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A first look at Storage Explorer for Windows Server 2008

A common issue for companies using storage area networks (SANs) involves keeping track of which SAN resources are available and where they are physically located. To help with this, Microsoft has included a new tool in Windows Server 2008 called Storage Explorer.

Storage Explorer doesn't actually document your SAN, but it will allow you to browse it and see exactly how SAN resources are connected to your network. Let's take a look at how it works.

What is Storage Explorer?

Storage Explorer with Windows Server 2008 is a lot like Windows Explorer, only it's for SANs. As you probably know, Windows Explorer gives you a tree view of local hard drives, removable storage devices and any currently mapped network drives. Storage Explorer uses a similar tree view, but it displays SAN components such as fabrics, platforms, storage devices and logical unit numbers (LUNs).

You can access the tool by selecting the Storage Explorer command from Windows Server 2008's Administrative Tools menu. You can see what the Storage Explorer console looks like in Figure A.

Figure A (click to enlarge)

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I don't have a SAN at my disposal, so I can't show you a screen capture of what the Storage Explorer looks like when the tree is populated. But there are some nice screenshots on the Microsoft TechNet website.

How is Storage Explorer useful?

SANs tend to be very large and complex. Over time, it can be difficult to remember how the various resources are connected. If you can't remember how a portion of a SAN is connected, or if you need to perform some troubleshooting on a SAN, you can use Storage Explorer's tree view as a map of the SAN's resources.

How does Storage Explorer get its information?

Although it's not required, the machine that you are running Storage Explorer on should ideally be plugged into a Fibre Channel switch and have a Fibre Channel host bus adapter (HBA) installed. If your server is not directly connected to the SAN via Fibre Channel, you can right-click on the Storage Explorer (localhost) container and choose the Connect To command from the resulting shortcut menu. This allows you to connect to a machine that has a Fibre Channel HBA installed so that you can have direct access to the SAN.

Once an initial connection to the Fibre Channel network has been established, Storage Explorer checks to see if the Fibre Channel registration service is in use. If your Fibre Channel switches are using the registration service, then Storage Explorer performs a query to see if any Windows machines are on the Fibre Channel network. If Windows machines are present on the network, then Storage Explorer uses Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) to query those machines for additional information.

What can I learn from Storage Explorer?

Storage Explorer gives you a hierarchical view of your SAN. The topmost container is the Servers container. It lists the currently selected server, as well as any Fibre Channel HBAs that it may contain.

The second primary container is the Fibre Channel Fabrics container. As the name implies, the console is capable of displaying multiple Fibre Channel fabrics. Within each fabric, you can see the individual switches that make it up and each individual port on a switch. If you click on a port, you can see information about the Fibre Channel HBA that is connected to that port. For example, you can see the host bus adapter's worldwide name, its node worldwide name, make, model and even driver version. The information that you can see for each individual HBA is extremely valuable if you ever have to troubleshoot your SAN.

The last of the primary containers listed within the console is the iSCSI Fabrics container. It displays all of the iSCSI fabrics that have been detected and all of the registered nodes within each fabric. The console also displays any discovery domains and discovery domain sets that are detected.

As you can see, the Storage Explorer console provides a wealth of information about your SAN, and can be extremely valuable for troubleshooting and documenting purposes.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brien M. Posey, MCSE, has received Microsoft's Most Valuable Professional Award four times for his work with Windows Server, IIS and Exchange Server. He has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and healthcare facilities, and was once a network administrator for Fort Knox. You can visit his personal Web site at www.brienposey.com.

This was first published in August 2008

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