automation is to open up some of the functionality in the FC switches and fabric via a RESTful API, it allows customers to leverage open source Python libraries with utilities that provide a level of abstraction above the RESTful API, and users can leverage Ansible plays, playbooks, and modules to illustrate a non-programming approach to automation, as well as open source. Smart SAN for 3PAR is an end-to-end solution that works with StoreFabric B-series FC switches, StoreFabric FC HBAs and 3PAR in a powerful way to automate zoning and host provisioning, in clicks, all orchestrated from 3PAR without learning about the switch, HBAs in the SAN or FC for that matter. You cannot change things programmatically with Smart SAN for 3PAR, but there are probably ways to use B-series switch automation tools to compliment Smart SAN with the ultimate goal of a better user experience.

What about FC, scale and NVMe-ready?

New innovations in FC continue to materialize by modernizing the storage network for flash as well as other use cases where performance, massive scale and futureproofing are requirements. We recently added another innovation breakthrough for our HPE HPE StoreFabric SN8600B 32 Gb FC Director family. The addition of a new industry leading high-density 64 port FC blade. The HPE StoreFabric SN8600B 64/32 Short Wave 8QSFP Integrated Fibre Channel Blade is capable of supporting 16 QSFPs, and ships from HPE configured with 8 integrated QSFPs.

The new 64-port FC blade fits into the HPE StoreFabric SN8600B 32Gb 8-slot SAN Director and scales up to 512 ports when fully populated with 33 percent more connectivity compared to a 48 port blade. A total of 640 ports is achievable for scale if you include the 128 ICL ports on the core blades (128+512). It can also scale up to 256 ports in a HPE SN8600B 4-slot Director Chassis or 620 ports by including the ICL ports. The new 64-port blade supports edge switch interconnectivity to Q-Flex ports found on B-series Gen6 enterprise switches as well as connectivity to SFP+ ports via breakout cables.  It also increases speed with 20 Tbps total systems bandwidth. The 64 port FC blade comes in an elegant, high-density form factor, designed with flexible Q-Flex connections, enabling a reduced cabling infrastructure. It simplifies connectivity and reduces the number of ISL cables by 75%, and it enables flexibility with converged support for FC, FCoE and NVMe fabrics. A few common use cases for the new 64-port blade include high utilization of port counts using ISLs for elegant connectivity to B-series Edge switches with Q-Flex technology and QSFP capacity resulting in a significant reduction in ISL cabling, and for fabric edge core aggregation consisting of converged system or TOR aggregation into a director core. Here’s where you can learn more about the HPE StoreFabric SAN Director Switch.

Modernization brings peace of mind to enterprise FC deployment

Fibre Channel is still a big market, and is generously deployed in IT environments which demand enterprise class storage, nothing else comes close without adding new levels of complexity. However, the IT landscape is changing for storage, where cloud and hyperconverged infrastructure and other solutions favor Ethernet. Many pundits and some analysts believe Ethernet is the way Modernization of FC_StoreFabric.jpgto go for converged, Greenfield and other new data center deployments in the enterprise. (There are myriad blogs in the public domain that debate the merits of one protocol versus the other, which is not my intent here. Just google it and you’ll find plenty.)

The good news for enterprise customers who deploy fibre channel and enjoy its merits is knowing that the latest Gen6 technology 32Gbps continues to tip the scales with new innovation for Fibre Channel users, with plenty of speed and low latency for the majority of arrays in the enterprise and it simplifies a customer’s journey in modernizing storage networking. It also comes with the bonus of being NVMe-over FC ready offering futureproofing for slower FC speeds and co-existence with SCSI and NVMe protocols. With the new 64-port FC blade for the HPE SN8600B, you can massively scale to new heights.

While the speed of change and the digital transformation call for a better user experience—especially for a protocol that is perceived to be complex in nature and tedious to configure—adding automation to Fibre Channel with innovative solutions like HPE Smart SAN for 3PAR relieves the storage administrator of needing to be conversant in FC and SAN speak. While Fibre Channel automation available in HPE B-series, FC switches with FOS 8.2.0a allows DevOps with Fibre Channel automation the to accelerate everything.      

 gilbertc570170.jpgMeet Around the Storage Block blogger Gil Chacon, HPE 3PAR Senior Product Manager.



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