When to move management into the storage network

The past few weeks have been busy with announcements involving intelligent switches. Cisco and Brocade each made prominent partnerships announcements validating their bids to move "more intelligence into the network." Meanwhile, HP has moved intelligence into the network with its Continuous Access Storage Appliance, or CASA, and FalconStor continues to improve its IPStor product. The question net executives should ask is how much and what types of intelligence make sense in the network and what type of platform should provide these services.

In early May, Cisco announced extended partnerships with EMC and Veritas to develop storage applications that will be hosted on Cisco's Multilayer DataCenter Switch platform. Cisco inherited MDS from its acquisition of Andiamo.

Similarly, Brocade detailed partnership agreements in March with EMC and in May with Veritas to develop network-based storage applications based on its Silkworm Fabric Application Platform, the intelligent switch Brocade obtained through purchase of Rhapsody.

Earlier this year, HP introduced its rebranded CASA switch, borne out of its purchase of StorageApps, provider of network-based services that are very much like FalconStor's IPStor platform. Both CASA and IPStor currently place appliances in the data path, rather than in souped-up switches but both vendors plan to port their storage services to the switch platforms as well.

So what types of services belong in the network on this variety of platform? At the highest level, it makes sense to place any and all capabilities that will benefit from centralized management within the network rather than on each server or each storage platform.

One common service that benefits from being in the network is volume management. Granted, there are many levels of volume management that can reside within a storage-area network (SAN). For example, currently both the IPStor and CASA appliances provide heterogeneous data replication services such as block-level data migration, synchronous and asynchronous mirroring and snap copies of data. IPStor also supports a broad range of other volume management services such as capacity on-demand when volumes become full. As well, both Veritas and EMC are working with the switch vendors to implement full volume management capabilities based on their current volume management software suites.

Another service that benefits from being network-based is data path management. These services include automatic path failover, load balancing, data path optimization and performance management, to name a few. Moving these services into the network allows customers to manage their SAN from a central location based on predefined policies.

The third service that must be placed in the network are security services. Today, most storage networks are hard-wired to enforce security. This puts an added strain on administrators managing the storage network as all connections become static. Placing security services within the network allows for dynamic reallocation of the network to meet business requirements.

While there will be more services that migrate into the storage network, these are the primary ones customers will see over the next year and a half. The question remains, however, which platform should a customer use: intelligent switches or appliances? To this I must respond with a question (of course): What are the performance requirements and how much are you willing to pay for the service and how long do you want to wait for the service?

An appliance is nothing more than a modified computing platform. This makes it a very easy and attractive method for bringing products to market quickly. However, because it's a fairly general platform, more often than not, performance through the system is not optimized. Today, customers can purchase the CASA from HP or IPStor from FalconStor and get network-based services that can ease the overall management of their storage networks.

If the business requires very high performance, switch-based storage services will provide the network-based management capabilities in a high performance environment. This combination provides great value to customers. Therefore, customers should be prepared to pay for the added value.

Network-based services will continue to evolve, easing the management complexity customers are struggling with today. Over the next 18 months, customers can expect these services to tie into policy-based management platforms that simplify management and bring consistently high service levels to their business.

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