Knowing when to jump ship from a technology

A battle for storage dominancy is under way, but which of the technologies will win over the marketplace?

The New York Times recently published an article on Panasonic's attempt to push its higher-margin plasma sets over LCD technology despite the fact that it makes and sells both. Regardless of particular technical merits, LCD is rapidly becoming the dominant flat-screen TV technology, and, in fact, the technical distinctions of one technology versus the other diminish with each new product generation. But, as "the world's largest plasma seller," it is not surprising that Panasonic is trying to defend its turf.

Similar attempts to preserve market advantages exist within every industry. A smart buyer keeps aware of these trends and is prepared to jump ship to a viable lower-priced alternative at the right time. In storage, we experience similar, less heralded technology inflection points. Here are a couple currently under way:

Fibre Channel vs. IP storage -- Perhaps most analogous to Plasma vs. LCD (but at a slightly earlier stage), this battle is beginning. Fibre Channel SANs require more expensive interface cards, switches and storage arrays. They represent a "cash cow" for vendors that are banking largely on incumbency and inertia to maintain their position. Are there advantages to Fibre Channel SANs? Absolutely. Both from a performance and maturity perspective, Fibre Channel will continue to own the Tier 1 data turf for the foreseeable future. However, the battle will be for the masses of secondary applications that can take advantage of the slightly scaled back features of IP storage at whopping cost savings.

High-end disks vs. serial ATA (SATA) -- A subplot in the IP vs. Fibre Channel debate, this deals with the issue that initially higher-end disks (Fiber Channel and Serial SCSI) were faster and more reliable than SATA, thus positioning the former for "primary" data applications and the latter for "secondary" data (e.g. backup). The fact is that in a number of cases, newer SATA arrays, incorporating advanced controller designs and double parity, are providing performance and reliability levels that are more than adequate for other purposes, such as file sharing.

As always, the key is how well the requirements are understood. An accurate sense of required performance and functionality needs inevitably leads to wiser buying decisions.

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