SANs to embrace IP

Highlighting what many expect to be the next trend in the SAN (storage area network) market, Sun Microsystems this week will outline its network storage strategy, which includes the capability of connecting a SAN to the enterprise network via IP.

Storage over IP would have distinct advantages over the Fibre Channel technology commonly used today, according to observers. Most notably, it would allow data to be stored and accessed anywhere, -- compared to Fibre Channel, which has a maximum-distance limitation of 100 kilometres -- and it would allow network managers to integrate their SANs with the rest of their enterprise network, reducing administrative headaches.

And many within the IT community feel passionately about the inevitability of storage over IP.

"IP is the next storage protocol," said Ron McCabe, president and CEO of MiraLink, a developer of software and hardware solutions based in Salt Lake City. "It'll beat out Fibre Channel, and it simply has to go that way. What IT guy wants to have to manage two networks?" McCabe asked.

However, technological issues still need to be overcome before IP-based SANs can realise their potential. Specifically, Fibre Channel networks carry "block data" from servers to storage devices while IP networks have a "packet data" approach, whereby the data is broken up into small chunks before transmission and reassembled at the other end.

"The challenge is how to move block data over IP networks," explained Steve Duplessie, a senior analyst at Enterprise Storage Group (ESG), in Massachusetts. "And what's going to revolutionise things is when technology companies learn to send that block data in order, over an IP network, and compile things on the other end in the appropriate sequence. And you will see things like that happening this (northern) summer."

One company expected to make such an announcement this summer is Nishan Systems, which will begin beta testing its SOIP (storage over IP) technology next week. Nishan's SOIP technology actually moves block data over an IP network in the proper order, making it possible for critical storage data to move in real time over the internet, according to Randy Fardal, vice president of marketing at Nishan.

Not surprisingly, SAN vendors that have invested in Fibre Channel technology believe there is still a need for that technology. Donald Swatik, vice president of strategic planning at EMC, for example, said that he feels Fibre Channel and IP will coexist as data transfer solutions for at least five years.

"It's the order (that the data travels) that matters," Swatik said. "If you're an airline, and you're taking seating reservations, that data has to move in exact order, and that's where Fibre comes in. IP will be just another component that will expand the utility and the value of SANs," he added.

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