KIT BAG: Storage sans complexity

Looking for a new party trick? Just mention storage area network (SAN) implementation issues to a gathering of network integrators. There'll be plenty of clearing of throats, looking at watches and shuffling towards exits.

Is the subject all too difficult? Innovations in the SAN environment have left vendors scrambling to stake their claims across the market -- but too often with proprietary releases. Although the products may provide wonderful solutions, you have to buy all the attachments from the same vendor.

In spite of vendor lip service to the establishment of standards, SANs remain in a proprietry limbo, unable to achieve broad penetration and bogged down in the complexities of integration.

Integrator Beware

SANs have a broad appeal: when they are up and running, they provide a scalable, flexible and fast storage solution for a market where every spare kilobyte is sponged up by increasingly space-hungry multimedia and data.

But Jon Maratos, director of SAN integration specialists Distributed Network Services (DNS), believes many smaller integrators become involved in the installation of SANs without being aware of the pitfalls. "These guys see the end-to-end vendor solutions," he says. "They recognise all the different parts and think they can put one together."

Max Goldsmith, general manager of SAN integrator Powerlan XSI, has seen the tragedies that result from inexperienced integrators rushing into the SAN market. "Every one that's been burnt has thought they would be able to to plug together their own SANs," he says. "Doing things off the cuff like that is a nightmare."

A recent report which appeared in Australian Reseller News (1 November 2000) described a legal dispute resulting from a botched SAN implementation which left the end user $720,000 out of pocket. Incidents like this have the potential to seriously damage the reputation of both the technology and the industry.

At this stage, however, networking and storage specialists interested in participating in the SAN market have limited options when it comes to SAN integration training. Most SAN integrators send staff to US-based vendor training programs in order to keep up with evolving technologies. Goldsmith and Maratos regularly send staff to vendor-run training in the US.

While Powerlan XSI has a long history in the storage arena, and DNS arrived through a networking background, both companies became involved in SANs as the technology was developing. And both have grown their skills as the technology evolved. Unfortunately, integrators new to the business must often choose between high-cost, end-to-end vendor-built solutions, or the risky proposition of integrating their own solution.

Skills for the Storage Shortage

One storage vendor and SAN integrator has hit on a novel solution to the SAN skills shortage. In an unassuming office block in a northern Sydney suburb, StorageTek has set up the SAN Institute to provide a training ground and testing centre for the technology and its integrators.

"We embarked upon the storage institute to show customers that SAN-based solutions were achievable," says Dave Templeton, StorageTek marketing manager. And with the site established, he says StorageTek is keen to offer courses demonstrating the technology to storage integrators and network architects.

Costs associated with setting up the centre make it unlikely that branches will be established until demand increases significantly. At this stage it is cheaper to fly in interested parties than to spread infrastructure around the country.

Surprisingly, other vendors have not yet implemented the StorageTek approach to training and testing. So until other such centres are established in Australia, SAN integrators will be travelling overseas - or turning to StorageTek to improve their skills in the SAN arena.

Spot the Difference: SAN or NAS

"There is no point in differentiating between NAS and SAN," Kevin Daly, president of Quantum's enterprise solutions division, recently told a captive audience of Asia-Pacific journalists. "It's all just networking storage. In a few years you won't hear about NAS or SAN solutions -- you'll just hear about networking storage."

"Not so," says Robert Ek general manager of NAS distributor, Opositor. "They are very different technologies; SANs are centralised, NAS is decentralised. The term 'NAS' is not going to die out because NAS is a box, a physical presence. A SAN, on the other hand, is a collection of things -- a SAN doesn't exist until you stick it together."

Whichever way you read the acronym, the terminology is causing plenty of confusion.

Fortunately the answer's simple. NAS stands for "network-attached storage", and refers to a self-contained device that plugs in to a network to provide extra gigabytes, terabytes or whatever-bytes of storage. Information is sent to the unit via the LAN or WAN.

SAN, on the other hand, stands for "storage area network" -- a separate network dedicated to backing up and archiving data. SANs are supposed to replace those guys who burn the midnight oil inserting disks into machines and carting them off to be stored safely elsewhere.

A SAN can be located offsite; NAS is attached to one of the servers on the network. Both provide extra storage space, but SANs are significantly more scalable. Because SANs store information without passing it over the network, they also provide significant improvements in productivity.

However, a vendor-driven proprietary push has lead to SAN interoperability headaches for integrators. But the word on the street is "watch this space".

WHAT'S NEW?

From StorageTek:

The StorageTek L20 tape library, is designed specifically for the distributed Windows NT, Novell, Linux and Unix environments.

The L20 is designed to provide information management to small to mid-sized businesses and work groups in enterprises.

The StorageTek L20 tape library offers up to 2.2Tb of data capacity, and provides support for mixed media, flexible interface options, and scalability. Also designed to solve small business storage issues, the L20 tape library is one of the few automated storage solutions aimed at this sector.

The StorageTek L20 is supported by StorageTek's channel program, providing training and materials.

The offering supports DLT, SuperDLT and LTO Ultrium technology drives, or any combination.

The L20 is currently available in Australia through StorageTek, and pricing for an L20 configuration starts at $25,000. Drives and Fibre Channel interfaces are priced separately.www.storagetek.comFrom Emulex:

Described as the "key" product for large SANs, the LightPulse LP8000DC fibre channel PCI host bus adapter operates through the use of two Emulex Dragonfly ASICs, two 266 MIPS onboard processors, and high-speed buffer memory. The LP8000DC also features a 64-bit PCI interface and offers capabilities such as full-duplex data transfers and full fabric support. A LightPulse major feature is the simultaneous full-duplex 1Gbps fibre channel. The buffered data architecture supports up to 100km of cabling, and the LP8000DC is designed for concurrent use of multiple protocols (SCSI and IP). The LightPulse LP8000DC is currently available from XSI technology.www.emulex.comFrom PowerQuest:

PowerQuest's ServerMagic 4.0 builds on previous versions of the software adding across-the-wire functionality for copying, moving or deleting NetWare volume segments to or from a remote machine. The software also includes BootDisk Builder, a utility that assists users in the creation of a remote server boot disk. Version 4.0 also provides the capacity to move or copy the entire NetWare system including hidden files and directory settings.

ServerMagic 4.0 provides users with access to a remote machine using a TCP/IP network, enabling them to copy or move partitions, delete or check the integrity of partitions, and copy or move volumes and volume segments.

ServerMagic 4.0 for NetWare is compatible with NetWare 3.12, 4.x and 5.x and requires 8Mb of hard disk space. ServerMagic 4.0 for NetWare is available through Australian distributors Marketing Results and ACA Pacific.www.powerquest.comFrom Prism:

Prism Storage Options, are designed to overcome the limitations of server-attached backup architectures. Prism offers a modular architecture featuring hardware and software that is integrated into tape libraries, creating network attached storage (NAS) appliances as well as storage area network (SAN) systems. Prism architecture provides tape library connectivity and functionality while maintaining full backward compatibility with SCSI. According to Quantum, Prism also provides a platform for remote network storage management and services allowing for locally managed storage peripherals to evolve into centrally managed storage systems.

Prism features include library partitioning, Prism Fibre Channel-to-SCSI router, and Prism ALERT, a feature that provides instant notification via e-mail of library conditions based on pre-selected criteria. Prism Storage Options are currently available through distributor Ingram Micro.www.quantum.com.au

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