SAN needs proper industry standards

Storage area network (SAN) technology has also not been able to sidestep the problem which has plagued several other emerging technologies -- the lack of proper industry standards.

SAN is a set of dedicated storage devices that are linked into their own network, and typically uses a fibre-channel storage interface for high-speed network technology robust enough to allow peripheral devices to be attached directly.

There are still no fixed standards to enable complete interoperability between the switches and servers within a SAN, according to Wilson Chia, general manager of locally-owned Scientific Digital Business (SDB). The company is a mass storage and imaging product distributor specialising in the selection, implementation and management of multi-vendor document imaging and mass storage applications for desktop to enterprise-wide systems.

"With SAN, we're now focusing on many devices converging to a single point, so standards are needed to enable the end-user's desktop to talk to the multiplexers," Chia explained.

Due also to the lack of standards, SAN implementation is currently costly because there is a high level of customisation and proprietorship, he added, noting that multiplexers, averaging at $US1,000 per port are still relatively expensive.

Last month, a large group of computer and storage vendors, including Compaq Computer, Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Dell Computer, established the Storage Networking Industry Association to create open SAN standards that would eliminate hurdles that prevent file sharing and networking in SANs today.

The lack of standards has forced agencies to improvise with ad hoc SANs that may evolve into the real thing as standards mature.

"You can't run (TCP/IP) on Fibre Channel yet," said Page Tagizad, director of product management at Procom Technology. "So, people are using their existing standard networking topologies, such as Ethernet, FDDI, or Token Ring. But if they are doing that, then it's not SAN. A true SAN runs Fibre Channel."

"Now, when you say you're SAN-enabled, you're actually saying you're Fibre Channel-enabled," agreed SDB's Chia.

Fibre Channel is essential to SAN deployment, compared to small computer systems interface (SCSI), because its data transfer rate is much faster, and does not face as limited a distance coverage as SCSI, he added.

SDB will be hosting the Image & SAN '99 show and conference from May 26 to 27, 1999 at the Pan Pacific Hotel, that will focus on SAN and document imaging trends and issues, said Chia.

Expected to draw a crowd of more than 1,000 attendees, the show will feature a cross-section of technologies and tools from industry's suppliers of corporate information management systems, including Computer Associates, StorageTek and Kodak.

It covers 44 topics in two "technology-driven and management-focused" tracks, with conference sessions that includes issues such as data security, end-to-end storage management, and adding intelligence to SAN, Chia said.

Registration fees are at S$249 (US$145) per delegate, where groups of three participants will receive 10 percent discount. For more information, visit http://www.scientific-digital.com/.

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