SANs face trial by fire

Australia's fledgling storage area networking (SAN) market is facing a trial by fire, with a key early adopter calling for greater vendor support.

Franco Broi, programming manager at Robertson Research Australia -- one of the few SAN sites operating in Australia -- claims vendors need to demonstrate greater commitment to the market.

Broi said the missing link in SAN industry development is vendors' commitment to producing data sharing tools; these are not yet widely available.

Meanwhile, he reports the company experienced difficulties with product support configuration advice from Hewlett-Packard for its tape drives on the SAN.

"The support we've been getting from HP is minimal, non-existent," he said.

Broi said HP was aware of the company's concerns: "They only care about supported configurations, if you try something different they don't want to know." HP's Perth-based partners manager, Ian Murray, described Broi's comments as "fairly odd".

Murray said HP is committed to helping users develop SAN infrastructures, but agreed the company does prefer users to follow its own configuration guidelines to guarantee maximum support.

"You can custom-design support [for custom-built SANs], but it has to be verified," he said.

Robertson Research runs two separate SANs, one based on tape storage and the other for RAID systems.

The tape SAN uses 20 tape devices, ranging from IBM's 3590, to DLT and Exabyte equipment, Broi said.

The company runs over a terabyte of data and 1.5Tbytes of Andataco raid storage across its fibre-channel-based SAN, using seven Hewlett-Packard D390 machines, each equipped with two 240MHz CPUs.

Integration Systems supplied the company's RAID system.

Robertson Research processes data from oil companies that shoot seismic surveys that are recorded on digital tape.

The SAN itself offers a method of centralising disparate data and storage systems, connecting both servers and storage subsystems across the network. Robertson Research is searching for a company to provide software enabling the seismic company to share data across multiple servers while providing access to a common RAID storage platform.

"We're really hanging out for true, shared data across a SAN," he said. Broi said that while the company's SAN is reliable and completes the data processing tasks, the technology requires constant attention.

"The product isn't there yet, it's got a long way to go," he said.

However, Broi is impressed with SAN technology for its ability to pool the resources of multiple servers, allowing the flexibility of incremental upgrades or the addition of servers to meet extra demand.

The alternative option is to purchase multimillion super computers, which in turn prove costly to upgrade.

"You invest in something like that and it becomes obsolete so quickly," he said.

And in Perth's highly competitive data processing market, lower operating costs and technical flexibility are critical, Broi said. In addition, the reliability of the machines must be guaranteed to avoid missing deadlines.

"We have penalty clauses if we don't complete the job on time," he said.

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