Storage Without Borders

Thursday Jan 9th 2003 by Leslie Wood

Storage Without Borders

The storage industry has recently seen many new vendors make significant impacts on the industry as a whole. The Yankee Group predicts that today's storage systems making up the networked attached storage and storage area network markets will dramatically evolve over the next two to four years. However, managing multi-vendor SANs and creating storage environments without borders continue to be a key concern for IT organizations.

Numerous analysts' reports have shown that management is a key challenge in storage environments, and Peter Eicher, storage architect for FalconStor, says that a large percentage of the total cost of storage is in managing what you have as opposed to the actual purchase cost of the equipment.

"Managing storage environments becomes considerably more challenging in a multi-vendor SAN because you have different equipment that all works in different ways, even though they may be serving a similar purpose," says Eicher. Every time a new vendor device is added -- or sometimes even when a new model from the same vendor is added -- the complexity level increases, the amount of staff training required increases, and the chances of mistakes increase.

However, according to Mark Bradley, technology strategist with BrightStor Storage Solutions, even when proactivity is narrowed in a SAN environment, the complexity is still there. "Because most SANs are comprised of multiple vendor's products, issues of interoperability and central monitoring control always exist," says Bradley.

Having multi-vendor SANs holds the promise of bringing significant business benefits to an organization; however, like any other paradigm shift in technology, it requires a substantial financial investment in the process. So, how can managing multi-vendor SANs help IT managers simplify their storage networks and what is the effect of managing multi-vendor SANs on IT?

Page 2: Simplifying the Complex

"When complexity grows, costs grow. It's really about reducing management costs," says Bradley. Bradley believes that the high costs are in the use of poor tools, the additional hours required to manage the more complex environment and the expense of necessarily highly trained personnel. He says that the best effect that can be had is streamlining operations and simplifying the complex, because this saves in maintenanve hours and and makes it possible to apply expensive personnel to tasks that offer a better use of their systems expertise.

Eicher seems to think that by using techniques such as storage virtualization and network-based storage management, IT managers can bring a level of consistency to their daily management challenges. "For example, an IT shop may have five different models of disk devices. That means there are five sets of tools that may need to be used on a daily basis, which creates a tremendous learning curve for their staffs, often leading to confusion and mistakes," says Eicher. "But if that same five-model disk environment is virtualized, then everything looks the same from the most basic standpoint -- that is, the computer screen you look at to get your work done," he continued.

With IT spending at a premium, enterprise and service providers' customers should be examining storage systems based on their utility in a building block approach, their manageability, and especially their cost effectiveness. With the continuing need to control IT costs and manage storage more efficiently, how does managing multi-vendor SANs and their resources help IT departments accomplish these goals?

According to Bradley, despite what many say, SAN and other storage networking technologies have not yet had huge deployments in most IT environments. He believes that much of this has been due to interoperability issues at various levels. "These issues are being resolved, and because IT storage equipment spending is likely to increase after the past two years of slowdown, to fill the capacity gap, the next big target is to enable ease of management," says Bradley.

Eicher says that a more efficient management environment will allow employees to get more projects done and roll out more applications. "Since so many IT shops are overworked already, the idea of suddenly cutting staffs in half is not realistic. What is realistic is that work gets done faster, product offerings get on line faster, and your competitive edge increases," he says.

Page 3: Dynamic Provisioning

Anyone who has ever had to add new storage to a SAN understands the time and effort involved; therefore, a storage system must be intelligent enough to automate the task of ensuring that storage capacity is always available. And one of the ways to do this is through dynamic provisioning.

"Provisioning is one of those complicated, time consuming tasks that requires database experts working with SAN experts, security experts, OS experts and network experts," says Bradley. He says that typically, such things take on the order of many days or weeks and many expensive people involved. "However, he continued, If it were possible to automate this, the cost savings would be very significant."

According to Eicher, dynamic provisioning takes things a step further than virtualization, though it often requires virtualization or some kind of network-based management to work optimally. "With dynamic provisioning, rather than manually managing storage, organizations create storage policies that are automatically implemented by software," says Eicher.

Organizations are continuing to expand storage area networks as part of their ongoing efforts to consolidate infrastructure and improve business continuity and disaster recovery plans, as the recovery of critical information can mean the difference between success and failure. However, it is difficult at best for IT departments to keep all of the applications, processes, and components updated. So, how can IT departments track all the changes that occur in a network?

Page 4: Topology-guided Recovery

One of the ways to do this is with topology-guided recovery. Bradley says that switched fabrics, like Ethernet or fiber channel, have many possible paths through them to get from one place to another to perform I/O. "Not all paths are equal, and some may be shorter and/or faster than others, or even more reliable," he says.

"If an in-use path were to become unavailable for whatever reason, it is important that this be as invisible to a backup application as possible and it's best to be able to pick the best alternate path, " he continued. "Stopping and restarting backup and restore would be unnecessary and thus more efficient in a guided recovery model," he says. In addition, he added that it also enables a path to be selected and deselected to allow different paths for different applications in a time-sliced way.

In the long run, managing multi-storage SANs will have an effect on vendors. Eicher believes that for storage vendors, it cuts both ways. "On the one hand, multi-vendor management abilities make it easier for the end user to break out of a single vendor environment. On the other hand, it offers the storage vendors an easier opportunity to break into a shop where they are not the incumbent supplier," he says.

"If I'm vendor 'A' and I can make my storage work with the storage from vendor 'B', I will have a much easier time penetrating an account. If I am selling a solution that will require a whole new set of management tools, it's a lot harder to convince the IT manager of the value I offer," he concluded.

» See All Articles by Columnist Leslie Wood

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