Crossroads Exec Talks Up SAN Futures

FRAMINGHAM (04/03/2000) - At the conclusion of Network World's Storage Networking town meetings, attendees can ask any questions they have. Network World Senior Editor Deni Connor has gathered some of those questions and put them to Brian Smith, CEO of Fibre Channel storage router manufacturer Crossroads Systems. The next storage networking town meetings start June 14 in eight U.S. cities. For more information visit townmeeting.

NW: What do you think is the future for mixed SCSI and Fibre Channel networks?

Smith: We see SCSI continuing for a long time. There are a number of enterprise customers who are comfortable with it. We see it shipping for the next seven years. We also see a lot of problems being solved by Fibre Channel. [The technologies are] complementary, and we intend to route between them for a long time.

Yet the SAN will evolve to a more networking feel, and that's why we are complementing our routing story with a WAN, appliance, System/390 and Infiniband routing story. [Infiniband is a specification for next-generation system I/O that uses multiple switched paths to route data between peripherals and the processor.]NW: You said you see some great uses for Fibre Channel? What are they?

Smith: One of the first is LAN-free backup where customers can move bulk backup data and recovery from the LAN to the storage network and free up 30 percent to 40 percent of the bandwidth on the LAN. They move the data to media that can do the backup typically 10 times faster.

We see server-free backup as the next step in that movement. Customers can use their SAN investment and give greater efficiencies and throughput to the process of backup and recovery. We see a need to migrate existing storage and servers into the SAN. With the advances in optical networking, you can have remote copies of your data thousands of miles away.

NW: What advancements must occur before SAN equipment becomes a commodity so that consultants don't need to plan, install and manage it?

Smith: Interoperability. Solutions must work together out of the box and be relatively simple to configure. Online configuration tools that are easy to use also will be critical. Finally, management of the SAN infrastructure is key to making this new enterprise storage architecture functional once installed. IT managers need to get comfortable with SANs and their continuing function. SAN management software will help immensely.

NW: With the popularity of the Internet, how do users differentiate between the services they receive from a local data center and an Internet-accessed data center?

Smith: SANs will be a key enabler for the Internet to continue its rapid growth. As companies look at handling the growth, internal and external sources for storage growth and management should be considered. The differentiation will be based upon elements such as the business model and the cost desired by the customer. The differentiation most likely will come down to a business decision, an analysis that yields the best solution for each business.

NW: What is the return-on-investment (ROI) business case that will convince senior management to authorize the purchase of a SAN?

Smith: There are a number of points to consider, each of which comes down to managing the rapid growth of storage. As you know, the amount of storage purchased is doubling every year. This is placing a huge burden on IT staff as they attempt to manage this storage.

The ROI in this case is, do we want to stay in business. Moving beyond this point, take the example of LAN-free backup. What are my information assets worth? Keeping them protected and accessible via backup is a requirement.

With SANs, backup can be improved in speed by a factor of 10, and the cost can be distributed over a larger population of servers, making it much cheaper to purchase and operate. SANs bring more manageable gigabytes per IT staff person and enable organizations to scale with the growth in storage at much less than linear cost increases. Otherwise, the growth of storage will drive a management cost model that no one can afford.

NW: Is Crossroads going to expand out of the router arena into the switch or storage management markets?

Smith: Storage routing is the fundamental part of our business today. We have built our engineering and marketing teams to focus on four additional spaces.

The first is the wide-area networking business, which allows SANs to be implemented over large geographies with ATM or Gigabit Ethernet. According to [market research firm] IDC, 40 percent of SANs by 2003 will have a wide-area networking need.

The second area we are working on is appliances - using our router platform with some value-added software that resides in the SAN to allow serverless backup or make Oracle Parallel Server run faster.

The fourth area is the need to connect data to the mainframe. We see the need to build a fat pipe to get data there. Today, it's a thin ESCON straw that gets you there. Customers want to mine mainframe data, but they are typically seven days behind the data on the mainframe.

Last, we will build Infiniband routing. We will route Infiniband to the world of storage.

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