Better grade for smart switches

Dreams Do Come True

According to Christian at Norfolk Southern, however, true SAN virtualization remains a dream. But progress is being made: A team of storage vendors is working with McData and others to add a heterogeneous virtualization layer -- a major missing piece of the intelligent switching puzzle. Within a few months, ASMs attached to an i10K will be able to take advantage of this virtualization layer to perform a wide array of new services.

"I will no longer need one kind of multipathing software for my HDS box and another kind for my EMC array," says Christian. "I'll only need one brand of multipathing software that will be able to function across several different arrays."

While vendors want to hurry the world onto their new intelligent gear, the bottom line is that the Really Intelligent Switch still lies in the future.

"Intelligence has been just over the horizon for quite some time and has yet to make a big splash," says Mike Karp, an analyst at Enterprise Management Associates. "There will also be a delay in market uptake, since these things are serious investments."

AOL's Pollack doesn't plan to get into virtualization and other application intelligence functions until he has gained more confidence on the transportation side.

Norfolk Southern, on the other hand, doesn't even plan to deploy SAN routing until the end of the year. Says Christian, "That gives us another year for the technology to mature."

Robb is a freelance writer in Los Angeles.

intelligence: Where should you put it?

Depending on which vendor you speak to, you'll hear a different opinion on where storage intelligence and virtualization should really be placed. McData and Brocade, being switch vendors, claim that the switch is the most logical place. HDS, with its focus on disk arrays, insists that intelligence must reside in the storage controller. And Cisco, the king of networking, suggests -- surprise, surprise -- that the network should contain all storage virtualization.

Such a divergence of opinion may well be a factor in the slow corporate adoption of storage intelligence. According to a study of 269 enterprises by IDC, only 8 percent are doing any virtualization at all, while 23 percent plan to implement some in the next 12 months. If you focus solely on companies with 10,000 or more employees, however, usage rises to 19 percent, with another 31 percent saying they plan to add a virtual component within a year.

"It's very hard to compare storage virtualization technologies, as they are mostly theories at this point," says Rick Villars, a storage analyst at IDC. "We will need time to see how well they deploy in the real world."

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