SANs go mainstream

Networking, storage, and system vendors this month will converge on enterprise data centres to make storage simpler and more scalable.

Storage area networks (SANs) will take a big step into the mainstream next week when 3Com announces a set of products for linking servers to enterprise storage devices. Additionally, start-up Crag Technologies will be launched next week and will specialise in SAN hardware and software.

Also, Hewlett-Packard and Seagate Technology will shortly announce a partnership to extend Fibre Channel, the technology underlying SANs, to four times its current speed.

SANs are designed to let users freely connect any storage device to any server via a shared infrastructure. Traditional server-to-storage links have not easily allowed this.

HP and Seagate are developing disk drives, hubs, switches, disk arrays, and controllers that will offer 2Gbit/sec Fibre Channel throughput, according to a source close to the project. Later products will support 4Gbit/sec throughput, the source said.

The products will provide "auto-negotiation," or automatic speed adjustment, between the current 1Gbit/sec Fibre Channel and the higher speeds.

3Com is the first major networking vendor to enter the burgeoning SAN market. The company will announce plans for Fibre Channel hubs, switches, adapters, and management software to ship in phases starting in the first half of 1999.

In the first phase, 3Com will ship hardware that has been tested for interoperability with partner storage vendors, including Legato, Clariion, and MTI. The second phase, coming later in 1999 or in 2000, will integrate the SAN gear with 3Com's TranscendWare network management system. In later steps, 3Com will integrate its SANs with LAN and WAN infrastructures and bring them into its policy-based network system.

Also next week, start-up Crag Technologies will debut as a maker of SAN solutions with a Java-based, intuitive management interface. It will license the management system and other SAN technology to software and hardware vendors.

Analysts said SANs will help to cure headaches caused by cheaper storage and abundant information.

"Now, everyone has megabytes coming out their ears, and managing and connecting the storage has become a challenge," said Robert Gray, an analyst at IDC.

One user said he hopes Fibre Channel will simplify his data-centre purchasing and management.

"Having a networking company making Fibre Channel adapters lets me buy one Fibre Channel adapter to be able to run both storage protocols and communications protocols," said Eric Kuzmack, a senior analyst at Gannett.

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