Initially conceived to reduce complexity, SANs have thus far only created more. But help is on its way, as Onaro, Sandial and AppIQ roll out products designed to address the maladies and complexities that plague SANs.

Aiming to improve network connectivity and network uptime is start-up Onaro. Shai Scharf, the company's CEO, believes storage software has been too heavily focused on disk use and data management - both of which he concedes are important for simplifying SANs but are not the real reasons SANs are so complex.

"The complexity is in how the storage is networked together. The complexity is in the network," he argued. Later this quarter, Onaro will release software that collects information from all SAN components, including servers, hosts, switches, and arrays. The software will then correlate that data to create a topology of the SAN that goes beyond illustrating the physical relationships among its components, Scharf said. It will show the access paths servers have to the arrays and will identify problems with a SAN setup.

Onaro envisions customers using the software as a change management tool, letting administrators model what will happen to the SAN if a new switch is added or if pieces are removed. "If storage is to be an always-on utility, it needs to be predictive," Scharf said. "There are no modelling tools out there today."

Sandial Systems is also looking to reduce the complexity of SANs by exposing more information about actual traffic performance. The company will introduce ShadowWorks BMP (Backbone Management Platform) - software designed to provide sysadmins with an overview of SAN traffic based on data from its Shadow 14000 switch. The software profiles the performance of SAN connections, which are prone to congestion because many connections often try to access one array, said Michael Welts, Sandial's VP of marketing.

"We can isolate congestion and strip it away," Welts said. "We're optimizing application performance." Welts explained that other director-class Fibre Channel switches are not capable of providing this type of information because they simply switch data and are not aware of what is happening in the SAN. The Shadow 14000, however, is privy to the data flowing across the SAN, he said. The company is also building switch modules that provide policy configuration and can be used for billing and accounting.

AppIQ too will expand its storage software suite. StorageAuthority Version 3.1 will include rule-creating tools that allow automated storage provisioning on third-party arrays from Hitachi, HP and Sun. In addition, the company has created a software module to monitor Sybase's ASE (Adaptive Server Enterprise) database server.

John Kelly, director of product marketing at AppIQ, said the rules-based tools ease SAN management by reducing the steps it takes to allocate new volumes or zones for an application. He agreed that SANs are too complex but expressed confidence that software advances will simplify them. "Right now people design SANs with Excel sheets and whiteboards," Kelly said. "We go deep into applications to understand how they connect to the SAN."

Jamie Gruener, an analyst at The Yankee Group, sees progress in solving SAN intricacy but knows the industry is not yet offering a complete software solution. "We need a solution stack, but we don't have it yet," Gruener said. "We have point products today, but no complete ecosystem."

Gruener said that better interoperability is the best remedy for the complexity, but warned that customers are increasingly wary of vendor promises.